New Finland District, Juhannus: Celebration of Summer,June 26, 2010, Saskatchewan, Canada

New Finland, Saskatchewan, Picnic
Juhannus: Celebration of Summer

(Gallery of Pictures)

Mid-summer musings and Juhannus greetings! These are some reflections on how the community of the New Finland District celebrated Juhannus Finnish style and how we got into the spirit of things. It was delightful to leave the city, to spend some time at a country celebration. So here is how we celebrated the summer solstice, the marking of the beginning of summer, and the longest days of the year!

As we left Regina, we traveled east through the Squirrel and Weed Hills en route to Whitewood, Saskatchewan. Whereupon we turned northerly to arrive at the New Finland church situated south of the Qu'Appelle River valley. We had a lovely day to travel with warm weather, no rain amidst a very moist and humid spring. Upon arriving at the New Finland Picnic, on Saturday June 26, 2010, we met with Red Lauttamus, with whom we had been talking to previously online. Red took us on a tour of the countryside around and about the New Finland district.


We saw the St. John's Lutheran Church Cemetery or New Finland "new" cemetery as well as the New Finland "old" cemetery. While we were at the old cemetery, Red related to us the historical significance of this location in regards to his own ancestry.

We also had the opportunity to stop in at the St Matthew's Anglican -Forrest Farm Church and saw the cemetery undergoing its maintenance. The 2010 year was very wet, and some lower valley roads were underwater, but they were at this time passable. The soils in the area are mainly black chernozemic giving rise to aspen parkland with a few extra cattail marshes arising this spring. We were delighted with the numerous flowering rose bushes dotting the aspen stands during our drive through the countryside as Red pointed out the various farm sites of the early Finnish pioneers. The trip marked also the year for a remarkable number of Swainson's hawks which increase in direct relation to the gopher population.

Of particular note along the drive was the Rautio house. The Finnish log house was made with a special dovetail notch. This Finnish construction helped the buildings to stand longer as the logs interlocked together. Additionally, in the horizontal logs holes were vertically drilled to allow rods (probably wooden pegs) mainly around the doors and windows to help keep the walls from sagging. This certainly did foreshadow that there would soon be much more discussion about Finnish buildings of the New Finland District.

The picnic site in the New Finland district was underwater, so the picnic relocated to St. John's Lutheran Church of New Finland. Before we get too far into the tale of the picnic, it is wise to say that even though, I brought with me my new fangled recording device, and practiced with it, it failed to record the interviews, much to my chagrin. This malady on the part of the electronic device was not discovered until my return trip home, and waylaid this report on this spring event. Hopefully as folks read this narrative from my notes jotted down in point form, they will email with any updates or corrections as they see fit. I tried to relate the various stories and attach to them the proper Finnish resident who brought forward the reminiscence. So, now, back to the events of the picnic, and the few people I had the good fortune to meet with. (As I see pictures, it would have been a pleasure to meet with more folks.) As the day is only so long, if anyone has any comments, other tales of the picnic or remembers any other Finnish heritage they wish to share, please also email, and the tales of the picnic, can have additional chapters yet. Before the picnic, we sent to the New Finland Historical and Heritage Society a series of questions to serve as "food for thought" which would help stimulate some discussion about cultural concepts of the Finnish Society amongst the residents of the New Finland District. A few of the topics which individuals might remember would be ancestry and origins from Finland, how times have changed in this mainly agricultural community, how travel, education, courtship, careers, childhood experiences, school, or festivities reflected heritage and reminiscences within each family.

Finnish heritage costume

Here Red introduced us to Reverend Cheryl Johnson, and some of the members of the New Finland Historical and Heritage Society. Elvie Denet, her daughter Valerie, Allan Polvi, Florence and Archie Luhtala to name but a few. The women were very proud of the Finnish costumes which they made for the centennial celebration in 1988, and modeled their regalia for this picnic event. It was a photo opportunity in the church basement hall, with the mural in the background.

