Crooks and heroes, priests
Religion and socialism in the oral-literary tradition of a Finnish-Canadian
The goldmining center of Timmins
and South Porcupine in Northern Ontario (Canada) is both a typical
and a unique North American community. Like many other mining
towns it was founded in the middle of the wilderness. Before
the year 1909 the vast forests of Northern Ontario had been inhabited
only by Native Americans, a few white trappers and gold prospectors.
After the first gold findings the Porcupine Camp (1) grew
very quickly into one of the largest goldmines in the Western
hemisphere. The largest ethnic groups in the community have been
the Finns, the Ukranians, the French, the Italians, the Croatians,
and the Chinese (Barnes 1975).
The focus of my article is
on the controversial relationship between religion and socialism
as it has been discussed in the oral-literary tradition of the
Finnish immigrants in Timmins and South Porcupine. I prefer the
term 'oral-literary local tradition' to 'oral history' because
I want to emphasize the interplay of orality and literacy rather
than the opposition of 'oral history' and 'official history'.
In immigrant communities 'official history' has often not been
written and even official historical documents are scarce.
My source material includes
handwritten newspapers from the 1910s and 1920s, manuscript local
histories and interviews. Interplay of orality and literacy is
typical of all the genres of oral-literary local traditions.
Newspapers were written out by hand (most often as only one copy)
but published orally, by reading them aloud at meetings. Written
memoirs and local histories are based on oral narratives, but
writers take distance from their own experiences. (2)
Parade of the Miners'
Union in South Porcupine on May 1, 1913. National Archives of
Dangerous truths and cover
I originally became interested
in this remote community while reading the handwritten newspaper
Ruoskija ('Whipper') at the Public Archives of Canada in Ottawa.
This paper was written between 1912-1917 by the first Finnish
inhabitants of Timmins, who worked as miners, cooks, and dishwashers.
Handwritten newspapers are
a new kind of research material for both folklorists and historians.
(3) They were a common tradition in
Finnish (and Scandinavian/Estonian) popular movements at the
end of the 19th century and during the first decades of the 20th
century. (4) Handwritten newspapers gained new
meanings in immigrant communities, where printed material was
often scarce (Lindström-Best 1982). The Finnish community
of tailors in Toronto had quite a sophisticated paper Toivo
('Hope') with political essays and short stories. Ruoskija
contains material that is much more rough, but therefore especially
interesting for a folklorist. Finnish miners describe frankly
their life filled with hard work, gambling, and drinking, their
fierce rivalry for the few Finnish women in the community, and
longing for family life.
After doing archive research
I made a field trip to Timmins in 1993. I stayed there for 10
days, and managed to interview quite a few very old Finns who
had come to Canada during the 1920s or even earlier. My family
and I were hosted and welcomed warmly by the Finnish community.
However, I felt that many of the Canadian Finns were quite embarrassed
that a researcher from Finland was interested in the rough early
history of the community, and some seemed to think that this
past was best forgotten. In the local tradition of the area -
and in Canada as a whole - two stereotypical figures of a typical
Finnish immigrant can be found: one is a communist and atheist
troublemaker who lives in a common-law marriage and is constantly
planning strikes and conspiracies against the government; the
other is an alcoholic bachelor who lives whole his life in a
boarding house and dies of either silicosis or heavy drinking,
or commits suicide. Many Canadian Finns still experience these
stereotypes as ethnic stigmata and do not want the shameful past
to be retold, researched, or even remembered. (5)
These stereotypes are not total
fallacies even though they present only one side of the picture.
The Finnish immigrants in Canada were mostly left-wing whereas
in the USA the right-wing 'church Finns' formed the majority
immigrant group (Laine 1981: 5-6). Finnish religious activity
in Canada stagnated during the 1910s and 1920s and the majority
of Finnish immigrants were critical towards the church and the
religion. The Finnish (Socialist) Organization of Canada (FOC)
was the dominant political group until the 1930s. The paradox
in this situation is that the majority of the Finnish immigrants
came from Ostrobothnia, which has been a cradle for right-wing
political movements and religious movements in Finland. (6)
According to Finnish-Canadian
historian Varpu Lindström (1991: 182-183, 202-216) the background
for the irreligiousness of the Finnish immigrants was the Finnish
labor movement's criticism towards the Lutheran church at the
beginning of the 20th century. In Canada Finnish immigrants were
confronted with both a multiplicity of different religions and
strict class conflicts. The religious situation among the Finnish
immigrants was complex, as both the Presbyterian preachers of
the United Church of Canada and the Lutheran priests were competing
for the Finns´ souls. The Lutheran church wanted to keep
up the national identity of the Finns, whereas the United Church
aimed at encouraging the Finns to adapt the Canadian society,
e.g., by organizing free English lessons.
Many Finnish-Canadian immigrants
lived in common-law marriages. Reasons for this were both social
and ideological: many Finnish immigrant men had left a family
in Finland and could neither get an official divorce nor remarry;
many of the socialist Finns refused to be married in church.
"Canada is heaven for the women and hell for the men"
is a common saying among the Finns, referring to the relatively
small number of Finnish immigrant women. Alcoholism was a severe
problem among many unmarried men. (Lindström 1991: 86, 102-105;
Some of the first
Finns of Timmins on the threshold of their first society hall
in 1911. National Archives of Canada/PA127078.
