Suomi

The Young Finnish Women Pioneers of Montreal

Finnish maids in Quebec ca 1930

The earliest waves of Finnish immigrants to Montreal consisted overwhelmingly of young Finnish women. Unlike in other areas of Canada, where Finnish immigrants engaged in forestry or other labour, in Montreal the gender balance was definitely female! These determined and resourceful young Finns often worked as domestic help in the ‘grandes maisons”, or the large and rich homes of the Montreal wealthy. They were the primary movers behind starting the congregation, and the initial financial offerings they raised came from their own, often meagre, earnings. Through the years, unlike in many other churches, women and men together have always been on church council, and active in the direction of the congregation, its music and its social life. Newly arrived maids on the steps of the Finnish Immigrant Home in Montreal ca 1929 Victor Kangas Collection

It’s not surprising that so many of the Suomi activities planned for fall 2017 in Montreal – a Finnish bus trip to the Eastern Townships on Oct 14, the sold-out Suomi 100 Ball in December – are likewise spearheaded by women. The historical video can be watched here: https://vimeo.com/235420822

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Ahead of the Red Army Sunday

organist-and-pastor

Life of a Montréaler Dept: I find out today is Sunday is something called “Kodumaalt Lahkumise Jumalateenistus” (Leaving Estonia ahead of the advancing Russian Army Sunday). Such a thing exists? So I include prayers for modern-day refugees. As the Estonians file in for church, there are two visitors who happen to speak only Russian. What are the chances? They want to know if I will take their book, in Russian, and find a translator for the Finns, the other group I am responsible for. They may be Karelians with links to Finland, but I can’t tell. So I wave at the replacement organist for my Estonian service, who happens to have moved to Montreal from Ukraine. She comes over and they talk, in Russian, about the Finns, while I put the finishing touches on the Estonian-English liturgy about fleeing the Russians. Another day as a Lutheran in Montreal.

The Accidental Ambassador

poster at Wiljami theatre Rovaniemi      movie is starting

Even though the Suomi Conference of Canada sent me to Finland to experience Finnish culture, I’m realizing now that I’m here, that I’m representing Canadian Finns to the homeland. Which is ironic. Who needs an ambassador who can’t even speak the language?

But the pleasure – and the privilege – is that I’m meeting relatives of Finns in Canada, who come to see my documentaries just because I’m a living connection to their family. “We are cousins to Heiki and drove 100 km to see you,” says one man, in carefully-practiced English. I hope that he will get something from the (not-Finnish-language) films. There are Finns who spent a winter, or two years, or a few weeks, in Vancouver or Toronto, who have come because I represent that land they left behind. Or Finns who might be coming to Canada for a term or a job, because they want a sense of the place.

First there are local singers who perform. Then my documentaries. After seeing the movie, the people shake their heads: “it’s not easy being an emigrant,” they say, “being caught between here and there.” Then, through translation, some of them talk about being caught between Helsinki and Lapland, or about their grown children traveling to the United States or to South America – and how they’re afraid that they will meet someone and settle down there, away from parents and home. A few in the audience know someone in the film. One woman cries, quietly.

When they hear that the Suomi choir in the film is coming back to Finland, I hear murmurs: “they’re coming here to the north I hope!” I answer “We’d love to!”, even though I then have to add that I know nothing about the choir’s schedule and have zero power to change it.

Then, the lights lift, and people move to their coats and after a few more “kiitos’s” they are gone. I collect my things. Sari – who has been such a wonderful host throughout – will drop me back to my apartment. She knows I haven’t eaten since breakfast. “Are you hungry?” she asks. I still haven’t figured out the eating patterns here, which seem to include lots of food in the late evening after sauna, and sausages outside following every snow activity. But neither of those is the situation today. I think perhaps this will be the occasion for more Lappish cuisine. “Sure,” I answer. “Great,” she says, leading the way out the door: “I was thinking Chinese”.

singers at presentation

Thunder Bay

Image

We come in from the south-east at five thousand feet,

the turboprops slow without warning, spinning idle, breathy,

and we just hang there,

My face, staring out, floats in space by my seat,

superimposed on endless lake, and blue-green forest, and rock.

Some lucky Norse warrior’s final view

(they call the hotel here the Valhalla.)

The little trolley bumps and rattles. There are cheerful, practiced apologies,

hands making a final collection of cookie wrappers, newspapers, plastic cups,

the fetching of two empty beer cans the young woman in torn jeans leaves on her tray.

She has passed out. Her cell phone blinking.

We drop toward landing.

I see spots that become boats on the azure water, white trails coming and going I know not where.

One of the cloud shadows, I see, is ours.

In my bag: notepad, Wanderlust, agenda, bills, chocolatines

all untouched.