New Finland Centennial Mural

In 1987, the community contacted Allan Salo and asked if he could come up with something to celebrate the 100th celebration of the New Finland District. For the 1888-1988 New Finland Homecoming celebration, Allan Salo (1948-2009), undertook a mural which depicts the early history and it evolution. He applied a time scale over four sheets of plywood. The Whitewood museum has preserved the paper mural. The mural is now on display in the St. John's Lutheran church basement meeting area. The mural is online and was first published as part of the 1888-1988 Homecoming Celebration book published by the New Finland Historical and Heritage Society. Allan H. Salo, B.A., M.A., B.Arch., M.R.A.I.C. specialising in anthropology and architecture has a Finnish background, son of John and Bertha Salo. Allan's father built the St. John's Lutheran Church of New Finland church steeple. Salo published the books, Sointula: Island Utopia (about British Columbia Finns), The Kalevan Kansa Colonization Company, Limited : a Finnish-Canadian millenarian movement in British Columbia and translated the book, Sointula, Kalevan Kansan ja Kanadan Suomalaisten Historia. [The history of Sointula and Kaleva Kansa] from Finnish before his untimely passing April 25, 2009.

Picnic and pies

As the hall and church yard filled up with Finnish descendants and residents, picnic fare was served brimming with a huge variety of pies of all types to finish up. We now had a chance to sit down and meet with some residents of this Finnish community, starting with some who had to leave to tend to flooded home basements.

Anglican Lutheran Ecumenical Community

The Reverend Cheryl Johnson presides over the Anglican Lutheran Ecumenical Community, ALEC, which includes
  • St. John's Lutheran church of New Finland
  • St. John's Lutheran Church of Wapella
  • St. Mary the virgin of Whitewood [Anglican]
  • St. Matthew's Forrest Farm Church
She maintains the website server for ALEC from her office in Whitewood. This summer she has had the opportunity to travel to Finland and promises to post the outcome on her website from her expedition.

Some residents of the New Finland district did attend Forrest Farm one room School District #90 between the years of 1889-1957 if their residence was located within the school district area. However, Finnish residents of the New Finland District attended St. John's Lutheran Church of New Finland and not generally St. Matthew's Forrest Farm Church.

Mölkky - a Finnish traditional lawn game

Elvie Denet described to us the traditional Finnish game of Mölkky. The game can be modified and played with larger sticks, in which case it is referred to as Kyykkä. The field has wooden numbered sticks set upright at one end of a long rectangular playing field. Players stand at the opposite length of the field and throw their mölkky (a hand held wooden stick) at the numbered pins standing at the far end of the field. If a player knocks down one single pin, they receive the designated point count indicated on the fallen pin. However, if a player knocks over three pins in total, the score counts would be three. Players try to achieve a total score of 50. If a player exceeds 50 points, they go back to 25. There are variations on these rules. Some You tube videos are online about Mölkky, making of pins for a Mölkky tournament, and playing the game.

School history

Walter Knuttila was one of the New Finland District pioneers who had taught at the one room school house of the area, the New Finland School district #435 (1897-1955). It was a rural school where he taught thirty students at times. He also taught typing, social studies, geography, geometry, and literature at Wapella and Limerick high schools. He was a teacher at the Wapella High School for about 20 years. He was mostly familiar with the one room school houses of New Finland SD 435 and Stockholm SD 1285. Students in the homesteading era had to walk approximately two to three miles to school as there were no cars nor horses to carry them. School days operated during good weather. There would be a couple of weeks off in the summer to help at harvest time, and several days off during the winter months when it was too cold to attend school.

At the early one room school houses such as the one at Stockholm, a student would be designated to start the fire and looked after the fire through the school day. Students used pen and pencil during the years he was there, and no slate was used. Students would receive their Grade 9 and 10 by correspondence. The one room school teacher would help these older students and correct their school work. Correspondence testing was also done by the one room schoolhouse teacher during this era. Schools would travel to neighbouring one room school districts to compete in rugby or softball games.

Knutilla had taught one year before joining the war effort where he served in the army for five years. While in England he worked in the pay office for two to three years. When he arrived back home, he began teaching high school, and attended one year of University in Saskatoon.

Knuttila mentioned that even though kids don't change, he liked teaching. He especially liked when he saw the light in their eyes. When the student knows what you meant and you know you got through as a teacher. He loved teaching and he had awesome kids to teach.