These ideological controversies
and social problems found their culmination in isolated multiethnic
communities. The Canadian sociologist Peter Vasiliadis did fieldwork
in the Porcupine area during 1980-1981. His reflection on his
experiences in his book Dangerous truth (1989) gives many
important points of view to a folklorist studying multiethnic
It became evident that Timmins
was a community of communities, often of a particular political,
religious or nationalist orientation. Each individual had a "reputation"
or clusters of reputations which varied according to community
and situation. Individuals might have a reputation on a general
community level and be perceived negatively as a "Communist
troublemaker" by authorities and elite members while retaining
a positive stereotype with the miners as a strong supporter of
trade unionism. (Vasiliadis
Vasiliadis cites a Finnish
woman who was vehemently anti-Communist. In an interview she
leaned close to him and confided: "You see the Communists
- by the way are you a Communist? You could be for all I know
and you could shoot me after what I said. Well, I'm telling the
truth and the truth is sometimes very dangerous" (Vasiliadis
According to Peter Vasiliadis
these words point to a major methodological problem in the study
of multiethnic communities. "The truth of record - especially
within communities which had only recently begun to compete over
historiography - is open to individual or group conjecture. What
is an absolute truth for one individual or group is an absolute
lie for another" (Vasiliadis 1989: 20-23). Vasiliadis points
to the sparseness of written primary documents and to a "camp
mentality" typical of communities such as Timmins: the residents
perceive their stay to be temporary and assume that they will
eventually be forced to leave. This leads to disinterest in both
the past and the future of the community.
Another problem in research
on multiethnic communities is that the existing documents are
written in various languages. Vasiliadis himself could read neither
Ruoskija nor many other texts written by the Finns in
Timmins, nor could he interview those Finns who could not speak
English. And there are quite a few Finns who have lived in Canada
for most of their lives without ever learning English beyond
the most basic everyday phrases. (7)
My own fieldwork experience
was easier - and much shorter - than that of Peter Vasiliadis.
However, I felt many times in my interviews that my informants
did not tell me stories, legends or anecdotes, but 'dangerous
truths', and sometimes they pointed this out to me directly.
As a folklorist, I do not take dangerous truth so much as a methodological
problem but as an object of research. I analyze how these truths
are constructed, strengthened, or questioned with the help of
narratives and rhetorical devices. Each dangerous truth has a
countertruth or counternarrative which is constructed by those
supporting the opposite ideological position. However, even though
my objective is not to find out which one (if any) of the several
contradictory dangerous truths is 'the real truth', I cannot
totally cast out the problem of the validity of the narratives.
Even though it is not possible to find out if a story is true
or not, I can estimate if it is possible or probable. Of course
it is interesting that even obviously impossible or improbable
stories can be presented as the truth.
Another typical genre of the
immigrant tradition is the 'cover story'. Immigration provided
for an individual a possibility to create both a new future and
a new past, a new identity for himself or herself. Sometimes
this was necessary because an immigrant had escaped some shameful
event, crime, or scandal, or a neglected a family in Finland.
Cover stories were also created for ideological purposes. After
the Finnish Civil War, during the 1920s, the members of the FOC
established 'research committees' to investigate the activities
of new immigrants during the Civil War. If someone turned out
to have been fighting in the White guards, he was cast out from
work groups and labor unions. (8) Dangerous
truths and cover stories have been sailing back and forth between
Canada, USA and Finland.
Red Finns and Church Finns
Local (amateur) history is
a genre of writing which differs in many ways from the oral or
written memoirs based on personal experiences. (9) Writers
of local histories take the role of an objective historian by
utilizing documents and making interviews, although often they
do not indicate exact sources. Although writers of local histories
have often participated themselves in the events they are writing
about, they distance themselves from the events in their narration.
Viktor Koski and Isak Mäkynen
were two Finnish inhabitants of the Porcupine area who took the
role of a historian in the community and gave their manuscripts
to the archives between the 1940s and the 1960s. (10) They
represent opposite ideological positions: Viktor Koski was a
devoted Communist who had fled Finland after the Civil War; Isak
Mäkynen was a 'church Finn' and among the first members
of the local chapter of the right-wing organization Loyal Finns
of Canada (Suomalainen Kansallisseura) which was founded
in 1931. (11) However, he was also mildly sympathetic
to the labour movement. Both of these writers also describe such
events in the history of the community in which they did not
themselves participate. The local history they wrote was based
on local oral narratives and their own interpretations of these
narratives. The typed local histories written by Isak Mäkynen
are compact and rather laconic. He rarely takes up his own experiences
or opinions directly and sometimes even mentions himself in the
third person. Viktor Koski is a totally different kind of narrator:
he writes volubly and lets the story meander between the history
of the community and his own experiences.
Greedy priests who
crave after alcohol were a popular topic of caricaturists in
Finnish immigrant comic papers. This brandy-loving priest is
illustrated in the comic paper Lapatossu published in Hancock,
Michigan, in 1912. The caption is a citation from a well-known
Finnish hymn, which depicts a thirsty deer as a symbol of a Christian
longing for God's love.
