Family Stories: Finnish Immigration to Sudbury

As members of the Finnish Canadian Historical Society of Sudbury, we represent a broad spectrum of Finnish immigration to Canada. These family recollections are examples of three waves of immigration. The first wave occurred in the mid to late 19th century as Finnish people fled Tsarist Russia and brutal conditions of peasant life. Canada offered lots of new land for farming and the job prosperity that booming logging and mining industries promised. The second wave of Finnish emigration was a result of the turmoil of the newly independent Finnish nation. Around the time of independence, struggles between Communist factions and Christian right caused rifts in Finnish society and many chose to come to Canada. The third wave of Finnish emigration arrived after the Second World War. People left the struggles of post war Europe to come to Canada for jobs and a secure life. Our family stories bring together the histories of our two countries as we form a bridge between the two nations.

My Family’s Story: First and Second Wave Migration by Paul Pasanen

All of my ancestors originate in Finland. I identify as a Finnish Canadian. The culture, language, and history of the country and its people still play a role in my life. I see the world through the eyes of a Finnish kid from a Finnish immigrant family. I think in a language that isn’t even Indo-European, but for me, the identity of Finn is not just language. It is also a physical, visceral connection to things like the geography, flora and fauna of the Canadian Shield. This is a land and an environment that mirrors Northern Europe all too perfectly. My grandparents picked a place to set roots that was an exact match for where their culture and genetics evolved.

One side of my family came to Canada earlier than the other. In the late 1800s the Hilberg family left a place that was an autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia. These people fled a feudal existence governed by an oppressive Russian regime. Great grandfather John Hilberg was a founding member of the New Finland (Uusi Suomi) community of Saskatchewan and his future son-in-law, my grandfather Jalmar Pasanen, came as a single teenager to eventually meet and marry my grandmother, Tyyne, the Hilberg daughter. They homesteaded in Saskatchewan where my family has strong roots in pioneer prairie life.

In 1923 my maternal grandparents, Aino and Aarne Tuuri, left a somewhat different Finland than did my father’s side. They left a nationalized, independent Finland that was struggling through violent birth pains after winning independence in 1917. Rifts between the White Finns (Christian right) and the Red Finns (socialist left) had caused ugly wounds in Finnish society. Red Finns had lost the civil war and had spent time in concentration camps suffering for their politics. Many came to Canada with socialist thinking, looking for work and worker’s rights.

Twentieth century Canadian history has also been an influence for my family narrative. Both sides of my family were homesteaders, my father’s in Saskatchewan and my mother’s in Northern Ontario. Both sides lived through the Great Depression in Canada. My father’s family was driven from their Saskatchewan homestead by the “dust-bowl” drought and lack of work. My grandparents and 9 children moved to Northern Quebec looking for mining work. Conflict with Quebecers made their life there untenable and news of a Finnish community in Ontario brought them to look for work and a familiar culture. The thriving Finnish community in South Porcupine and work in gold mines promised a comfortable and even prosperous life.

My maternal grandparents, Aarne Tuuri and Aino (Lehtimaki), homesteaded in McIntosh Springs between Iroquois Falls and South Porcupine, Ontario. Part of a second wave of immigration, they came to Canada through Montreal in 1923; Mom (Vieno) was born in Sault Saint Marie just months after they arrived. Grandpa Tuuri cleared land and started a successful mixed farming operation. A team of horses was a huge help in working the land and offered additional income hauling logs in the winter logging camps. While Grandpa hauled logs my grandmother worked in the cookhouse. They worked summer and winter and were successful throughout the Depression.  

My Mother remembers the Depression time well and has often remarked on the hunger and suffering of folks. She was always proud of having a successful farm that made her family affluent for those times. She used to bring extra lunch to the one room school to feed children from large French families who would faint from hunger at school. My father experienced the wandering of the itinerant unemployed family suffering poverty while Mom lived well, working hard, on a farm.