Homestead pioneers

Clifford Hemming and his daughter Shelley Demski nee Hemming descended from one of the first settlers to the New Finland district. The Flykti's had much work to do, clearing the land, cutting trees, ploughing with horses. (For more about the Flykti ancestors see "Life in the New Finland Woods" volume 1) They would take on an extra job hauling logs and firewood from Tantallon. Going down hill was much easier for the horses, but the return trip was much more challenging. For nearly three quarters of a decade, the land has been in the family, his mother and cousin are still on the original homestead land. His Dad had a cottage on the land, and Clifford Hemming would spend the summers here with him and there would be one month of attending Grove Park School District 518 along with about 30 children in the region. Hemming came from a family of thirteen children. The Finnish language was spoken at home, and his mother who arrived from Finland didn't speak English at all. His Dad came from British Columbia, and met his future wife in the New Finland area. During his first year at school Clifford Hemming didn't know English so he had to learn it at Grove Park. When the kids did go to school, they had to walk through fields to arrive at school, and it would take about one hour to get to school. In such conditions, during the cold winter months, the children stayed home. At school the New Finland pupils would play baseball against the Grove Park SD. All the teachers were his favorite, however he had to miss a lot of school because at harvest time the children stayed home to help out as was the pioneering tradition. Hemming continued his education and as was typical of the era acquired his grade six. He learned how to both read and write English.

The family acquired a tractor in the 1950's, and before this they used horses. Homesteaders generally fixed their own equipment. This homesteading district was quite a ways from any train. Homesteaders would keep a smudge going on the warm still summer evenings to chase away the mosquitoes. The first car arrived to the family in the 1930's, a Stark.

His brothers George, Arnold, and Alvin farmed here, and his sister married Bill Kangas and they moved to Manitoba.

"Is it hot in here!"

"Is it hot in here!" Folks of another nationality would exclaim when Finns were employed at lumber camps enjoying a sauna after a day of working. Through the winter it was common to grab a bucket of snow to throw on the hot rocks to cool it off, and raise steam.

A favourite reminiscence for Hemming was the Friday night Sauna. They would all be cleaned up to go into town for Saturday and church on Sunday. His Great aunt would bring buns for lunch, the family would get together for supper and heat the sauna rocks. Around 7 p.m. two people at a time would enter the sauna after the meal. Both summer and winter, the Finnish family would meet for the Friday night Sauna. The only worries were the heated nail heads of the sauna benches.

The family still remembers going to Allan Maki's Sauna in as recently as the summer of 2009. As people left the Sauna, they would be steaming on the way out. Besides the Makis, the Mikallas still have one. In some of the old sauna's the stoves remain, but the buildings cannot be used any more. The Maki's sauna was made from wood with mud and straw chinking. These had to be repaired yearly to keep the seal watertight.

When families assembled together for evening saunas, the women would sauna together, the men together, and the children together.

Vihta - Birch bark whisk

Traditional Finnish practices called for using a vista or vihta, which is a birch bark or hazel green branch. This would be like a broom with leaves at one end of the branches. The branch would hang on the sauna wall to heat up and kept wet. To prepare the vihta, wet the branch, then put it on the hot sauna stones to heat up. The sauna bather would pick up the vista, and hit themselves. After the sauna, they would run around the snow bank, or pour warm buckets of water over themselves. In Finland to finish off the sauna, the bather would just jump in the lake. The vista is a big part of the sauna experience.

Many of the old homestead buildings have been torn down. When the Hemming family returned to the homestead, they found the barn manger, and the pump. Sometimes the last board of an old homestead house is all that can be found and salvaged.

