[ End of article ]

The United Church and Finnish Friends in Canada

Arvi I. Heinonen

Historical Outline of Mission Work Among Canadian Finns

The story of the contact between the denominations now composing The United Church of Canada and the Finnish settlers in Canada, goes back to the closing years of the last century, but only recently the Rev. Colin G. Young, D.D., wrote to me: "So far very few churches have interested themselves in the work among the Finnish people in Canada. I do not know of any more neglected group and I am hoping that The United Church will be able to extend its missionary enterprise among your people before very long."

That, in a word, is the story. Canadians of Finnish origin have not appealed to any foreign country to come to help them in the great task of getting their church life established and function as their most vital organization. We are Canadians, and we know that the Finns of other countries are unable to help us effectively. For instance, take the Americans, our closest neighbours, how could we expect them to do foreign mission work in Canada while settlements in their own West are neglected?

The territory of Alaska, where Finnish settlements were started in 1821, has been completely neglected. Up to 1867, when Alaska was bought by the United States, the Russian-American Trading Company had supplied for the Finnish settlement one solitary emigrant-missionary, the Rev. Uno Cygnaeus, M.A., but since it became United States property the Finns have been neglected completely. With the financial help of their American friends of other than Finnish racial origin, they have undertaken some home mission work in a few of the Finnish settlements so numerous in the American Western States, where the situation and circumstances are as serious as in Canada, if not worse. The American Finns cannot see how we could expect them to come to Canada to do foreign mission work while in their own land they are able only to touch the fringes of their great Western Home Mission problem.

If we turn to our former homeland, we must admit that the Church of Suomi to-day has "her hands full", and more, in her tremendous task, especially during her own inevitable transition period. Naturally, therefore, any assistance that will be truly helpful to us in our church life must come from Canada, our own adopted country. What has the Christian Church in Canada done to help us to help ourselves?

Port Arthur, Fort William, and District

In the early spring of 1898 the Rev. S. C. Murray, D.D., at that time the Presbyterian minister at Port Arthur and Convener of the Home Mission Committee of the Superior Presbytery, was appealed to on behalf of the Finns, by the American Finnish minister, the Rev. J. Heimonen who had come from the United States to visit the Finns in the district, to help these Finns get some religious services. Knowing the circumstances and having always had a warm heart towards these New Canadians, Dr. Murray took up the matter with the Presbytery, and it was decided to apply for an annual grant to encourage and help this work without asking Mr. Heimonen to identify himself with the Presbyterian Church. The first annual grant was paid in March, 1899. "The plea for assistance", writes Dr. Murray, "that I presented was simply that these were Protestant people who needed pastoral care, and unless they received attention would drift away from religion and from the Church, eventually becoming a menace to the community. I had some warm friends among the Finns of Port Arthur."

Toronto, Ontario

In 1892-94 the first group of families of Finnish origin settled permanently in Toronto, some of whom are still there. In 1901-06 their only organization was an Abstinence Society to promote sobriety and education. During the latter part of this period the Rev. Mr. Berlis preached in English to the Finns at their Abstinence Society, while Mr. Morland interpreted. In 1907 the Finnish Presbyterian congregation was organized, and since that time the erstwhile Presbyterian Church, and now The United Church of Canada, have taken care that the religious needs of the Toronto Finns have been met. Services have been held regularly, and a healthy condition of congregational life exists to-day. As far as possible the church has had an uninterrupted chain of pastoral service. The Young People's Society, the Sunday School, ladies' organizations, the choir, and educational activities all seem to be in a vigorous state. The pastor is the Rev. W. Leeman. This year (1929) the congregation celebrates its twenty-second anniversary. The ministry of the late Rev. K. F. Henrickson will always be remembered with gratitude by the Toronto Finnish people and the Home Mission Board leaders. In more than one crisis his sound judgment and Christian courtesy prevented serious trouble.

Prior to 1913 Cobalt district was cared for by the Toronto missionary.

Eckville and Manyberries, Alberta

The first Presbyterian missionary to visit these Finnish settlements was the Rev. Mr. Blomgren, who gave them service as a travelling preacher, in 1909. In 1910 the late Rev. K. E. Korhonen was appointed and worked with all his strength, putting his heart and soul into the work for the spiritual uplift of these Finnish settlements. He died "in the harness", and the people in those districts remember him as a devoted and conscientious messenger of the Cross. In 1913 the Rev. Mr. A. A. Harju was appointed to the Eckville-Manyberries field, which was soon divided and the Eckville end of the territory was left to his charge. A little later the Rev. A. F. Virta was appointed to the Manyberries field. After Mr. Virta left, Miss Vieno S. Heinonen, a qualified deaconess of the Church, became their missionary. All of these missionaries have given efficient and much appreciated Christian service to the Finnish element of the Province of Alberta.

