New Finland District, by Gilbert Johnson, Saskatchewan, Canada

The New Finland Colony

Saskatchewan History Volume XV Sring 1962 Number 2 page 69. Saskatchewan Archives Board.
written by Gilbert Johnson

Editor's Note:
Although at the time of this writing, 1962, the ethnic bloc settlement of Finns to this area was referred to as the New Finland Colony, it is currently more commonly known as the New Finland District.

.....The thoughts of the emigrant ever to turn to home, and the most ready expression for his nostalgia is to endow his new environment with the place names of his native land. When the first Finnish settlers established themselves south of the lower Qu'Appelle valley in Saskatchewan it was but natural that they should name their colony New Finland.

.....The racial origin of the Finns is a highly controversial subject. Most authorities incline to the belief that the Finns migrated to their present homeland from the middle Volga region at an early period of their history, and that they are a part of the Finno-Ugric tribes which occupied the whole of northern Russia before they were displaced or absorbed by the Slavs. Like other ethnic divisions, the modern Finns do not represent any pure racial stock, but have intermingled to a considerable degree with Scandinavians, Germans and Slavs.

.....The language of the Finns belongs to the Fino-Ugric branch of the Ural-Altaic stock. As such, it is related to the Esthonian, Hungarian and, according to some authorities, to the Turko-Tartar languages1, though more remotely to the latter group. Until recent times, the Swedish language was widely used in southern Finland, especially among the educated classes.

.....The Finns call themselves Suomalainen and their country Suomi, meaning the people and the land of the marshes. The name Finland seems to have been bestowed upon them by their Teutonic neighbors and possibly means the people of the fens, which corresponds with native word.2

.....Finland was invaded by Sweden in 1157 and completely conquered by 1323. It was raised to the status of a grand-duchy and Swedish became the official language. The reformed religion was introduced into Finland and the majority of the Finns are still of the Lutheran faith. Many Swedish people settled in southern Finland and there was frequent intermarriage, hence Swedish names appear among the Finnish-speaking population.

.....After nearly a century of intermittent struggle between Sweden and Russia, Finland was ceded to Russia in 1809. The first seventy years of Russian rule were, on the whole, beneficial to Finland, but after the assassination of Tzar Alexander II, in 1881, the reactionary party gained control in Russia and various repressive measures were imposed on Finland. A compulsory military service law had been enacted in 1878 and the “February manifesto” of Tzar Nicholas II, in 1899, practically integrated the army of Finland with that of Russia, besides taking away many of the rights guaranteed under the constitution of Finland. The Finns felt their religion, language, and traditional freedom threatened and both the Swedish speaking element and the native population united, for a time at least, in stubborn resistance to Russian encroachments. The spirit of nationalism which had been thus sparked continued to gather momentum, culminating in the formation of the independent Republic of Finland in 1919.

.....According to local tradition David Jeremias Kautonen, who came from Kautave, Finland, was the first settler in the colony. He is reported to have come to the district in 1887, although he did not apply for a homestead entry until November, 1888.3 ..... Two other families came to the colony directly from Finland in the early years. John Lauttamus came from Kautave in 1890 and Matti Mustoma came from Lapuaa in 1891. However, most of the colonists came from the United States4 where many of them had spent some time working in the iron ore mines in Michigan.

..... Illiteracy is practically unknown in Finland; indeed to be married a person must first satisfy the minister that he is able to read.5 .....With that background it is not surprising that education was given early attention by the colonists. During the first years of settlement Antti Myllymaki taught school in his home; and in 1896 the New Finland School District No. 435 was organized. At a ratepayers' meeting held on October 26, 1896, it was decided to build a school 25 feet long by 20 feet wide. “All ratepayers to bring 70 feet of logs each. The logs not to be less than 12 feet in length, four logs to be 26 feet in length, and no less than six inches in diameter at the thin end. The short logs to be not less than seven inches in diameter.”6 ..... A ratepayers' meeting held February 2, 1897, authorized the board to borrow $300.00 for the erection of the school; but at a meeting on June 19 of the same year, after the school had been completed, it was decided that “there was no need to borrow $300.00, as most of the building had been done by the ratepayers.”7 This schoolhouse now stands in the farmyard of Mr. A. Myllymaki, where it serves as a worship, and is still in excellent condition; a testimony to the craftmanship of these Finnish pioneers.

.....About the turn of the century a near tragedy led to the formation of a temperance society. Two neighbors, John Hilberg and Matt. Pentilla, got drunk in Wapella and quarreled Hilberg reached home first and when Pentilla, who lived farther on, followed some time later, Hilberg fired his shotbun at him. The heavy winter clothing broke the force of the shot, but Pentilla carried shotgun pellets under his skin for the rest of his life. The practical Finns, deciding it was time to curb drunkenness, organized a temperance society which about seventy five per cent of the colonists joined. For a number of years the society had its meetings in the schoolhouse, but in 1911 the temperance hall was built which became a centre for the social life of the community. A community club was incorporated in 1951 and took over the hall.