Pioneer days

Evelyn Vennard (Nee Koskela) still comes to the cottage here. The family farm is about three miles from the church where the picnic was held. Her grandfather's farm is still a summer retreat. The family lived in the New Finland School District. The children in the area had a two to three mile walk to school, where there was one teacher teaching thirty children of mixed ages. Teachers could only speak English, and the students could only speak Finnish, which further complicated the multi grade one room school house era. The family still remembers when Mary Norland was a fairy during her recital at the annual Christmas concert, and walking over huge snow drifts to get to the school for the concerts. Her grandfather arrived in 1892 to prove up the land, acquiring cattle, horses and buildings. The family treasured a rocking chair brought over from the home land. On their immigration journey arrived at various ports, and then took the train into Canada and traveled to the end of the line. For farmwork the early homesteader mainly relied on horses. He was sponsored by Mike Millymaki who brought him over from Finland to the homestead land in Canada. Early homesteaders relied mainly on mixed farming, mostly wheat. They sowed oats for feed for the cattle and horses. Later the family owned a Model T for their first vehicle. The family also celebrated the typical Finnish traditions, and they would go to Makki's for the weekly sauna. The family used coupons during the war years, and they remember the sugar rations. The family made everything from tools to clothing. The community would saw and gather firewood and store it for winter on every quarter section. The early fare for meals included gathering saskatoon berries, goose berries, strawberries, raspberries, and pin cherries. This was supplemented by rabbit, partridge, and deer meat. The garden supplied vegetables. The family canned everything to give food supplies for the winter months, there were no freezers. A few families did have ice cellars. They would take ice from the river and put a building over it. Otherwise, if the family did not have an ice house, they would can their summer fare.

Christmas and New Years

Elvie Denet was a repository for Finnish recipes and cultural traditions. A special Christmas decoration is hanging up at the St. John's Lutheran Church of New Finland. It is a Finnish straw "Hymaly" or Himmeli. It is traditionally made from string and straw from the fields, however a modern variation is to fashion a decoration from drinking straws. Flatbread was a thin bread made in the Finnish traditional way. Kulta vellia was a Finnish fruit soup made from prunes, raisins and tapioca served at New Year's supper with cream. (See page 44, Volume 1 Life in the New Finland Woods for a local recipe for Kulta Velli - Prune desert) Chicken and turkey were served at least at meal times. Harvest time meals became community affairs, with neighbours helping each other. Dad was out running the threshing outfit going from place to place. Several families would have ten to sixteen children who would help during the communal harvest time. Sheep, pigs, cows, horses, chickens, and turkeys were typical farm animals.

A memory was recollected about a storm which hit the family home in the days when the early phone lines were installed. The family could actually see a ball of light following the phone line when a bolt of lightning hit. Luckily no damage was done, and no one was hurt as the lightning left out through an open window.

Travel in the winter was upon the same paths which built up upon the snow banks packing down the snow hard and tight. Following winter, roads would be built with horse and scrapers. Dad would help with the road work. The majority of roads were dirt paths used cross country to get somewhere. Denet was ten years old when she had her first trip to town. Going into Whitewood, Denet recollects the bright lights, as the farm had no power. Any light would be by lantern or candle. Later she would also walk the ten miles to town to attend school dances. Denet's first job at the age of 15 was working as a waitress for Tuba in Whitewood. Later she would work at King's cafe and Marina cafe in Regina. Denet met her future husband in Forrest Farm district, they waited till the war was over and then got married.

School field days

Stella Philips was born on the land owned by the family, the original homestead land. Philips recollects Ante I Over and ball played at school. Field days would be organised when students would compete with another school, in games such as three legged races, etc.

Century farms

Wayne Huhtala's grandparents were Wayne Huhtala and his grandfather's brother was Herman Huhtala. Their homestead was within the Convent Creek 4640 School District. There were 24 kids packed into the one room school house. Twelve of these fellow pupils finished grade six. To take grade 7, students attended high school in Whitewood. Upon dissolution of the one room school house, students choose to attend Rocanville or Whitewood school. His family had six brother's and sisters. Two sisters of his father's remained in Canada. His father's dad spoke Finnish, the son learned English, but his father's English was not so good. Wayne still lives on the land. The homestead farm has remained in the family for 110 years, so it would qualify as a "Century Farm."

The modern two storey house is set upon the 90 year old log house foundation. His grandparents had the first 50th anniversary in the district, celebrated in 1938. They were married in the 1800s in Finland, then traveled to the United States before coming to Canada.

