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Exploring Canada: Writing on Canadian History and Society in Finland

Auvo Kostiainen

Canada, with approximately the same kind of natural conditions as Finland, has attracted tens of thousands of Finns as migrants during the last one hundred years. Canada, as a country of multi-ethnic composition, has, on the whole evolved quite a positive sentiment in Finland. But what do the Finns really know about the Canadian past and history, except that the land has been favoured by many Finnish migrants?

Despite the modest body of historical knowledge of Canada, on the country have been produced quite a few interesting works in Finland. Here, an analysis will be made about the trends of historical writing on Canada in Finland. What kind of books have appeared, what is the share of historical research, and what is the future of Canadian history studies in Finland?

The presentation which follows includes a number of descriptions on Canada as well as historical studies which have been written in the past years and decades. In trying to figure the present situation, I have mainly used information about various departments of history. I do not claim that the information which has been available to me includes everything, but at least the endeavour is supposed to give quite a reliable picture of research on Canadian history in Finland.

The Legacy of Pehr Kalm

The tradition of scholarly research on Canada by the Finns may be traced back to the middle of the eighteenth century. At that time, a scholar in the field natural economy, Pehr Kalm from the old Academy of Turku, made a trip to North America. Kalm's trip lasted for a longish period during the years 1747-1751. He was sent there by the Swedish Academy. His major interests reflected the European scholarly ideas of the time, but there were also some special Finnish and Swedish historical facts in the background. In the 1630's the Swedish kingdom - with Finland as an important part of the country at that time - had established a colony in the Delaware river area. Sweden was endeavouring, like the European great powers such as England and France, to compete in the mercantilist spirit for a share in the world's economic resources. Several hundreds of Swedes and Finns moved to the small colony. Its future, however, wasn't anything glorious, and after a few shiploads of people over two decades, no really new Swedish or Finnish blood was added to the colony or the North American continent, until nineteenth century.

Picture 1. Front-cover of Akseli Järnefelt-Rauanheimo's novel "To the New World" on the Delaware colony (Akseli Järnefelt Rauanheimo, Uuteen maailmaan. Romaani Pennsylvanian ensimmäisistä uutisasukkaista. Toinen painos. Porvoo 1931)

Kalm was most interested in many aspects of the New World: he was attracted by its geographical and botanical features as well as by the people and general living conditions. His most famous act in European eyes, however, was his visit to the Niagara Falls area. His was the first European scholarly description of the Falls, the most famous natural attraction of the Northern American continent. Again, his description of the eastern parts of the North American continent attracted a large readership. Kahn's book was published in the Swedish language, but soon translated into several European languages.1 Undoubtedly, Kalm's work has had a great impact on maintaining and increasing the Finnish (and Swedish) interest in North America, and in our case also in Canada. Subsequently, the natural scientists of the nineteenth century became interested in Canadian areas.

A special interest in North America later arose because of the ownership of Alaska by the Russian Empire, with which Finland was attached from 1809 until the year 1917. Certain Finnish priests and government officials worked in Alaska during the Russian period, and they also had a scholarly interest in the Northern regions, both Alaska and the neighbouring Canadian areas.

Travel Descriptions and Memoirs

The United States was the main target of Finnish emigrants in the late nineteenth century and early 1900's, but Canada, too, became at the turn of the last century an important destination for Finnish migrants. At that time, however, only a few thousand Finns lived in the Canadian areas. In the United States, the number of foreign-born Finns in 1920 was around 150,000, while in Canada the census reported in 1911 15,400 Finns. In 1931, their number had risen to 43,000 and a new wave of migration increased the numbers after World War Two. At present the number of Finns in Canada is about 100,000. The overwhelming concentration of population has occurred in Ontario, which in 1931 had already 27,000 Finns and British Columbia with 6,800 Finns in 1931. The shift in the migration wave from Finland to Canada instead of the United States was intensified by the immigration restrictions which were started during the interwar years and today still exist.2

The geographical location of Canada and the United States has given a rise to migratory movements between the countries, and it was also quite common for migrants to arrive first at Canadian ports and cities, and after some time to travel on to the United States. This close relationship is also seen in the organizational connections of the migrant communities, which is referred to later in this paper. But at first this "closeness" was reflected in a number of travel descriptions on Canada published in Finland. In spite of the fact that Canada and the United States were politically separate from the late eighteenth century, the Finns who travelled to North America often combined their trips to both countries.