Both of these local historians
describe the birth of the Porcupine Camp and the Finnish community,
Finnish miners arriving in the area during 1910 and1911, and
the formation of the local association of the FOC during the
great mine strike in 1912. (12) The
first activities of the FOC in Timmins were writing the handwritten
newspaper Ruoskija, building their own society hall -
Isak Mäkynen praises the hall as "the first cradle
of the Finnish culture in Timmins" - and starting a cooperative
Viktor Koski and Isak Mäkynen
discuss the birth of the Finnish community in a retrospective
perspective, while the handwritten newspaper Ruoskija
provides a contemporary perspective to the same events. The language
of Ruoskija is a combination of Ostrobothnian dialects,
English words spelled in the Finnish manner, and an incorrect
orthography. However, the writers describe their thoughts and
experiences aptly and colorfully, although this is difficult
to express in a translation. The following example in the Christmas
issue of 1915 belongs to the genre of the 'mock sermon' which
was popular in the Finnish workers' movement during the 1910s
and 1920s. (13) The writer
carnevalizes the Christian visions of heaven and hell with vulgar
and mundane language full of references to eating and swallowing:
Oh my brother would not
it be a valuable thing. Think if that great master would not
have been just on Christmas born into the world, how would it
be with our poor souls? Not any chance for salvation, nothing
but the gaping gates of hell, which would swallow us with all
our sins and hair. - Just think what a joy it would be in hell
when small and big devils would tickle our ribs, and the whimpering
and whining, my tongue is freezing in my mouth when I think about
it ... but now it is different, all the joys and delicacies of
heaven are open to us. There shall we get in plenty everything
that we have not been able to enjoy here on the earth. There
will be joy and delight, there will always be beautiful performances
and tables full of the most wonderful delicacies, my mouth is
watering when I think about the delicacies we will eat like pigs
and what kind of miserable trash we have to swallow in this miserable
A third perspective on the
early history of Timmins and South Porcupine is provided by Arvi
Heinonen, a Finnish preacher of the United Church who held the
first services in Timmins and South Porcupine in 1913. He describes
his experiences (in the third person) in a leaflet published
in English by the United Church, probably in 1917. Heinonen went
from house to house, made announcements and gave invitations:
All the "Finn-towns"
were aroused to see the Finnish minister, curses and tears of
love were mingled, and in the last house visited in Timmins two
children walked to a table to be baptized, while the Socialist
boarders let blasphemy loose on the other side of the thin partition
and pushed one another against it until the missionary every
moment expected it to fall.
The mother of the baptized
children comes to rescue the missionary, who continues his journey
towards South Porcupine:
About half way they saw
a number of whiskey-crazed Finns walking towards them and filling
the road from side to side. Every man had a bottle in his hand
and was swinging it in the air. The missionary made the horse
gallop, thus compelling the men to divide and to let him pass.
When he was passing, the crowd noticed his ministerial coat,
and at once arose shouts of "pappi, pappi" ['minister' in Finnish] together
with string of curses. After passing them, the missionary invited
them to the service in their own language. They threw their whiskey-bottles
at him but could not reach him. He thanked them for throwing
away their bottles and promised to tell them of much better enjoyment
if they accepted his invitation. So he left them to gaze after
Arvi Heinonen (, 5-6,
9-10) is very critical of the Lutheran church in Finland, and
provides in his leaflet his English-speaking readers reasons
for the anti-religiousness of the Finns for his English-speaking
readers: these are "the power of the clergy, especially
regarding church taxes" and "the filthy and by no means
Christian life that many of the clergy led".
Stories from the
Bible were often reinterpreted in the socialist press and literature.
The story of Jesus and Satan on the mountain is utilised frequently
in the Finnish immigrant comic papers, but the characters in
this socialist version are a worker and a capitalist. The caption
of this cartoon published in the comic paper Punikki (New York
1931) begins with a direct citation from the New Testament followed
by the words of the capitalist. He threatens the worker with
deportation, but if the worker humbles himself before the capitalist,
he will get a chance to die of hunger in this country together
with his unemployed comrades.
After Heinonen's short visit
all religious activity stagnated in the Porcupine Camp for 15
years. The 1910s and 1920s were the time of prosperity for the
FOC, which dominated the whole multiethnic community. The Workers
Co-operative of New Ontario was founded by Finnish and Ukrainian
socialists and it succeeded very well during the 1920s. At the
end of the 1920s a political split took place in the Finnish
community. The communists wanted to send a part of the profit
of the co-op to Soviet Karelia where many Finnish communists
moved during the 1920s and 1930s. This was too much for the more
moderate Finns, who founded a competing company, Consumers Co-operative.
They were organized into the Society of Workers and Farmers (Työläisten
ja farmarien yhdistys), which built its own society hall
named Harmony Hall. The ideological disagreement divided both
the Finnish community and other ethnic groups for decades: the
customers of Vörkkeri and Konsumeeri, the
supporters of the FOC hall and Harmony Hall, lived separately
and avoided each other as much as possible. The right wing church
Finns also kept to themselves (Vasiliadis 1928: 124-130, 144-150,
The Finnish Civil War affected
strongly the Finnish immigrant communities during the 1920s,
because many new immigrants had left Finland with bitter memories.
The Civil War was discussed also in the handwritten newspaper
Yritys ('Attempt') which was written by the Finnish Communist
Development Society in South Porcupine in years 1928 and 1929.
In issue 2/1928 a writer who takes the pseudonym 'A wife of a
Red' (Punikin vaimo) discusses the White terror during
the Civil War in her own (unnamed) home town in Finland in a
story entitled Decennary Memories from My Native Place.