Depression years

The grandparents of Wesley Sippola emigrated to Ishpeming, Michigan, United States, and lived there for ten years before coming to the Convent Creek School District area in 1906. Later students would attend Wapella high school or receive their grades 9 and ten by correspondence. The depression years were particularly hard felt. There was no money coming in, and the family experienced debt for the first time. In 1923, his grandfather had a new house, and still owed $1,500 upon it. Sippola's dad wanted to buy a new John Deere and thresher for the farm in July of 1929. This was followed by the market crash of 1929. The debt on the farm equipment amounted to $1,600. It was hard for the family to pay off this debt through the depression years. It was in 1942, that the price of white rose due to the war effort. This enabled the family to quickly repay the debt, and never again did they ask for a loan. It was a dreadful experience to have the collectors coming around.

Puukko - Finnish traditional knives

Hazel Lauttamus was very proud of the large Finnish Kauhava knife making factory. The Finnish Puukko gave the Finns a reputation for fighting amongst the neighbouring states of Poland and Hungary. The Finns would wear them in a sheath for hunting and skinning. Several residents of the New Finland district still have their own traditional Puukkos.

Frederick VIII Scandinavian-American passenger steamship

Florence Luhtala was able to acquire a poster of a ship, the Frederick VIII which belonged to the Scandinavian - American line whose route was Canada, Scandinavia, Finland, and continental Europe. The ship itself was built in 1913, and completed her last voyage November 22, 1935. The Frederick VIII provided passenger service between Northern Europe and American ports. The ship was outfitted to carry 121 first class, 259 second class and 881 third class passengers as well as the complement of crewmen. Auction estimates place heavy cardboard shipping line poster signs at $200 to $500 USD depending on size and quality of the poster.

Finnish Emigration Museum

Elvie Denet's daughter, Valerie, was familiar with the Finnish Emigration Museum and its policies and practices. The Finnish emigrant Museum Suomen Siirtolaisuusmuseo has presented the family with a proposal to take their homestead building from the New Finland District in Saskatchewan and move them to the museum. The purpose of the Finnish Emigration Museum is to "tell how the Finns have in various quarters of the world solved the ancient problem of immigration: how to live in a foreign country and at the same time retains its own identity." Representatives arrived from the museum and took ten pictures of the house, and measured the dimensions. The museum is located in Peräseinäjoki, Finland. Valerie's first cousin is an art teacher in Victoria, British Columbia. A Finnish student was able to make connections between Brenda and the Finnish Emigrant museum. The Canadian and American Finnish Grandfest or Finfest took place in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario in 2010. The project to move the house to the Finnish museum is dependent upon a number of factors. Fund raising is required, as well as pictures and a detailed analyses need to be made as well to ensure the buildings can be disassembled and then re-built, and if they are in good enough shape to move. For more information about the mission of the Finnish emigration museum there is an article on page 27 of the migration institute newsletter: Siirtolaisuus Migration 4/2004 Sisältö. An excerpt from this newsletter runs as follows
We are now conducting a survey among expatriate
Finns around the world of what emigrant buildings
and items could be obtained for the Emigration Muse-
um. A good example is the Norwegian Emigration
Museum, which hosts many donations from Norwe-
gians around the world, including e.g. a small church.
Thus we ask for information on such fruits of Finnish
labor, which could be shipped to Finland or con-
structed here as copies. The Finnish Customs has
granted exemption from taxation for buildings and
items donated to the museum.
We are especially interested in buildings which are
empty or which run the risk of demolition and in mov-
able property. Such are Finnish farm buildings, halls,
schools, churches, boarding houses, saloons, coop-
erative stores and the like. Also buildings and tools
associated with mining, gold prospecting and forest-
ry are included, e.g. log cabins and a big redwood
trunk from California.

