The Finnish Community in Thunder Bay
Skrivet av Thunder Bay Public Library   
2007-06-03 15:47
The Finnish Community in Thunder Bay

A Finnish family in early Fort William


Shops and restaurants in the Bay Street and Algoma area bear witness to the thriving Finnish community in Thunder Bay. An estimated 12,000 people of Finnish origins live here, in what is claimed to be the largest established community of Finnish speaking people outside of Finland.

The first Finnish immigrants began arriving in Thunder Bay in the late 1870's. The building of a transcontinental railway, as well as the promise of employment and free land encouraged Finns to leave their country and travel to Canada. The industrialization of Finland had left agricultural labourers without work, and continuing political unrest in their country drove many to seek a better life and economic security in western Canada. The Immigration Hall set up in Port Arthur enabled immigrants to make contact with others who could help them find jobs in this area. Many of the Finns who had planned on travelling further west decided to stay in Thunder Bay.

By 1911 there were more than 1,500 Finnish immigrants in the Port Arthur- Fort William towns, which later became Thunder Bay. Between 1900 and 1930 Finns also settled in many of the townships around Thunder Bay . They raised their children, built homes, saunas, churches, schools and community halls. Intola, Kivikoski, Lappe, Tarmola, and Finmark are just a few of the names of once thriving Finnish communities that surrounded Thunder Bay. Most of the males in these communities worked at farming or road construction for part of the year, and at logging during the winters. Other rural areas such as Nolalu, Silver Mountain and Suomi, were Finnish communities established during the silver mining era prior to 1893. Families stayed on even after the silver mines closed, to farm and work in the logging industries.

Many of the Finns who immigrated to Canada remained in the cities of Port Arthur and Fort William. They established labour unions, co-operatives, newspapers, restaurants, bakeries, churches and social clubs. Finns who once lived in surrounding rural communities gradually migrated to Thunder Bay as their children learned English and the need for a distinct Finnish speaking community diminished.

Today Finnish residents of Thunder Bay celebrate the tongue-in cheek festival St. Urho’s Day on March 16th. This festivity, imported from Finns in Minnesota honours the fictional saint who drove the grasshoppers out of Finland, thereby saving the Finnish vineyards. Finnish dance groups, Kiikurt Finnish Folk dancers and Pikku ( little) Kiikurit perform at folk festivals and cultural events. Finnish Male and Ladies choirs remain active, while the Finnish Ever Young Circle, and the Finnish Senior Citizens Friendship clubs provide a social outlet for seniors in the community. For the young, the youth group Nuoret Summaiaiset promotes Finnish culture and participates in the local Folklore Festival. The Finnish Language School of Thunder Bay teaches children age twelve and under Finnish language and culture, and holds celebrations at Christmas and on Finnish holidays. Sports have always been an important part of Finnish life in Thunder Bay, and the Reipas Sports Club hosts both running and nordic skiing events. The Finlandia Club on Bay Street has been in existence since 1910. It provides club rooms for social groups, and holds dances and banquets. The Hoito restaurant, once featured in "Where to Eat in Canada" and the Toronto Star, is situated in the basement of the Finlandia Club. Finnish pancakes are popular fare. 


Finnish Labour Temple, 1910.

Visitors to the Bay Street area may shop for Finnish glassware, Ittala crystal, or jewelry at FinnPort, find sauna supplies at Finntastic, purchase Finnish or Swedish books or tapes at the Finnish Bookstore and buy Finnish coffee bread Pulla, at the Scandinavian Delicatessen, or Harri Bakery on Algoma Street. Kangas Sauna on Oliver Road offers residents and visitors a chance to unwind and enjoy a private sauna and a bite to eat afterwards. Thunder Bay’s community of Finnish-Canadians remains vibrant and adds much to the cultural diversity of Thunder Bay.

Thunder Bay Public Library

Senast uppdaterad 2007-06-03 15:48
Top! Top!