A priest enters the story at the end:
In the place of murder there
was also a priest. Why? Maybe to present his protest to the murder.
Or to lead the souls of those going to their death towards a
better life. Nothing of the kind, he was there to enjoy the bloodshed.
Apparently the finest threads of the plot were in his hands,
because he gave a speech on the grave saying that this event
gives vivid proof that God exists. Did he suspect it earlier?
He said the same the following day at the church. And he even
went to preach in the prison cells.
A few months later this
same priest went insane and he still is in a madhouse. Maybe
he is still thinking the same: that God exists.
This story belongs to a legend
tradition, which was very popular among the Reds after the Finnish
Civil War. In these legends the murderers or their supporters
get punishment later: they become insane, commit suicide, suffer
from mysterious diseases, nightmares, or visions. Priests who
accepted the Whites' killing of the Reds, or even participated
in it, are main characters in many of these legends (Peltonen
1996: 223-231, 364-366).
Reverend Lappala - a crook
or a hero?
The two Finnish preachers of
the United Church, August Lappala and Arvi Heinonen, are central
figures in the Finnish oral-literary tradition of the Porcupine
Camp. They come up both in the manuscripts of Isak Mäkynen
and Viktor Koski and in my interviews with some very old miners
The religious activities in
the Porcupine Camp were restarted in 1928 when another preacher
of the United Church, August Lappala, came to the community.
He became one of the leaders of the Loyal Finns of Canada (Suomalainen
Kansallisseura), which was founded by the most right-wing
Finns in 1931. During the 1930s Lutheran parishes were founded
both in Timmins and South Porcupine (Pikkusaari 1947; Raivio
One of the turning points in
the history of the Porcupine Camp was the great fire in Hollinger
mine in 1928. Thirty-eight miners, among them eight Finns, died.
The funeral for the Finns became a political demonstration. According
to Isak Mäkynen the FOC arranged the ceremony and denied
the manager of the Hollinger mine attendance at the funeral.
Instead of a funeral service a Finnish socialist leader gave
a speech while dressed in a red sweater. Isak Mäkynen interprets
this event as one reason for the system of "gatekeeping",
which meant that during the Depression in the 1930s Finns could
not get a job in the mines without a reference from the Finnish
priest or without membership in the Loyal Finns of Canada (Vasiliadis
The gatekeeping or 'card system'
(korttisysteemi) as the Finns called it is the essential
point in the stories about Reverend August Lappala. For Viktor
Koski he was definitely a crook, a priest who got mixed up with
politics and was enchanted by his power. Koski describes Reverend
Lappala not just an agent in the gatekeeping system, but as one
of its actual inventors together with a mysterious Colonel Elvegren.
According to Koski, this Elvegren was a White leader and torturer
of the Reds in the Finnish Civil War. He was supposed to have
been killed by the bolsheviks in the Soviet Union at the beginning
of the 1920s, but Koski had himself seen and recognized him in
Toronto a few years later. (14) Koski
mixes up historical concepts in his comment that Lappala and
Elvegren invented a "Gestapo after the model of old czar
Nikolai". According to Viktor Koski, an English-speaking
priest of the United Church put an end to Lappala's gatekeeping
and he was forbidden to get mixed up with politics.
If reverend Lappala is a prototypical
crook for Viktor Koski, he is a prototypical hero for Isak Mäkynen.
The following story about an FOC meeting in the year 1928 is
obviously a recount of a meeting witnessed by Mäkynen himself,
even though he keeps his own emotions aside until the last comment:
At the same meeting had
arrived a mother of two children, whose husband had gotten a
job at the Hollinger mine, because at that time Hollinger mine
did not employ the Finns, which was because of the outrageous
propaganda of the Finns after the fire in Hollinger mine - 38
men died, 8 of them Finnish. This mother told the public how
long her husband had been unemployed, she prayed God that her
husband would get a job and turned in her distress towards Reverend
Lappala and he was able to talk to the leaders of the Hollinger
mine so profitably that her husband and the only supporter got
a job. This woman spoke on the stage, the curtains were brought
down but the woman stepped in front of the curtains and continued
her speech thanking God and Reverend Lappala, then a group of
men attacked the stage and roughly took this mother from the
speaker's place (this was shocking for a young man from the old
Jalmari Saarinen (b. 1903),
a miner and a contributor to several Finnish-Canadian newspapers,
told to me in an interview a third dangerous truth about Reverend
Lappala. He took this theme up voluntarily and apparently wanted
to present his own argument, to disengage from the crook-hero
composition in which Reverend Lappala had been placed by the
Red Finns and the church Finns. He builds up his own, alternative
position, describing the reverend as a decent priest and a decent
man. The story is based on Jalmari Saarinen's own experience:
he had been hurt in a mine accident and he had to fill in some
applications for compensation in English. He did not want to
pay for a professional translator but went to Reverend Lappala
and was treated in a friendly manner:
When the paper was filled
I asked: "What do I owe you for this?" - he was actually
hurt, I am here to serve people, it does not cost anything. I
said that this is a real man, a real pastor here. And I started
to go to the little church at the corner of the Elm Street, one
Sunday I went there, but they looked at me badly, somebody said
that a communist dares to come here. I thought that I do not
want to give offence to anyone and I stayed away, although I
really liked it at the beginning.