As mentioned previously, even the earliest Finnish travel description of Pehr Kalm, written before the emergence of the United States, also took in Canada. By the end of the nineteenth century, a few books had come out in Finland about North America. Perhaps the best known volume was Akseli Järnefelt's Amerikan kirja (Book on America), which didn't touch very much upon the Canadian areas but concentrated on the Finnish settlements in the United States. However, there were some remarks on Canada in about ten pages. Järnefelt describes the places of his visit, travelling on the Canadian Pacific's trans-Canada railway towards the East. Especially he stayed in Nanaimo, British Columbia, in New Finland, a farming village in the midst of the prairies of Manitoba, and thereafter in Port Arthur and Sudbury and Copper Cliff, Ontario, which were the main Finnish centers at that time. Järnefelt crossed the border to the United States in Sault Ste Marie. The general view of Järnefelt was quite positive, although he presented certain moral comments on the earlier "wild" life of the Finnish population. But in most cases he liked what he saw. Most of all Canada's natural resources were interesting to him. Also, Canada's liberal immigration policies were seen as positive. Järnefelt even noted the many-sided contacts between the Finns in the United States and Canada.3

In Finland, interest was aroused by the Socialist experiments of the Finns in British Columbia, on Malcolm Island. In the early years of the twentieth century, a Utopian experiment was carried on there. Its most visible and even controversial leader was the Finnish Socialist leader, Matti Kurikka. He had gone to Australia to help with the utopian-minded Finnish experiments there, but was invited to Malcolm Island to be a leader in the Sointula (Harmony) experiment in 1901. Officially, the experiment occurred under the name of the Kalevan Kansa Colonization Company (the People of Kaleva Colonization Co.). In Sointula, the first Finnish newspaper in Canada, called Aika (Time), was published in 1901.

As discussed later, this utopian experiment has been a topic of many books. In Finland, a couple of historical-travel-memoir books on the Sointula colony were published. The earliest of these books was published in 1907, only a couple of years after the big fire, quarrels and collapse of the colony. The author was a well-known Socialist newspaperman from Finland, A.B. Mäkelä. He was one of the pioneers in developing the idea of a Finnish Utopian-Socialist experiment in the Canadian West. Mäkelä published the book in Finland under the literary pseudonym he frequently used, Kaapro Jääskeläinen.4 The book itself gives a vivid and interesting picture of the colony, Kurikka and other leaders, as well as the living conditions on the Pacific West Coast of Canada. Actually, it may be that Canadian natural conditions constituted a prime reason for the failure, although reference has been made to ideological and leadership problems as well as to the family problems - that is, the "collective ownership" of women. But the colony had to live on fishing and forestry, and perhaps the colonists had insufficient skills for the pursuits as well as for collective economic activities.

In the group of travelogues and memoirs may be included some other interesting books. Another Sointula -participant, Matti Halminen, published his memoirs and descriptions on the Sointula-experiment in 1936. Halminen was one of the founding members of the colony, and describes very vividly the years of the experiment as well as its aftermath. Even Halminen pays a lot of attention to the natural surroundings in addition to the ideological quarrels.5

Certain well-known writers from Finland travelled to Canada in the early decades of the twentieth century. A book by "the globe trotter", writer and photographer Sakari Pälsi came out in 1927. The book had an- interesting title Suuri, kaunis ja ruma maa - in English "The Great, Beautiful and Ugly Country".6 Pälsi travelled as an "investigative tourist", who wasn't perhaps so much interested in the Finns in Canada, but more in the Canadian natural scene, the cities and means of travel. The expression "ugly" may primarily be understood as a reference to the traces of the Western civilization in the nature: spoiled sceneries, "world's largest" dumping places and other reflections of the industrialized West.

The Rise of Scholarly Studies

Among the most notable examples of Finnish writing about the history of Canada is Arja Pilli's 1982 dissertation on the Finnish-Canadian ethnic press between the years 1901-1939. In that study, Arja Pilli concentrated on the historical development of six Finnish-language newspapers. The circulation of the papers reached at the most 4,000 per paper. In addition, several short lived periodicals were published with a modest circulation. In most cases, the publishers were the same organizational printing houses which put out newspapers like Vapaus, a left Socialist paper from Sudbury, Ontario. The Canadian Finnish press was generally very politically oriented as was the case with the Finnish press in the United States, too. Pilli's study deals with the politically conservative press as well as with the Left/Socialist/Communist -minded papers. The study reveals the importance of the press as an inter-ethnic means of communication and its task in commenting and giving information on both Canadian society and the old-country events. What is, however, important to note is the strong political connections and radical attitudes of the Left-wing press especially, and its critical understanding of Canadian society and politics.7

