In 1959, Kendal Park at Brunswick and Bernard avenues was renamed Sibelius Square in honour of Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), best known for his composition Finlandia. Today, a bronze bust of the music master by Finnish artist Waino Valdemar Aaltonen, erected in 1959, overlooks the park—a dignified reminder of the great composer and of the 10,000 Finns who live in the city.
In 1987, Finns celebrated a century of settlement in Toronto. The founder and pioneer of the Toronto Finnish community was Jaakko Lindala, a tailor who arrived in 1887 and encouraged other Finnish tailors to emigrate. A spokesperson for Finns and other immigrants, Lindala was a mayoral candidate in 1907. Established at the turn of the century on York Street, Lindala’s Iso-Paja (Big Shop) became a centre for the community’s gatherings. The shop, which contained a public sauna, was the largest employer of Finnish men in the city.
A Finnish neighbourhood developed around Widmer Street, where Finnish women operated rooming houses and Holm’s restaurant became a gathering place for single men. Finnish-owned bakeries (Lopponen was the first and Miettinen’s the second), restaurants, and grocery stores were also established in the area. On weekends, bands, theatre groups, and a choir livened up Finnish dances, picnics, and cultural events.
Prior to the Finnish settlement in Toronto, the first Finnish migrants to North America helped establish the colony of New Sweden along the Delaware River in 1638. In the 19th-century, several hundred Finns settled in Alaska, and along the coast of British Columbia. In Ontario, Finns were among the pioneers who constructed the Welland Canal. A tide of Finnish immigration in 1902 brought tailors, artisans, seamstresses, and laundresses to Toronto. The Finns contributed to early city construction, and iron workers laboured over the building of railroads, ships, and bridges. In the heart of the Finnish neighbourhood on Adelaide Street, the Parisian Laundry employed Finnish women for over two decades.
The Finnish in Toronto started cultural, social, and sport groups and one of the famous sportsmen was E. Lopponen who was the national heavyweight champion in wrestling (1908–1912) and a member of the Canadian Olympic team.
Another large group of Finns—mostly professionals—arrived in Canada between 1950 and 1960. Today, many Finns work in the professions or in business, some as independent contractors specializing in construction and the aluminum siding industry.
The showpiece of Finnish architecture in Toronto is the dual-towered New City Hall, designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell, whose novel oyster-shaped design won the 1958 international competition for the new home of city council.
MAY 1ST VAPPU. The Toronto community celebrates the occasion with a dance and a Miss May Day contest. Sima, a special lemon-flavoured drink, is served with a sweet bread known as tippaleipa.
MIDSUMMER DAY, celebrated on the Saturday nearest June 24, recognizes the longest day of the year. A picnic is held in Ontario cottage country. A huge bonfire, meant to ward off evil spirits, is an important part of the event. Midsummer Day is also a religious holiday and the Finnish name, Juhannus, refers to John the Baptist.
THE ANNUAL FINNISH CANADIAN GRAND FESTIVAL, held on August 1 weekend, is organized by local clubs and coordinated by the Finnish Canadian Cultural Federation. In 1940, concerned Finns in Sudbury organized a Song and Music Festival to collect money for Finland, which had just survived the Winter War (1939–1940) against the Soviet Union. The need for assistance of the homeland has ceased, but the festival which brings together Canadians of Finnish descent still takes place in a different city each year. On the August 1 weekend, performing Finnish artists are featured in three nights of arts and crafts exhibitions that include dances, religious services, and sporting events. Finns enthusiastically compete in a round-robin tournament of Finnish baseball in which an intrepid pitcher throws the ball high up in the air, while standing next to the hitter.
INDEPENDENCE DAY on December 6 marks the day in 1917 that Finland declared its independence from Russia. Commemorative services are held in churches, where war veterans bear flags and a wreath is placed at the Agricola Church monument.
RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS: Christmas Joulu, Easter Paasiainen, Helluntai and New Year Uusivuosi are highlights for family gatherings. Tradition is to go with all members of the family to church.