..... The isolated situation of the colony, together with a deep sense of racial solidarity, helped to make the district largely self-contained in its social activities, and encouraged a considerable degree of economic self-sufficiency. A library was formed in 1899 and the colony had its own baseball team, as well as a curling rink and a skating rink. “Bees” were frequent in the early days, especially to help newcomers in clearing land and in erecting buildings. Much homemade equipment was produced, often of a kind requiring great industry, as well as considerable skill and patience. John G. Lauttamus made a hand operated grist mill from two flat field stones. From the same material, M. Myllymaki chiseled a grindstone which measured about two feet in diameter, and in the local cemetery, monuments chipped from native field stones mark the resting places of several pioneers.

.....A feature of every Finnish community is the sauna or steam bath. Various forms of vapor baths have been used in many lands at some period of time, but among the Finns it is still a national institution. In its basic form the sauna consists of a small cabin about 10 feet square, often built of logs. There a number of stones are heated over some sort of drum, or other heat-generating apparatus; even the oven of an old cook stove may be used. When sufficiently heated, the stones are sprinkled with water u ntil the room is filled with vapor. The sauna is furnished with one or more elevated shelves or platforms upon which the bathers sit until they drip with steam and perspiration while they apply a lather of soap and pat themselves with a bundle ot twigs, preferably of oak or birch. When the steaming process is completed the bathers rinse with cold water, or in winter the more robust may roll themselves in snow. The steam bath is said to leave its devotees with an appearance, as well as with a sensation, of cleanliness which it is difficult to obtain by any other form of ablution.

.....During the early years of the colony, home mission pastors of the Lutheran faith held services in the schoolhouse. A church, which is still in use, was built in 1907. Due to their common religious background, many Finnish customs are similar to those of the Scandinavian countries, especially to those of Sweden. For example, early on Christmas morning a service is held in the church, which for the occasion is brilliantly illuminated with candles, as are most of the homes. Originally, these Christmas matins began at five o'clock in the morning, but in recent years seven o'clock is the more usual hour. Roast pork and rice pudding are traditional Christmas dishes. A favorite Finnish diet is fiili, or fermented milk congealed to form a sort of junket. The culture for making this dish was brought from Finland by the immigrants.

.....At its height, the population of the New Finland colony numbered about 100 persons; but the prevailing trend to the cities and to industries other than agriculture has reduced the present population to about 75 families, or about 180 persons. Finnish is still extensively spoken by the older people, and most of the children understand the language; but the centralization of schools and improved means of transportation and communication seem likely to have an adverse effect of such aspects of Finnish culture as still remain in the settlement.

..... In attempting to define the attributes of any racial group, a consensus of informed opinion is obviously of greater value than are personal impressions derived from contact with a few individuals, and generalizations made even by well-qualified observers are subject to error. This is especially true concering the Finns. An innate reserve, which is sometimes mistaken for dourness, seems to obstruct self-revelation to veil a psychological peculiarity which the Finns call sisu. This enigmatic trait has been defined as “,,,a mixture of violence and placidity...of ardor and patience...a restrained and often unvoiced desire...Sisu is as much a part of Finland as the sauna.”8 The industry and resourcefulness of the Finns have been amply demonstrated; their honesty is taken for granted and their resolution in the face of obstacles has given them a reputation for stubbornness. They have pride without arrogance, courage without bravado and a calm spirit of independence and self-reliance which has made them respected both as individuals and as a nation.

  1. Roland B. Dixon, The Racial History of Man, (New York:Charles Scribner, 1923), p. 130

  2. Finno-Ugrian,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, (1943), IX, p. 257.

  3. Saskatchewan Department of Agriculture, Lands Branch. He homesteaded the SW 26-17-1-W2nd.

  4. Dominion of Canada, Sessional Papers, Vol. 25, No. 5 1892. Report of the Immigration Agent, Whitewood, p. 172.

  5. John Wegelin, The Americanization of the Finns, (Michigan: Finnish-Lutheran Book Concern) p. 84.

  6. Minutes of New Finland School District No. 435.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Doré Ogrizek, Scandinavia, (London: MacGraw-Hill, 1952), p. 379.

Prairie People "The New Finland Colony". Saskatchewan History Volume XV Sring 1962 Number 2 page 69. Saskatchewan Archives Board written by Gilbert Johnson

Reprinted with permission of the provincial archivist at the Saskatchewan Archives Board.

At the time of publication, 1962:
"Gilbert Johnson, now retired, was formerly agent for the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool at Marchwell."

Reprinted with permission of the provincial archivist at the Saskatchewan Archives Board.

At the time of publication, 1962:
"Gilbert Johnson, now retired, was formerly agent for the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool at Marchwell."

Re-published in the Saskatchewan History & Folklore Society "Folklore Magazine" as well.

E-mail: New Finland Historical and Heritage Society


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