Jalmari Saarinen remained a
lone thinker, between the different ideological groups, and criticized
in his newspaper articles the antireligiousness of the Finnish-Canadians.
Reverend Heinonen - a tragic
hero or a silenced troublemaker?
Arvi Heinonen returned to the
Porcupine Camp at the end of the 1930s. However, the official
history of the Finnish-Canadian church neglects his later activities.
Even though he was anything but a communist himself, his memory
has been kept alive by members of the FOC. They present him either
as a tragic hero or a sympathetic antihero.
World War II aggravated the
political controversies of the Finns. The FOC was banned in the
year 1940 but the next year, after Germany attacked the Soviet
Union, the political situation turned upside down: now the right-wing
Finns were treated as 'enemy aliens' by the Canadian Governement
and the organization Suomen Apu ('Aid for Finland') was
banned in turn (Vasiliadis 1989: 182-190; Lindström 2000).
Viktor Koski tells the story
about an anonymous Finnish priest in his letter to the history
committee of the FOC in the year 1947. According to Koski some
"brawlers" came from Finland during the Winter War
to recruit Finnish men for the war and to demand the banning
of the FOC. An English-speaking doctor asked advice from the
Finnish priests as to what he should do for those recruits who
suffered from "certain diseases" (apparently venereal
diseases). The priest advised to let them go to Finland. After
this the priest was accused by the Finnish church of being a
communist. "One fanatic" said that the priest was a
communist because he went shopping at "the store of an enemy
land" (apparently the Workers Coop):
The priest denied the charge
and said that this is a legal store and he has to see where he
can do his shopping advantageously, because his salary is small.
Two people came to the church and the other one mentioned a Finn
who is a communist leader (16)
and who has called the priest a decent guy, so he had come to
the conclusion that if that man praises the priest then the priest
has to be a communist. The priest answered to the charge: I do
not know that man well, but I know that this man has the best
reputation among the Finns in Timmins, although you have given
false information. The priest gathered his things and said: I
do not put my finger into your fascist soup because it stinks
and maybe it will burn you. The priest left and the church activity
came to an end. He became a surface worker at a mine. I am almost
sure that if there would had been an occasion in which one would
have to die or to become a communist, this priest would have
chosen the death.
In his memoirs Viktor Koski
discusses Arvi Heinonen with his real name and constructs him
even more clearly as a tragic hero. He also builds up a heroic
past for him: according to Koski, Arvi Heinonen had been a school
director in Finland, but fled to Canada in 1902, because he had
actively opposed the conscriptions of Czarist Russia. This story
is unsupported by existing documents and it is obviously inconsistent:
if Arvi Heinonen had been a school director at the turn of the
century, he would have been in his 80s or 90s during the 1940s
when he had to go to work in the mines. (17) The
story brings up again Viktor Koski's tendency to construct crook-hero
characters and to revise historical events and concepts. In his
stories Arvi Heinonen becomes an ageless and timeless tragic
hero and a revolter against oppression.
Hannes Purra (b. 1902), a miner and a devoted supporter of FOC,
told me a personal experience story about Arvi Heinonen in an
interview. Hannes Purra had made friends with Heinonen when he
worked as a taxi driver and brought many people to weddings and
funerals. Later, in 1947, Reverend Heinonen became his workmate
in the mine:
He was [working] at Pamour [mine]
after his parish came to an end, first in the carpenter shop
to help the sawyer. It was Good Friday. We started teasing
Heinos-priest: "How come a priest works on Good Friday?"
He said that he has to support his folks. So he had a quarrel
with the old sawyer and pushed him into the sawdust, so Heinonen
had to work alone in a room to make sticks for firing. (18)
He was put into an arrest.
Hannes Purra describes the
humiliation of Arvi Heinonen with friendly irony, without explaining
the reasons for his social downslide. He compares the jobs of
a priest and a taxidriver, both having their own business. When
Arvi Heinonen was already working in the mine, he still insisted
that he wanted to marry Hannes Purra and his fiancée.
However, when Purra and his bride got to the United Church, it
turned out that Heinonen no longer had a permission to perform
marriages. The irony of the situation is that Hannes Purra, a
devoted communist who attended church merely because of his business
as a taxidriver, seems to have been the last member of Arvi Heinonen's
What was impossible for a priest
or a preacher in the 1940s became possible in the 1960s. The
Finnish Lutheran priests Pentti Murto and Markku Suokonautio
worked for reconciliation of the different ideological groups
in the community. Nowadays the conflicts are not longer active
more as the early Finnish community had aged and the younger
generation has become adapted to Canadian society.
Narration, ideology and
The stories about Arvi Heinonen
and August Lappala demonstrate how narrative tendency (19)
is dependent on both the ideology and the personality of the
narrators. Viktor Koski takes the role of a historian but he
writes in the manner of an oral narrator, builds up crook-hero-figures
and mixes historical periods and concepts. This inconsistency
makes his stories embarrassing and confusing, although he definitely
is a good narrator. Isak Mäkynen keeps to the modest role
of a local historian. The oral narrators, Jalmari Saarinen and
Hannes Purra, describe the same events according to their own
experiences and bring up their own personalities and ideological
The Finnish miner
Hannes Purra (born 1902) in his living room in South Porcupine
in 1993. Photo: Margaret Kangas
Why did preachers of the United
Church become such controversial characters in the oral-literary
tradition of the Finnish community? The Lutheran priests of the
community did not become topics of a similar narrative tradition.
