Finnish Halls, Sointulas and the Utopias of North America

10 December 2018

I feel like I’ve written this article many times in my head already but I think now is the best time to include these final thoughts in this publication. As I sit here looking to see if I’ve actually typed this before, an email from an old friend pops up in which Harry Siitonen translated the story of Matti Kurikka a socialist writer who helped establish Sointula, a utopian island colony on Malcolm Island in 1901 based on cooperative principles in British Columbia, Canada.

Kurikka’s works were translated by my friend and converted into a play back in 2009 before Google Translate was available. At last look, Matti Kurikka’s written Finnish Works are available online at Project Gutenberg at https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/5646. With the click of a button, Google Chrome will now roughly translate them into English. My late friend Harry Siitonen converted the translated story into a play, which I believe he submitted to every place he thought may live beyond him (Minnesota, Michigan and Berkeley, I think). I don’t have the play anymore but I have a lot of fun memories recorded onto miniDV, a format that’s nearly obsolete. Harry and others were always organizing fun activities for our lodge to meet and participate with others, such as this reading. Two other friends became acquainted at this play and later married and now bring their kids up skiing with Berkeley’s Kaleva Ski Club. What a small world and what fun we have enjoyed at our events.

In July, four years ago, I accompanied my parents to one such Sointula (Canadians unfamiliar with this place refer to it as “so-in-too-lah”), just off the tip of NE Vancouver Island, Canada, where we ate at the Finnish Bakery, walked down Kaleva Road to the Finnish Cemetery and poked around the Finnish Co-Op Grocery Centre, over 109 years young. Despite the changes that were certain to change this place upon the Great Fire and many winter survival through cooler climates off the waterway, I was most impressed with what was left behind. Many descendents from this earlier community still reside here, today. Plan a visit from the Sointula Info website.

Though I loved the familiar scents of Isoäiti’s baking emanating from the Bakery, my favorite stop, by far, was the Sointula Museum, http://sointulamuseum.ca/, where they had an amazing collection of artifacts from the original colony. I bought two posters here, one (pictured) of which I gave to my PLU Rowing Friend Julie Johnson White, in Seattle. The other hangs in my classroom. These were used as some of the promotions for their own Sointula Play hosted up on Malcolm Island at the time. #RespectForGreatDesign

I’m 41 now, and the longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve gotten to experience for myself, exploring north and south of my Washington upbringings, communing with other lodges in Oregon and California and even that visit to Canada. The longer I’ve learned about the history of our people settling in this country, the more I am intrigued about what they must have done to survive. Whether it be my cousin who died in the Canadian Mines, the Co-Op Grocery and Hardware Stores researched by my late friend in the SF Bay Area, Sauna, the familiar music of the Lutheran Churches, or the Sointulas and other Utopias I enjoyed discussing with Dennis Tuomola (of Fort Bragg that holds his OWN museum of NorCal History) that littered the West Coast. Many moved to this country to start again, and did it the best way they could. I’ve been to Finland to visit our cousins and started new relationships with other family members I didn’t know like my friend Julie found on Facebook that created new relationships with Finns abroad I hadn’t even met yet. But as we must change with the times, it’s those music memories, the food, the appreciation of art and culture that makes me continue to be a proud Finn.  

I’ve enjoyed a number of conversations with those of you from our various lodges about what things used to be like. With the internet and faster-than-steamship-travel, information and culture can be share much more quickly today and some of the major international ports in the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle are home to  many of these modern day cultural centers. Many of these places host regular art, music, food festivals, and sometimes even bakeries like the one I visited with my parents, reminiscent of our Suomi Heritage. I’m always glad to have a chance to go, but like the disbanding of the Grand Lodge, I also worry that if we don’t frequent and support these events as they happen, they may disappear forever.

Ever since I was young, I’ve been affiliated with the United Finnish Brothers & Sisters, first in Aberdeen, then in Berkeley, and now from Fort Bragg, CA. As one who has been fortunate to have been able to visit with the many lodges over the years, I think I am not alone when I so looked forward to these visits which have felt like like family and friends I have known forever. I have enjoyed the friendships and ongoing relationships I have made. And since the passing of my grandparents, Freda Paasiala and Walt Hendrickson, my direct connection to Suomi Culture, I have always felt great comfort in these subsequent visits with other lodges and old friends.

When I think about the disbanding of the Grand Lodge, I hope it doesn’t mean the dissolution of these relationships we’ve forged with one another through our mutual cultural connections. As we consider what will continue of our legacy and our instant-connections with so many Finnish Families I’ve met and Musicians, Artists, Cultural Ambassadors, young or old, etc. Even though we won’t be meeting as a large group anymore, I hope people will continue to visit the origins of our people and how they arrived and most importantly, the appreciation for Finnish Culture that we all share. It is my hope that we will continue to pay visits with the remaining lodges that were originally part of our organization, visiting Hauli Huvila’s Riverside Cottages and Camping in Reedley, CA, Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach, the Laksloda Luncheon or Scandinavian Festivals in Astoria, at the Naselle Kantele music to be heard at their annual Finn Fest, growing events at Seattle’s Nordic Museum, Berkeley’s kaleva Ski Club, Finnish Studies classes at UW or UC Berkeley or Finlandia or Finnish School classes for young children, and more.

Back in 2014 after my visit to Canada, I had hoped to create a collection of what happened to the Sointulas of North America. I have no idea what will become of www.finnishkalevalodges.com or www.finnishhall.com, but I know that sharing a modern presence is very important in not only showing what’s going on right now but in preserving our history. I regularly receive messages about sharing the Viesti Online. Like my Journalist friend Harry, who typed up his memoirs for record at http://finnlabor.net/ or working with Finland’s Geonealogic Project detailing the journeys of our own Finnish Heritage Diaspora of sorts, I had always hoped we might create an online repository of many of these stories but alas I am only one person and each of our lodges have MANY stories to tell. If your lodge is interested in including such and would be willing to type up the stories, please send an email. Kiitos ystävyydestäsi.

Hyvää Joulua! & God Jul!

Gina Hansen, originally part of Aberdeen Lodge #9,

currently enjoying the Nordic Traditions in Denver, Colorado

ginahansenconsulting@gmail.com | www.ginahansen.com