My parents married in South Porcupine during the Second World War and eventually moved to Sudbury in 1953. They raised six children. Mom is very proud of her 37 direct descendants and the contribution we have made towards building this country.




Canada and Finland: Forever Linked in the Levola Clan – by Shirley Levola Mäkelä

   My Family’s story is one of separation and reconciliation; loneliness and togetherness.                                                                                                                      

   Pauli Franz Levola, born in 1900 in Pyssykangas near Nakkila, married Aina Sofia Makinen from Luvia. Both had been in the military defending their Motherland; he in the cavalry as a horseman and she as a Lotta Svärd. After my father Pauli Antero was born they questioned the uncertainty of raising a family in war-scarred Finland and chose to immigrate to the traditional peace of Canada.

     Because they had no promises awaiting them, they decided to leave their young son behind in Nakkila with his paternal grandparents until they were more secure in their new country.

     Shortly after arriving in Northern Ontario they found employment in a lumber camp as a sawyer and a cook and later operated a restaurant in downtown Sudbury. When savings allowed, they bought property in a remote edge of the village of Wanup on the outskirts of Sudbury.

     With their roots anchored as landowners, they returned to Finland to reunite with my father and bring him to his new home. Together the three cleared the land for pasture. They used the first trees to build a log cabin and then established a sawmill to turn subsequent trees into marketable lumber. Years later they left the homestead to buy and operate a successful dairy farm closer to the center of Wanup.

     Taavetti Myllyaho, an ambitious miller, was born in Uurainen in 1896. According to family legend, his work eventually took him to the Salminen farm in Saarijarvi. The farmer was pleased with Taavetti’s work and teased him that if he continued to maintain such high quality, he might let him marry his pretty daughter Olga. Excellence must have been sustained because the couple did indeed marry.

   When they were expecting my mother Aino Hellin, my grandparents were convinced that Canada held greater potential for prosperity. My grandfather set sail first to get established. Mining gave him immediate work and a new identity; his surname was simplified to Aho. When my mother was 2 years old she and my grandmother left their home in Jyväskylä to join Pappa in Canada.

     Within a few years they bought a thriving dairy farm only kilometers away from the Levolas where they raised my mother and worked side by side in the fresh air until retirement.

   As a fairly small neighbourhood it was almost inevitable my parents found each other and married. After both enduring the loneliness of being only children they eventually had six of their own. Several generations of the Levola clan have lived in the Wanup area, some still on family property.

   Old Finnish traditions were passed along and still practiced while new technology links current generations with the family remaining in Finland. 




Pauli Franz Levola wearing his custom-made coat of wolf pelts harvested on the homestead property. Wanup Ontario, circa 1930












Muistoja Kahta Puolta....Memories from Both Sides   by Hilka Helen (o.s. Etula) Mäkelä

“Elamää on taistellua, kehtosta hautan sakka.” The many times I heard my father say those words, his mantra, ‘Life is a challenge, from the cradle to the grave.’ My father is Antti Kusta Etula, born Dec. 28, 1904, in Alajarvi, Finland the oldest of 12 siblings and the ONLY one in his immediate family to emigrate!

Antti saw the Etula family growing in difficult economic and political times in 1920’s. “Kurija aika.” poor times, Isä often repeated.

Shortly after ‘rippikoulu’ , Antti decided to travel to Canada, the land of opportunity and freedoms. At the age of 21 on Dec. 9th 1925, Father boarded the steamship ‘Ausonia’, and landed at Pier 2 in Halifax, N.S. By rail, he arrived in Port Arthur, Ontario in the cold of winter. The next four years were challenging, working in lumber camps with low wages, bad food, but Finnish camaraderie abounded, and the sauna. In the summers Antti worked on a farm tending animals, and saving money to travel to Sudbury. At age 26, not speaking the English language, he was seeking safe havens for boarding, with no drinking or smoking.