The Finnish Presbyterian preachers were anomalies, since their
position was very different from that of Lutheran priests in
Finland, who had definite power in the community. The difference
between the immigrant priests and the greedy and wanton Pastor
Meno in Ostrobothnian legends analyzed by Anna-Leena Siikala
(1984: 54-57, 75-81) is obvious. Immigrant priests were totally
dependent on the members of the parish and they could fall from
their social class. Reverend Lappala as described by Viktor Koski
comes close to the 'slaughter priests' who accepted or actively
supported executions and prison camps during and after the Civil
War (Peltonen 1996: 223-231, 364-366).
In addition to ideology the
priest/preacher stories discuss questions of masculinity. A frequent
question is: Who is a real man, a decent guy? Is it he, who is
sure of the absolute rightness of his ideology and does not hesitate
to destroy those who think differently? Is it he, who has the
courage to remain as an independent thinker if he is not accepted
into any of the ideological groups? Or is it he, who wants to
maintain friendship, interaction, and civilized behavior between
different ideological groups even if this can be dangerous to
his own life?
The corollary question is what
were the stories of the Finnish women in the community. The Finnish
women that I interviewed did not take up ideological controversies
in a similar manner as the men. Varpu Lindström (20)
has cited her interview with a Finnish woman, Miina Knutila,
who was one of the first Finns in Timmins/South Porcupine:
At first I could only think
of how to get away from Timmins; it was an awful place and then
the fire destroyed whatever was left. But now, when I think of
it, the beauty of the town did not lie in its buildings, in the
mineshafts or in the muddy, impassable roads; it was in the hearts
of the spirited workers and the women who worked together. We
all shared everything. We cried together, we laughed together,
we marched together, and we stuck together to the bitter end.
I have no regrets, I never did find the gold I came to look for,
but I did find a life full of purpose.
After reading all the previous
stories on ideological conflicts it is hard to believe that this
woman describes the same community. The stories of the Finnish
men of Timmins and South Porcupine provide possibilities for
questioning this touching story. When Miina Knutila talks about
"us", the women and the spirited workers, does she
mean only the members of the FOC, her own group? Did the solidarity
of women cross ideological borders? In any case, her story should
not be treated as a fallacy or a palliation. The refusal of bitterness
is her dangerous truth and strategy for survival. Varpu Lindström
has cited Miina Knutila's story at the end of her book on Finnish-Canadian
women because it expresses not only individual memories or local
history, but the experience of Finnish immigrant women in general.
Similarly, the stories of Finnish miners can be read as universal
narratives about struggle and division, courage and friendship.
Archives of Ontario, Toronto:
Memories of Viktor Koski:
- Kaisa Siirala Collection (KSR) MU 9915.01 MSR 7633 Ser. 062-027.
I and II.
- L. Sillanpää Collection (LSC) MU 9915.04 MSR 8126
FCHS - Finnish Canadian Historical
toimintaa Timminsin suomalaisten keskuudessa" and "Timminsin
suomalaisten kirkollista toimintaa" MU 3355.04 Ser. 062-001
Finnish Labour Archives / Commission
of Finnish Labour Tradition (Helsinki):
Memoirs K. V. Koski (92). (The
originals of the memoirs in Archives of Ontario are included
in this collection.)
Finnish Literature Society,
Folklore Archives (Helsinki):
Interview of Hannes Purra (b.
1902), South Porcupine 12.5.1993: SKSÄ 134.1993.
Interview of Jalmari Saarinen (b. 1903), Timmins 6.5.1993: SKSÄ
Public Arcives of Canada, Ottawa:
FOC - Finnish Organization
Handwritten newspaper Ruoskija, Timminsin Suomalainen
Sosialistiseura (Finnish Socialist Society) 1912-1919. MG 28,
V 46, Vol. 51, F5-F8.
Handwritten newspaper Yritys,
South Porcupinen Kommunistinen Kehitysseura (Communist Development
Society), 1928-1929. MG 28, V 46, Vol. 49, F14.
Local histories of the FOC
chapters: MG 28, V 46, Vol. 92, F8.
Viktor Koski: "Ruokalan historiaa" & "Vapauden
Viisikymmenvuotisjulkaisuun" (i.p.), Untitled letter 25.1.1948,
"Timmins" 20.1.1948, "Timminsin Työläisten
Osuusruokalasta" 18.2.1948, "Saunoista Timminsissä"
2.3.1948, Untitled letter 8.8.1965.
Timmins Museum: National Exhibition
Isak Mäkynen: "Porcupinen
Kulta-alueen suomalainen historia, kokoillut Isak Mäkynen."
Barnes, Michael 1975. Gold
in the Porcupine! Cobalt, Ontario.
Besnier, Niko 1995. Literacy,
emotion and authority. Reading and writing on a Polynesian atoll.
Eklund, William 1983. Canadan
rakentajia. Canadan Suomalaisen Järjestön historia
vv. 1911-1971. Toronto.
Finnegan, Ruth 1988. Literacy
and orality. Studies in the technology of communication. Oxford.
Heinonen, Arvi I . Finns
in Europe and in Canada. 
Heinonen, Arvi I 1930. Finnish
Friends in Canada. Toronto.