Another interesting thesis was done at the University of Joensuu by Eija Kettunen-Hujanen in 1995 about the life-cycle of the work places of Finnish immigrants of the years 1918-1930 from Eastern Finland.8 Her purpose was to trace the personal life-cycles of about 400 immigrants: where they lived, earned their living, and how this situation changed over the years. That is why the author follows the change in work places of the individual immigrants, who often had several jobs and moved their abodes, and even occupations quite frequently.

Another interesting monograph by Reino Kero has dealt with the large migration from the United States and Canada to Soviet Karelia during the Great Depression. About 3,000 Canadian Finns as well as 3,000 Finns from the United States crossed the Atlantic.9 Mostly they became disappointed with their ideal land and perhaps half of them returned to North America - and in most cases remained very silent about their experiences. Few of them appear to have been active in the Leftist labour movement in North America after their Soviet Karelian sojourn.

In addition to the above-mentioned works, quite a few MA theses on mostly Finnish-Canadian migration history are to be found. Apart from Arja Pilli's dissertation, close to ten MA theses at the University of Turku have been written. To mention a few examples; there is first a thesis about early Finnish migration to Canada by Miika Huhta. In his study, Huhta discussed the reasons for the selection of Canada as a place to go. The most common early settlements were often in the central parts of Ontario, in the mining and lumbering areas. Later on, Finnish centers grew up in the great cities like Toronto and Vancouver.10

Then, Varpu Luodesmeri made a study on the post-1918-Civil War Finnish immigrant community. In this highly interesting study, what is revealed is how the left-radical organizations in Canada especially tried to investigate the persons arriving from Finland after the short and bloody civil war of 1918. Who had been fighting on the Red and who on the White side? The investigations resulted in the so-called comrades' courts, which passed sentences on the newcomers to see whether they could be included in the real workers' circles in Canada.11 In addition, there is a study by Maire Salmela on the development of the Finnish press in Canada in the 1950-1960's, when migration increased strongly to Canada.12

In the group of scholarly studies have to be included scholarly works dealing with the history of Matti Kurikka and his Utopian experiment in British Columbia in the early years of the twentieth century. Earlier, reference has been made to a couple of more populartype books on Kurikka, those of A.B. Mäkelä (under pseydonym Kaapro Jääskeläinen) and Matti Halminen, who participated themselves in the founding stages. Relatives of Kurikka, Arno and Osmo Linnoila did their MA theses on Kurikka in Helsinki in the 1930's and 1940's. Both wrote on Kurikka in general terms as well as, on his role as a utopian-type Socialist in British Columbia.13 Additionally, it may be said that the special case of Sointula and the Kalevan Kansa has attracted a lot of interest in Finland, and reference about it may be found in practically all books and articles on Finnish migration history. It may be argued, however, that the results of the colony were not very specific; it was a failure, in short. The fame of the experiment lies mostly in the fact that the Finns have not really been involved in many Utopian experiments, and so this case serves as an important topic of its own kind. A Finnish newspaperman, Kalevi Kalemaa even has published a biographical non-scholarly book on Kurikka in the year 1978.14

Additionally, as a new kind of study of contemporary history, may be noted Eero Valkonen's ph.licenciate thesis about the sports of icehockey as an international competition and entertainment. Originally as a Canadian sports, it has taken a leading position as a winter sports even in Finland. Valkonen discusses the general conceptions of icehockey and its reception as well as problems of the sports of the recent decades.15

The Shadow of the United States?

Even if we find quite a few studies on Canadian history, it is reasonable to say that it is the interest in the United States history that has overwhelmingly preoccupied Finnish historians of North America. The migration flow from Finland to the US was much stronger than migration to Canada, and therefore the interest of migration historians was also directed mainly to the US.

