The Increasing Access to the Finnish-Language Archives Project: Celebrating Finnish-Canadian Heritage, History, and Culture

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The Increasing Access to the Finnish-Language Archives Project: Celebrating Finnish-Canadian Heritage, History, and Culture

Category : Affiliate News

By Kathy Traynor, Sara Janes, and Saku Pinta

The Thunder Bay Finnish Canadian Historical Society is pleased and excited to celebrate with members and friends the results of the “Increasing Access to the Finnish-Language Archives” project at a public event, May 3rd at the Embassy from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the Finnish Labour Temple. Invitations will be sent out soon.

courtesy of TBFCHS Collection, L.U. Archives #06108-006

A small physical exhibit comprised of signs and duplicate records, will be viewed. The exhibit will also be shared at other upcoming events. This, along with web content, helps to increase public awareness of these documents.

This project has been made possible by the Government of Canada. TBFCHS was successful in receiving funding for a Library and Archives (LAC) Documentary Heritage Community Programme (DHCP) grant for the 2018-2019 funding cycle. The project began in early May 2018 and was completed at the end of March 2019.

The Historical Society had resolved to launch an ambitious project that would make archival materials that highlight Finnish contributions to Canadian society accessible to Finnish and non-Finnish speaking audiences. This idea for this project was further informed by the fact that an increasingly large portion of the Society’s membership – many of whom have retained a deep appreciation for Finnish culture, history, and heritage, but do not speak the language – are unable to access the Finnish-language archival collection, and in many instances, the histories of their ancestors.

As such, the aim of this project was to increase digital and hard-copy access to Finnish-language archives housed at Lakehead University in northwestern Ontario, throughout Canada, and internationally. Up until now, access to these records has been limited by linguistic and geographic barriers. Increased description, digitization, and select translation of historically significant documents has opened hidden materials to researchers and the general public, preserving and honouring this unique Finnish-Canadian heritage.

As a recipient of the Documentary Heritage Communities Program (DHCP) for 2018-2019, we were able to attract a very qualified researcher in this area. We needed someone who was fully fluent in written Finnish and written English, including a solid understanding of “Finglish” and regional dialects; had educational and professional experience in conducting research and writing at a high level; and had the ability to work independently on a self-directed project.

The researcher we hired, Saku Pinta, is a first-generation-Finnish-Canadian and a published author with a doctoral degree. Given his background and heritage, this project had tremendous, personal significance for him. As he noted, the history that is contained in the Finnish-language archives is intimately bound up with who he is – a cultural inheritance that has provided him with purpose and meaning throughout his life.

Since our researcher is involved in public broadcasting and in film-making, his media contacts have helped to promote interest in the results of this project. We also have shared translations, finding aids, and updates on a project blog. One of the posts here was edited for publication on the Active History blog also. The project blog can be found at this link:

The funding has also enabled us to provide improved description to several fonds written primarily in Finnish, including translations of several key documents. Some have been posted on the project blog; others will be posted shortly. This increases access to this history for English-speaking researchers in Thunder Bay and worldwide.

Some of the main results of the project are as follows:

  • The creation of a set of public-display-friendly posters, including results of research, and a collage of remarkable finds from each collection,
  • A finding aid for the previously unprocessed Canadan Suomalainen Järjestö [Finnish Organization of Canada] fonds,
  • A collage featuring an array of North American labour martyrs was uncovered in the  CTKL collection. A blog post on this topic generated considerable interest, and was rewritten for the Active History blog,
  • Digitized and translated from Finnish to English, for the first time, the minutes of the Third Representative Assembly of the Finnish Organization of Canada (February 1922), the first minute book of the Hoito Restaurant (1918-1920), and the rules and a membership application form for the Canadian Industrial Unionist Support League (c. 1920s),
  • The researcher has provided other writings placing these materials in historical context and providing an analysis of their significance to the Finnish-Canadian community and beyond.

Without this funding, this project would not have been possible. Neither TBFCHS nor Lakehead University Library would have been able to fund this work, leaving records insufficiently processed and poorly understood. The quality of the work done supports an understanding of the history of the Finnish North-American experience, particularly in Thunder Bay.

There is still much work to be done in the area of Finnish-language archives digitization, translation, and collections processing. Help us build momentum for future work and, most importantly, come and celebrate the achievements of the “Increasing Access to the Finnish-language Archives” project on May 3.

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