Iso Tietosanakirja III 1932. Helsinki.
Koski, Viktor 1980. The
Journal of Viktor Koski, Timmins, Ontario. (Translated
by Lindström-Best, V.). Seager, A. (ed.). Toronto.
Kostiainen, Auvo 1983. Suomalaiset
siirtolaiset ja politiikka. - Kostiainen, Auvo & Pilli, Arja
(toim.). Suomen siirtolaisuuden historia II. Aatteellinen
toiminta. Turun yliopiston historian laitoksen julkaisuja
12. Turku, s. 83-135.
Laine, Edward W. 1981. Community
in Crisis: The Finnish-Canadian Quest for Cultural Identity,
1900-1979. - Karni, Michael G. (ed.). Finnish Diaspora I:
Canada, South America, Australia and Sweden. Toronto, pp.
1981. Central Organization of the Loyal Finns in Canada. - Finns
in Ontario. Polyphony. The Bulletin of the Multicultural
History Society of Ontario. Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 97-103.
1982. Kanadansuomalaiset nyrkkisanomat. - Ulkosuomalaiset.
Kalevalaseuran vuosikirja 62. Helsinki, s. 27-33.
1989. Finnish Socialist Women in Canada, 1890-1930. - Kealey,
Linda & Sangster, Joan (eds.). Beyond the Vote: Canadian
Women and Politics. Toronto.
Lindström, Varpu 1991.
Uhmattaret. Suomalaisten siirtolaisnaisten vaiheita Kanadassa
Lindström, Varpu 1997.
Ethnocentricity and Taboos. - Untouched Themes in Finnish Canadian
Social History. Melting into Great Waters. Papers from Finnforum
V. Special issue of Journal of Finnish Studies Vol. 1, No.
3, pp. 33-47.
Lindström, Varpu 2000.
From Heroes to Enemies. Finns in Canada 1937-1947. Beaverton,
Numminen, Jaakko 1961. Suomen
nuorisoseuraliikkeen historia I. Vuodet 1881-1905. Keuruu.
Peltonen, Ulla-Maija 1996.
Punakapinan muistot. Tutkimus työväen muistelukerronnan
muotoutumisesta vuoden 1918 jälkeen. Helsinki.
Pikkusaari, Lauri T. 1947.
Copper Cliffin suomalaiset ja Copper Cliffin Suomalainen Evankelis-Luterilainen
Wuoristo-Seurakunta. Hancock, Michigan.
Pilli, Arja 1983. Amerikansuomalaisten
kirkollinen toiminta. - Kostiainen, Auvo & Pilli, Arja (toim.).
Suomen siirtolaisuuden historia II. Aatteellinen toiminta.
Turun yliopiston historian laitoksen julkaisuja 12. Turku, s.
Raivio, Yrjö 1975. Kanadan
suomalaisten historia I. Copper Cliff.
Raivio, Yrjö 1979. Kanadan
suomalaisten historia II. Thunder Bay.
Salmi-Niklander 1996. Lennart
ja Fanny Lemmenlaaksossa. - Rahikainen, Marjatta (toim.). Matkoja
moderniin. Helsinki, s. 117-138.
Salmi-Niklander, Kirsti 1997a.
"The Enlightener" and "The Whipper". Handwritten
Newspapers and the History of Popular Writing. - Elore, No. 2:
Salmi-Niklander 1997b. "Varoka
ihmisijä joiren jumala on taivasa". Uskonto ja työväenliike
kanadansuomalaisessa kaivosyhteisössä. - Parikka, Raimo
(toim.). Työväestö ja kansakunta. Väki
voimakas 10. Helsinki, s. 27-67.
Salmi-Niklander, Kirsti 1998a.
"Isot poijat ne koppasee..." Siirtolaiserotiikan terminologiaa
ja kipupisteitä. - Pöysä, Jyrki & Siikala,
Anna-Leena (toim.). Amor, Genus & Familia. Helsinki,
Salmi-Niklander, Kirsti 1998b.
"Maailman parhaat kulkuneuvot". Matka ja muutos Karkkilan
paikallisperinteessä. - Hänninen, Sakari (toim.). Missä
on tässä? Jyväskylä, s. 42-70.
Salmi-Niklander, Kirsti 1999.
Soot and Sweat. The Factory in the Local Tradition of Karkkila.
- Hänninen, Sakari & alii (toim.). Meeting Local
Challenges - Mapping Industrial Identities. Papers on Labour
History 5. Helsinki, s. 130-142.
Seager, Allen 1981. Finnish
Canadians and the Ontario Miners' Movement. - Finns in Ontario.
Polyphony. The Bulletin of the Multicultural History Society
of Ontario. Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 35-45.
Shuman, Amy 1986. Storytelling
rights: the uses of oral and written texts among urban adolescents.
Siikala, Anna-Leena 1984. Tarina
ja tulkinta. Tutkimus kansankertojista. Helsinki.
Sintonen, Teppo 1999. Etninen
identiteetti ja narratiivisuus. Kanadan suomalaiset miehet elämänsä
Street, Brian V. 1984. Literacy
in Theory and Practice. Cambridge.
Suokonautio, Markku 1984. Reorganization
of the Finnish Lutherans in Canada. - Finns in Ontario. Polyphony.
The Bulletin of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario.
Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 91-96.