Canadian elements have, in many cases, quite an important role in studies which deal mainly with the developments in the United States. This is true of several studies done in Turku with the main focus on the United States, for instance, that on the migration of the Finns to North America by Reino Kero; that on the return migration by Keijo Virtanen; even Auvo Kostiainen's dissertation on the beginnings of the radical Communist movement among the Finnish Americans also deals with contacts over the US-Canadian border.16 The three volume series of the Department of History in Turku Suomen siirtolaisuuden historia (The History of the Finnish Migration) touches on many aspects of migration history by combining the US and Canadian experience.17

The same kind of discussion may be found in the recent studies done by Reino Kero, who has compiled his monumental two volumes on Finnish Migration to North America. In this case, North America also includes Canada. Particularly in the second volume there is a lot of discussion on the Canadian Finns. Mainly this is due to the above mentioned fact that since about 1920 the main body of migration from Finland to North America has gone to Canada because of US migration restrictions.

While the original generations of migrant Finns in the US have died or are now very old, discussion has turned on the problems of the second and third generation, the children of migrants. In contrast, in Canada, the main migrant generation came later and so there still are active members of it. Therefore, their social problems, activities, papers, societies, leisure pursuits, as well as occupations have been a topic of intense study even in Canada.

The same question of the interaction between the North American countries may be mentioned in connection with several additional studies made in Finland, and dealing mainly with the US history or culture. Even the general histories of the United States, by Reino Kero, Auvo Kostiainen and Keijo Virtanen as well as that by Markku Henriksson discuss to some extent Canadian history. The case is likewise with studies on the US Indian peoples.18

Future Prospects

One of the main problems which prevents or limits the study of Canadian history in Finland is the problem of sources. We have quite good materials on the history of migration to Canada as well as on the Finnish-Canadian community. But other kind of sources are quite occasional: some documentary collections, diplomatic sources, collections of certain newspapers and periodicals, as well as travel descriptions.

From the information presented above may, major prevailing trends thus far may be summarized. Migration history has dominated Finnish academic interest in Canadian history. For the moment, it is difficult to find a serious challenge to this sector. There are some possible new resources and more studies developing in Finland for the study of Canadian history, since North American Studies programs are continuing, for example, in the Universities of Tampere, Turku and Helsinki.

What would be suitable fields for Canadian history with present day resources? Firstly, the study of migration history has the longest tradition, and there are some possibilities for research on the ethnic history of Canada. A second field might be the Canadian history of multicultural policy as seen from Finland. It is possible for fruitful topics of study to be found even in the field of the history travel and tourism, which is nowadays advancing in, for instance, the University of Turku. On the other hand, the rising interest in the Arctic history in general could stimulate comparisons between the Canadian and Scandinavian contexts.

Undoubtedly, Canadian themes will prove attractive in the Finnish public as well as students. What are needed, however, are sources and materials. Unless they are secured, it is quite difficult to promote interest in the history of Canada. Maybe new electronic resources will be helpful in this sense.

1. See the English language versions, e.g., Pehr Kalm, Peter Kalm's Travels in North America. The English version of 1770. Reprint. New York 1987.

2. See, e.g., Arja Pilli, The Finnish-Language Press in Canada, 1901-1939. A Study in Ethnic Journalism. - Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae, Dissertationes Humanarum Litterarum 34. Helsinki 1982, passim.

3. Akseli Järnefelt, Amerikan kirja. Varustettu 93 teksti- ja 12 liitekuvalla sekä suomalaista asutusta näyttävällä Amerikan kartalla. (Book on America. With 93 Pictures in the Text as well as 12 Pictures in Appendices and a Map on Finnish Population in America) Porvoo 1899, esp. pp. 243-251.

4. Kaapro Jääskeläinen (A.B. Mäkelä), Muistoja "Malkosaarelta" (Reminiscences from Malcolm Island). Helsinki 1907, a total of 160 pp.

5. Matti Halminen, Sointula. Kalevan Kansan ja Kanadan suomalaisten historiaa (Sointula. The People of Kaleva and the History of the Canadian Finns). Mikkeli 1936, 136 pp.

6. Sakari Pälsi, Suuri, kaunis ja ruma maa. Kuvia ja kuvauksia Kanadan-matkalta (The Great, Beautiful and Ugly Country. Pictures and Descriptions from a Canadian Trip). Helsinki 1927.

7. Pilli 1982.

8. Eija Kettunen-Hujanen, Itäsuomalaiset Kanadassa 1920- ja 1930 -luvuilla. Kuopion ja Mikkelin lääneistä sekä Kainuusta vuosina 1918-1930 muuttaneiden siirtolaisten sijoittuminen työ- ja asuinpaikkoihin Kanadassa 1920- ja 1930-luvuilla. (Migrants from Eastern Finland in Canada in the 1920's and 1930's. The Occupations and Locations in Canada in the 1920's and 1930's of Finnish Immigrants from the Provinces of Kuopio, Mikkeli and from Kainuu during the years 1918-1930). Ph.Lic. thesis, University of Joensuu 1995.