CANADA DAY is celebrated by the Finnish Torontonians. On July 1, 1999, the community, for the first time in Canada’s history, marched from Queen’s Park to Nathan Phillips Square. Organizer: Tony Ruprecht, M.P.P. Finns coordinated by Meeri Apunen.
VAPAA SANA, (FINNISH WEEKLY NEWSPAPER), (Tel. 416-321-0808, 191 Eglinton Ave. E., Suite 308). A weekly tabloid with a circulation of 3,500. General Manager: Markus Raty. Editor-in-chief: Matti Temiseva.
TODISTAJA, a monthly newspaper put out by the Finnish Pentecostal Church.
FINNISH CANADIAN CULTURAL FEDERATION, (www.finnishcanadian.com). Established 1971 as an umbrella organization for 60 clubs and associations throughout Canada. Represents the Finnish cultural group to all levels of government, and also supervises the annual Finnish Canadian Grand Festival.
BOWLING CLUB ROLLERS, (Tel. (705) 765-6265). Chair: Kimmo Salonen; Secretary: Ulla Campbell, (Tel. 416-385-8090).
CANADIAN FRIENDS OF FINLAND, (Tel. 416-730-8350, P.O. Box 51, 4700 Keele St). President: Seppo Kanerva. Founded by Dr. Varpu Lindstorm, Professor of History, Member Board of Governors, York University.
FINNISH THEATRE, FINNISH SOCIAL CLUB ACTORS, (Tel. 416-724-9856). Chair: Maarit Koivunen; Leading Actor: Esko Laakso.
FINNISH CANADIAN TEACHERS ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-445-0747, 20 Lynedock Cres). President: Anneli Ylanko.
FINNISH SOCIAL CLUB, (Tel. 416-225-1534) Owns its own building and the Cedar Club in Udora (60 miles north of Toronto), which is used for the Finnish summer camp and Finnish language (summer) school. Holds an annual cross-country ski race at the grounds in late January. Chairman: Kalevi Aho.
FINNISH SOCIAL COUNSELLING SERVICE OF TORONTO INC., Since 1981. (Tel. 416-997-3056, 191 Eglinton Ave E., Suite 206). A charitable agency that assists with Canada and global pensions and provides community outreach services. An information centre operating in liaison with the government and non-governmental agencies. President: Seppo Leinoren; Executive Director: Meeri Apunen, A.C.I., M.C.I., B.A., M.A.
FINNISH WAR VETERANS OF CANADA, (Tel. 905-887-7357, Toronto Chapter, P.O. Box 266, Gormley). Chairman: Veikko Kallio.
PENSIONERS CLUB, (Tel. (705) 877-8310, 276A Main St). Arranges trips and meets at Suomi Talo. Chair: Kaija Raiskinmaki.
SISU ATHLETIC CLUB, (Tel. 416-487-0687, 276A Main St). A major sports club, including a female modern rhythmic gymnastics group, folk-dancing group, hockey team, track and field group, soccer and Finnish baseball teams, and a cross-country ski group. Chairman: Matti Suopaa.
SUOMI-TALO (HOUSE OF FINLAND) ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-421-9614). An organization to support the establishment of the Finnish Cultural Centre in Toronto; owns a hall at 276A Main St. Contact: Aimo Heikurinen.
TORONTO FINNISH MALE CHOIR, (Tel. 416-225-9906). The 40-member choir participates in Finnish cultural events and festivals in Canada and the U.S.; has also organized concert tours in Finland. Chair: Bill Paavola; Secretary: Raimo Nutikka.
TORONTO FINLANDIA LIONS CLUB, (Tel. 416-499-0167), Chair: Anja Kaski; Secretary: Seija Hyhko.
TORONTO SUOMI LIONS CLUB, (Tel. 416-267-9206), Secretary: Risto T. Puhakka.
CEDAR PARK RESIDENTS’ ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-282-3548, 52 Grantown Ave., West Hill). Chair: Timo Makela.