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Finnish Profile provided courtesy of the 1984 Alberta People Kit

  The origins of the Finnish people can be traced to the western slopes of the Ural Mountains. Prior to the Christian era, migrants of the Finno-Ugric language group from the Urals settled in Finland. By the 11th century, Swedish settlers arrived, dividing Finland into a Finnish speaking majority and a Swedish speaking minority. Today, the Finnish language is the oldest spoken national language in Europe.

The first Finnish immigrants to arrive in North America came with Swedish settlers who, in 1638, established New Sweden in Delaware. Two hundred years passed before new Finnish immigrants arrived on the continent. Between 1835 and 1865 Finns came to Alaska, then part of the Russian Empire. Several of these were Finnish seamen who moved down the coast to what is now British Columbia.

There were three major periods of Finnish immigration to Canada. The first was from 1870 to World War I, the second, during the 1920s and the third in the 1950s. Few of the Finns who immigrated to Canada settled on the prairies. Most established themselves in the mining industry in Ontario and in the lumber camps of British Columbia.

In 1901, the most famous Finnish settlement in North America was founded on Malcolm Island in Queen Charlotte Strait, which is located between the British Columbia mainland and Vancouver Island. It was called Sointula or "Place of Harmony", and was a Utopian farming community. It was short-lived, however, collapsing in 1905.

Upon hearing that Alberta had "free and abundant land", Finnish farmers came from the north-central area of the United States to homestead in Sylvan Lake, Eckville, Radway, Hughenden and Stettler in 1902. In southern Alberta, Finnish farmers settled near Foremost and a few Finnish miners worked in the Crowsnest Pass. Other early Finnish pioneers worked in railroad construction.

Most of the Finns presently residing in Alberta arrived in the late 1940s and 1950s, particularly during the Cold War era. This group consisted of skilled workers and professionals who tended to settle in urban centres such as Edmonton and Calgary. Finns already in Alberta benefited from this third wave of immigration, which stimulated language retention and maintenance of cultural identity.

The Canadian census indicates that there were 114,690 people of Finnish origin in Canada in 2001. At that time, Albertans of Finnish descent constituted four percent of the total Scandinavian population in Alberta and numbered about 12,730.

The Finnish Society of Edmonton is one of numerous Finnish groups in Canada associated with the Finnish-Canadian Cultural Federation. The national organization was founded in Windsor, Ontario in 1971 and became a national organization in 1973. The Edmonton Society holds skiing and ice fishing competitions, sponsors folk dancing and singing groups, and celebrates traditional Finnish holidays. It also participates in the annual Finnish Canadian Grand Festival. Calgary's counterpart to the Finnish Society in Edmonton, is Club Finlandia and the Calgary Finnish Church. Similar to those in Edmonton, the Calgary organizations are active in social and cultural activities.

The majority of Finnish Canadians are Lutherans, the most commonly practiced denomination in Finland. The second largest religious group among Finns in Canada is made up of members of the United Church of Canada, who comprise 10 percent of the Finnish-Canadian population. There are also active Finnish-speaking churches affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, such as the Calgary Pentecostal Church.

Finnish language newspapers published today include Canadian Uutiset (Canadian News), a weekly published out of Thunder Bay since 1915; Viikkosanomat (Weekly Messenger), which has been based in Toronto since 1975; and Vapaa Sana (Free Press), founded in Sudbury in 1931. More recently, The Finnish Update, published in Thunder Bay, Lansirannikon Uutiset (West Coast News), published in Burnaby and Todistaja, based in Vancouver have sprung up. However, there is no Finnish Canadian publication in Alberta as of yet.

Culturally, Finns have actively promoted music, art, choirs, bands, crafts, folk dancing and sports. Many Finnish households maintain old world cookery traditions. Some Finnish cultural dishes are mammi, an orange flavoured Easter pudding made with malt and flour; pulla, a sweet coffee bread, and piirakka, a leaf-shaped pastry stuffed with rice.

Finns who are interested in commercial affairs generally have become active in co-operative movements since cooperatives are well established in Finland. Finns in Canada pioneered efforts to establish consumer-oriented co-operatives in several urban centres in the country. Consumers' Co-operative Society, Canada's largest co-operative, was started by Finns.

Finnish Canadians have a long tradition of organizing amateur sports clubs and are especially active in developing cross-country skiing, track and field and gymnastics. They have placed numerous members on Canadian National and Olympic teams.

 


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