The Friends of the Finnish labour Temple have committed to Project Bay Street 2017/Finnish Arts in Thunder Bay, an oral history and academic forum project in partnership with the Keskipohjalaisten Kerho, (KP Club), the Bay Street Film Festival, and the Lakehead University Department of History. The project focuses on Finnish immigration to the Lakehead region and Thunder Bay, Ontario, with emphasis on the various Finnish-Canadian cultural groups. Partners in the project will provide in-kind support to the project. The Department of History will provide an academic foundation, the Film Festival will provide technical services and the KP Club will provide guidance. The project has two objectives. The first is to collect oral histories that will be placed on an existing website created by Drs. Ronald Harpelle and Michel Beaulieu from the Department of History.(www.lakeheadfinns.ca). Both professors have published extensively on the subject of Finnish immigration to Canada and they are also members of the executive of the Friends. The addition of these oral histories will enhance the website and provide an update to similar interviews that were conducted several decades ago. The second objective is to organize an academic forum that is open to the public. The forum will be held in Thunder Bay in April 2017 and will focus on immigration to the Lakehead since 1867. A particular emphasis will be on Finnish immigration in the wake of Finland’s independence in 1917.
The Historical Background
The first wave of Finnish immigrants arrived in Canada at the end of the nineteenth century. They were followed by a wave at the end of World War I and the an other after World War II. Most Finnish immigrants to North America were attracted to towns that ring Lake Superior, but other smaller communities emerged elsewhere. Despite the distance between Canada and Finland, these immigrants maintained strong ties with their country of origin and passed on those ties to their Canadian-born children. Similarly, these vibrant Finnish Diaspora communities in Canada maintained connections with communities in the US. These connections provided many opportunities for exchange and these Finnish immigrant communities built bonds that endure today. These and other aspects of the Finnish immigrant experience will be subjects of the interviews and academic forum. This project will be of interest to academics, students and local residents interested in Finnish and Finnish-Canadian immigration history.
The project leader is Dr. Ronald Harpelle, a professor of history at Lakehead University. He has been an editor of 3 books (Labouring Finns: Transnational Politics in Finland, Canada and the United States, Developments, Definitions, and Directions in Finnish Language, Literature, and Culture, Karelian Exodus: Finns in North America and Karelia During the Depression Era, and he is also an editor of a forthcoming book entitled Hard Work Conquers All: Aspects of the Finnish-Canadian Experience, with the University of British Columbia Press. Dr. Harpelle has also chaired the organization committees for two international conferences on Finnish immigration, Finnish Immigrants and the Decade of Depression, 1929-1939, Thunder Bay March 27-28 2004, and Finland and the World: Past, Present and Future, FinnForum IX, May 26-27, 2010, Thunder Bay. In addition to being the co-author of the Lakehead Finns website, he is also the producer of a documentary film entitled “Under the Red Star.” Dr. Harpelle is also a member of the Council for the John Morton Centre for North American Studies.
The expected results are straightforward. The oral history component will enhance an existing website on the history of Finnish immigration and settlement in Canada. They will serve to more directly connect the historical content on the website with the contemporary lives of Finnish-Canadians. The oral history component will serve as a bridge between the past and future generations of Finnish-Canadians. The academic forum component will serve to build a bridge between current academic interest in immigrant history and the community upon which this research is based. Thunder Bay, with its large Finnish community, is the logical location for this type of conference. The organizers expect a high degree of participation from communities and institutions in the Great Lakes region of Canada and the U.S.