Copper Cliff, Cobalt, Timmins, Cochrane

In 1913 some of the Finns living in Copper Cliff appealed to the representatives of Sudbury Presbytery requesting the services of a Finnish-speaking minister. The pioneers of this Copper Cliff settlement had come with the Canadian Copper Company, in 1885, and in 1913 Copper Cliff was the largest Finnish settlement in the Dominion of Canada.

In the early days, November 18, 1886, they had organized an Abstinence Society to promote sobriety and other educational enterprises. Again the same two American Finnish churches, the National and the Suomi Synod, sent their representatives and a lively quarrel on "religion" ensued. The Presbytery of Sudbury made application for an ordained missionary to be appointed to the Finnish field of New Ontario, with Copper Cliff as headquarters. On June 1, 1913, the writer arrived. In 1914 the northern end of Cobalt-Timmins-Cochrane territory was separated, and the Rev. E. Bart was placed in charge of that end. In 1914 a church at Haileybury and a church and People's Institute at Copper Cliff were dedicated, and, later, one at Cobalt, also.

Louise Township and Territory to Spragge, Ontario

The Louise Township church was dedicated in 1916, and a comfortable manse was completed in 1921. The Louise Township Finnish congregation was organized in November or December of 1913, and that of Copper Cliff on January 6, 1914.

Dunblane District, Saskatchewan

In 1921 our Church sent Miss V. S. Heinonen, a Finnish deaconess, to take charge of Dunblane District. Within a radius of fifty miles she had several places which she visited on horseback, conducting services and Sabbath schools, and helping the people of Finnish origin in their various needs.

In 1924, on October 1st, the writer arrived to take charge of the English-speaking congregations of Dunblane and Birsay, and in addition to this give his "spare time" to the Finnish and other non-Anglo-Saxon elements within his territory. In October of 1925 the Presbytery released him entirely to the New Canadian work. On January 1,1925, a Finnish congregation was organized. In connection with this a Finnish-Swedish-Norwegian-English congregation also was born, services having been conducted regularly in three languages.

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Before Union, the erstwhile Methodist Church had charge of the Sault Ste. Marie District. During the time of co-operation, Finnish-speaking Presbyterian missionaries from Toronto and Copper Cliff gave an occasional visit. Some Finnish Methodist missionaries from the United States, now and then, also visited the Finnish people. The work at Sault Ste. Marie has been connected with All Peoples' Mission.

The Needs of the Work

The three decades of Congregational and Methodist Home Mission work in the United States has given to the Church of Christ among the Finns in that country a spiritual backbone without which there would be very little spiritual life and spiritual power among the 400,000 American Finns. Yet they have, thus far, only "spread the net".

In Canada, among our sixty to eighty thousand Canadians of Finnish origin, The United Church has opened the home mission fields mentioned in this book, but thus far has only touched the fringes of this important Home Mission enterprise. We have not even looked into the great Finnish problems of the provinces of Quebec, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and British Columbia.

The Lord has blessed the efforts of His servants with marvellous success, although their road has by no means been strewn with roses, but there is need for a larger number of faithful workers. There are thousands and thousands of good Finnish-Canadians waiting for the Church to come to their help. There are many large Finnish farming settlements far back in the woods, out on the prairies, and around the Rockies without schools for their children and without any Christian institution. It is an immense problem that must be faced without further delay. Some great body of Canadian Christians must endeavor to solve it. The United Church of Canada has opened the fields now in existence. They must be kept open, and the good work must be extended. In place of each missionary we now have in the work, there should be ten, and at the present rate of new arrivals, five new missionaries should be sent every year to help and to take care of them.

The present legislators and university presidents in the Republic of Suomi demand that the English language be made at least the third, if not the second, language in the school curriculum of their country.

Representatives of Finnish people have come sixty to eighty thousands strong, and they are pouring into Canada at the rate of seven thousand a year at the present time. They have built their new homes in our midst, to learn the new way in our common homeland of Canada. In things temporal they have assimilated quickly: they wear Canadian clothes, their children speak your language as fluently as yours do, they gradute with your boys and girls from universities, they work with you, they dance with you, but they are not one of you. Why? Generally speaking, you have not helped them to come and kneel with you at the Spring of Living Waters - too great not to be shared! Will you still withhold this?

But How?

"Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit, said the Lord of Hosts."

Seven centuries of experience with hatred, might, compulsion, force, persecution, have made the Finnish people "world specialists" in passive resistance. During that period all of these have been tried on the Finns, and all of them have been found ineffective in winning them. For a change, let us in Canada try Love. Nobody ever tried that, yet during my last fourteen years among them in Canada I have never seen it fail. Not once! I have seen them respond worthily. In the future you will have reason to be proud of them.

Published in Finnish Friends in Canada, written by Arvi I. Heinonen, 1930.

[ Beginning of article ]