Villi - Finnish Yogourt and bread

Villi is a good Finnish dish. You place a culture into milk and it turns into a yogourt like food, and is actually served in Horito's restaurant in Thunder Bay, Ontario. One needs to keep a 'seed' of Villi, and then this culture can be re-used everyday. Place 1/8 cup of Villi seep into the milk and leave overnight (12 hours) in the fridge. At noon it is ready to eat and has a slight fruity flavour. It is a healthy Finnish tradition which was eaten everyday, It never separates, but don't use it all, keep a 'seed'. An old story or perhaps just heresay is that to create Villie take a creamier milk and bury it in the ground during a time when there are no thunder storms, and thus it shall become Villi. A traditional method of eating Villi was to set 1/3 cup villi into 'hard tack' which was a flat hard rye bread with a hole in the middle. Set the villi into the hard tack to soak, and then it is a delicious treat.

Finnish Cardamom buns were another treat - a delicious sweet bun made with Cardamom seeds. Another traditional sweet bread is Finnish pulla. (See page 44, Volume 1 Life in the New Finland Woods for a local recipe for Pulla -coffee bread) A very wonderful memory is when everyone would come for sauna, have pulla and coffee, leaving happy and clean.

Allan Polvi remembers having villi and bema, a Finnish yogourt and buttered bread. Archie would have fresh cow's milk, spooning the cream off the top for breakfast.

Denet's grandfather built a log sauna, otherwise known as a smoke sauna or Savö. A firebox would be constructed which was usually a barrel surrounded by stone without any chimney. The sauna would be black inside from the smoke. When the embers would glow, the sauna bather would throw water upon them, and yet they still puffed up smoke.

New Finland Historical and Heritage Society

The New Finland Historical and Heritage Society. wrote two books about the New Finland District. Excerpts from Life in the New Finland Woods History of New Finland Volume 1 and Volume 2 are online. The society has copies of these books for sale.


Following the picnic and afternoon activities we went to Whitewood, Saskatchewan. Hazel Lauttamus' girls came from Winnipeg to help celebrate her 80th birthday along with other Lauttamus relatives. Elvie Denet thought it would be also be a good idea to try and meet that evening with the Heritage Committee. Between the supper and the picnic, there was about a half hour to spare, so we drove around Whitewood, looking at their murals, war cenotaph and statue, as well as taking in the Whitewood Heritage Building located in the restored Merchant's Bank Heritage Center. "Dr. Rudolph Meyer led a group of French Counts to the area of Whitewood in the 1880s to develop a community similar to the communities for nobility in Europe. Merchant's Bank Heritage Center is a heritage building of Whitewood which celebrates its link to the French Counts of St. Hubert." Unfortunately we missed the Whitewood Historical Museum which is comprised of three buildings including a school house replica, however our time was very limited as it was very close to everything closing up, and the supper hour. We saw the designated numbered signs resting on various buildings of the Whitewood Walking Tour, however the places which handled the brochures were closed, and the heritage centre curator had none at his location.

Birthday celebrations

After our brief encounter with the town of Whitewood, we met for supper at the Whitewood Inn. Afterwards I said a few words which encapsulate some of the Finnish heritage aforementioned in this article which I had learned about. There was then an excellent song recital by daughters of Hazel Lauttamus in celebration of her birthday, and birthday speeches and well wishes. It was then time to head off to our hotel whence we were treated to a delightful lightning display albeit without rain, which was to come on the morrow.


In the morning we learned about Yorkton as Red and his wife, Jan, toured us around York Lake, the various neighbourhoods and districts and how the history and heritage of Yorkton has changed over the years. We meandered past parks and the small Whitesand River where the settlers from York County, Ontario put down their roots creating York Town. The heritage of Yorkton, the New Finland district and the Finnish culture, and the French Counts of Whitewood all came together in a very multi cultural region, and told separate and diverse stories of some of Saskatchewan's history.

Drive home

On the way home, Red gave us directions to a few churches. There was a large celebration also going on at the Orkney School and Church, so we didn't crash their get together as we were not invited therein. We came upon the next two churches in a pouring rain. So we took some images from inside the vehicle, and kept going along the highway.

It was wonderful to celebrate midsummer in the New Finland District. We felt warmly welcomed even with our Hungarian, Norwegian and Scandinavian roots. There were times at the picnic when we put away the camera, and just enjoyed the moment. It was certainly insightful to visit with folks who are proud of their heritage.

New Finland Sauna was contributed by long-time resident of New Finland, Albert Maki
New Finland Historical and Heritage Society


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