9. Reino Kero, Neuvosto-Karjalaa rakentamassa. Pohjois-Amerikan suomalaiset tekniikan tuojina 1930-luvun Neuvosto-Karjalassa. (Building Soviet Karelia. The Finns of North America as Technological Innovators in Soviet Karelia in the 1930's) - Historiallisia Tutkimuksia 122. English Summary. Tammisaari 1983.

10. Miika Huhta, Siirtolaisuus Suomesta Kanadaan ennen I maailmansotaa ja suomalaisten sijoittuminen Kanadaan. (Migration from Finland to Canada before the First World War and the Settlements of the Finns in Canada) MA thesis in general history, University of Turku 1982.

11. Varpu Luodesmeri, Amerikansuomalaisten työväenjärjestöjen suhtautuminen Suomesta vuoden 1913 sodan jälkeen tulleisiin siirtolaisiin - "Hiljan Suomesta tulleiden tutkijakomiteat". (The Attitude of Finnish-American Workers' Organizations to Immigrants from Finland after the 1918 Civil War. "Investigatory Committees for those recently arrived from Finland") MA thesis in general history, University of Turku 1972.

12. Maire Salmela, Etelä-Pohjanmaan järviseudun siirtolaisuus Kanadaan ensimmäisen maailmansodan ja suuren lamakauden välillä. (Migration to Canada from the South Ostrobothnian Lake District in the Years between the World War One and the Great Depression) MA thesis in general history, University of Turku 1987.

13. Osmo Linnoila, Matti Kurikan yhteiskunnallinen ja valtiollinen toiminta. (Matti Kurikka's Social and Political Activity) MA thesis, University of Helsinki 1933. (a total of 455 pp!); Arno Linnoila, Matti Kurikan sosialismi. (Maui Kurikka's Socialism) MA thesis, University of Helsinki, 1947.

14. Kalevi Kalemaa, Matti Kurikka: Legenda jo eläessään. (Matti Kurikka. A Legend of His Times) Porvoo 1978.

15. Eero Valkonen, Kuka kontrolloi peliä? Kansainvälisen jääkiekkotoiminnan kehitys olympia-aatteesta suurvaltapolitiikan ja kaupallisuuden kautta ammattilaisviihteeksi.(Who Controls the Game? The Development of International Ice-Hockey from an Olympic Idea towards Professional Entertainment) Ph.lic. thesis in cultural history, University of Turku, 1997.

16. See, Reino Kero, Migration from Finland to North America in the Years between the United States Civil War and the First World War. - Annales Universitatis Turkuensis, Ser. B, Part 130. Vammala 1974; Auvo Kostiainen, The Forging of Finnish-American Communism 1917-1924. A Study in Ethnic Radicalism. - Annales Universitatis Turkuensis Ser. B, Part 147. Turku 1978; Keijo Virtanen, Settlement or Return. Finnish Emigrants (1860-1930) in the International Overseas Return Migration Movement. -. Studia Historica 10. Helsinki 1979.

17. Suomen siirtolaisuuden historia, osat I-III (The History of Finnish Migration I-III). The writers are Reino Kero, Auvo Kostiainen, Ma Pilli and Keijo Virtanen. - Turku 1982, 1983, 1986.

18. See, e.g., Reino Kero, Auvo Kostiainen, Keijo Virtanen, Uuden maailman jättiläinen. Yhdysvaltain historia. (The Giant of the New World. The History of the United States of America) Keuruu 1991; Markku Henriksson, Alkuperäiset amerikkalaiset. Yhdysvaltain alueen intiaanien, inuitien ja aleutien historia. (Original Americans. The History of the Indians, Inuits and Aleuts of the United States) Helsinki 1986; Pentti Virrankoski, Pohjois-Amerikan intiaanit. Rio Granden pohjoispuolella asuneiden intiaanien kulttuuri ja historia. (North American Indians. The History and Culture of Indians North of Rio Grande). Helsinki 1977.

Published in Pitkät jäljet. Historioita kahdelta mantereelta. Professori Reino Kerolle hänen täyttäessään 60 vuotta 2.3.1999. Turun yliopiston historian laitos julkaisuja 48. Turku 1999, p. 178-189.

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