Vasiliadis, Peter 1989. Dangerous
Truth. Interethnig Competition in a Northeastern Ontario Goldmining
Center. New York.
Wargelin, Raymond 1972. Finnish
Lutherans in Canada. - Jalkanen, Ralph J. (ed.). The Faith
of the Finns: Historical Perspectives on the Finnish Lutheran
Church in America. Michigan.
References from text:
Peter Vasiliadis (1989: 19) uses the term "the Porcupine
Camp" for the city of Timmins and the other smaller towns
and municipalities in the area (South Porcupine, Pottsville,
Schumacher). According to Vasiliadis, this term is "a leftover
from the inception of the mining base in 1909 but of symbolic
importance to the present". Back
The concept of the oral-literary local tradition refers to the
discussion on orality and literacy by Brian Street (1993) and
Ruth Finnegan (1988). The analysis of oral-literary practices
has been inspired by Niko Besnier (1995) and Amy Shuman (1986).
Ruoskija is comparative material in my forthcoming doctoral
thesis in folklore studies, which focuses on the oral-literary
local tradition in Karkkila, a Finnish industrial community (Salmi-Niklander
1996, 1998b, 1999). This article is based on a longer article
published in Finnish (Salmi-Niklander 1997b). Back
Handwritten newspapers originate from newsletters, which were
common during the 17th and the 18th centuries in Europe. Handwritten
newspapers were produced in aristocratic and bourgeois families,
schools and universities starting from the beginning of the 19th
century (see Salmi-Niklander 1997a). Back
Varpu Lindström (1997) has discussed the untouched themes
and taboos in Finnish Canadian social history. Back
On political activities of the Finnish Canadians, see Lindström
1991: 220-226, 233-234, 246-247; Kostiainen 1983. On religious
activities, Lindström 1991: 184-192, 198-199; Pilli 1983;
Suokonautio 1981; Wargelin 1972. Back
Incompetence in speaking and reading English was common among
those Finnish immigrants who arrived in Canada before the Great
Depression in the 1930s. Those Finnish immigrants who arrived
after World War II are more competent in English, which has created
tensions between different generations of immigrants (Sintonen
1999: 161-167). Back
Yrjö Raivio (1974: 464-485) discusses this period in his
book on the history of the Finns in Canada. His point of view
comes close to that of the "church Finns". Back
Ulla-Maija Peltonen (1996: 60-133) has discussed the writing
narrator in her research on the personal memoirs from the Finnish
Civil War 1918. Back
Several large manuscripts by Viktor Koski (b. 1898) are preserved
both in the Workers' Archives in Helsinki and in the Ontario
Archives in Toronto (as copies). He has also written several
manuscripts on the history of the Porcupine camp for FOC (Public
Archives of Canada). - Isak Mäkynen has given a manuscript
entitled The History of the Finns in the Porcupine Goldmining
Region to the Timmins Museum. Also two manuscripts on the
religious activity among the Finns in Timmins (Finnish Canadian
Historical Society, Ontario Archives, Toronto) have probably
been written by him. - The manuscripts of Viktor Koski and Isak
Mäkynen have been utilized by other researchers. Viktor
Koski's memoirs have partly been translated into English (1980).
Allen Seager (1981) and Peter Vasiliadis (1989) have used it
as source material. Manuscripts by Isak Mäkynen have been
utilized in the history project of Finnish Canadian Historical
Society (Raivio 1975: 259-264; Raivio 1979: 269-270). Both the
FOC (Eklund 1983) and the right-wing Finns (Raivio 1975, 1979)
have had their own history projects. Back
Activities of Loyal Finns of Canada have been discussed by Varpu
Lindström-(Best) (1981). Back
World War I the word 'Socialist' was left out from the name,
so thereafter it was the Finnish Organization of Canada. FOC
joined the Communist Party of Canada soon after it was founded
after World War I (Lindström 1991: 246-247). Back
'Mock sermons' in the Finnish labor movement have been discussed
by Ulla-Maija Peltonen (1996: 218-219). Back
The model in Colonel Elvegren is probably lieutenant-colonel
Yrjö Elfvengren (1889-1927). According to the encyclopedia
Iso Tietosanakirja III (1932) he led the Karelian regiment
in the Finnish Civil War and fought against the bolsheviks in
Ingria at the beginning of the 1920s. Elfvengren went to the
Soviet Union in 1925 working as a spy and a terrorist against
the Soviet government, until he was executed by the secret police.
The same story is repeated in both manuscripts by Isak Mäkynen.
In another version of this story sent to the Finnish Labour Archives
in 1958 (K. V. Koski 92/26D, pp. 121-125) Viktor Koski indicates
that the Finnish communist leader mentioned in the story was
Koski himself. Back
According to the school enrollment book of a secondary school
in Helsinki (Helsingin normaalilyseon matrikkeli), Arvi
Heinonen was born in Helsinki in the year 1887 and died in Ontario
in the year 1963. Back
Hannes Purra uses an American Finnish word savitänkkitikkuja,
but I have not been able to find out the exact meaning for it.
He explains that they were some kinds of sticks used for firing
guns or canons. Back
On the concept of narrative tendency see Siikala 1984: 96-97;
Peltonen 1996: 57. Back
The citation has been published both in Finnish (Lindström
1991: 271 ) and as an English translation (Lindström-Best
1989: 213). Back