In Sudbury, Isä did work in the INCO Creighton Mine for about four years. It is documented in the CJS:Suomalaiset Nikkelialueela, summer 1937 printing, regarding the beginnings of the Sudbury Mine and Smelter Workers Union, that Antti Etula, April 15, 1931, was fined and jailed two months for taking part in an ‘illegal march’ protesting working conditions and safety in the mines.

Another challenge: English language, so Isä went to English night school at Sudbury Mining and Technical School. When Isä’s working companion beside him was killed in the mine, Father left, never to go in that ‘hell hole’!

Back to the bush camps in Northern Ontario and amass money to fulfill his dreams. He came to the Vermilion River area west of Sudbury, becoming a ‘Canadian pioneer farmer’, for John and Maria Luukkonen. In subsequent years he purchased their farm, courted Aili Elienna Henderson (Canadian born of Finnish immigrant parents) and married her on Oct. 8, 1938 in St. John Lutheran Church, Sudbury. Farming of dairy, beef cattle, pigs and hundreds of chickens continued for 45 years on the Etula homestead of 360 acres.

With three daughters, Velma, Helen, and Julie, Father fulfilled his dreams of love, land and community. He was on the school board for Louise Twp., Grassy Lake Road’s work crews, participated in Beaver Lake Jehu Sports Club and in a ‘part time band’ playing violin. He raised a family while instilling values of honesty, responsibility, and Finnishness. His legacy of sisu, survival and sauna lives on.  





Antti Etula playing his violin and daughter Velma at homestead on Grassy Lake Road, Worthington Ontario. Summer 1943








50th Anniversary of Antti and Aili Etula, Oct. 8, 1988. Back row left to right: Julie Flora, Velma Alice, and Hilka Helen, Sudbury Ontario











Laakso Family story by Elsie Stephenson

 Onni Matius Laakso was born a Rantakangas on September 22, 1906 in Itakyla, Finland. His father Juha Rantakangas changed the family name to Laakso because there were so many with the same first and last name, Rantakangas, that the bills were going to the wrong people. Matti immigrated to Canada to earn money to buy more land to farm in Finland. After landing in Quebec City on July 25, 1929 he journeyed by train to Sudbury, Ontario. Because of the Depression he worked part-time in the nickel mines.

Anna Lydia Karvonen was born on July 18, 1908 in Kuusamo, Finland. She immigrated because she wanted a better life. She landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia on January 20, 1929 and from there travelled by train to Sudbury, Ontario. Since her aunt had sent her the boat ticket she had to work a year on her aunt’s farm to pay for the ticket. After that year Lyyti worked in restaurants and as a maid.

 Matti and Lyyti met in Sudbury and married in Kirkland Lake in 1931. After the birth of their daughter Anni on June 2, 1932, they moved back to the Sudbury area homesteading at the west end of Long Lake. When Matti got a job with INCO they moved to Creighton Mine. In 1935 they bought from INCO the property titled Lot 6, Concession 2 of Denison Township in the District of Sudbury. They moved into their log house on June 16, 1936 and the next day their twins Eila Maria and Olavi Erkki were born. Matti left INCO in 1937 to clear the property of trees and make fields for cultivation. They obtained a license in June 1941 to start selling milk. Their daughter Elsie Elizabeth was born on May 15, 1942.

 In 1947 a new large barn and milk house were built. Registered Holstein cows were bought to further expand their dairy farm. A four can quota of milk was shipped by truck to Copper Cliff Dairy. Electricity came to the farm on June 28, 1950 resulting in the purchase of electrical appliances, water pump and milk cooler in the milk house. That summer a new kitchen with a basement underneath was added to the house. Matti was hired by INCO to work at Crean Hill mine on September 13th that year. During the 1950s new tractors, cars, trucks and farm implements were purchased. The dairy herd and milk quota were sold in 1957. Beef cattle were raised until 1968.

 Matti and Lyyti were Lutherans and they had their children baptized and confirmed in that faith. They belonged to the Beaver Lake Chapel which was affiliated with St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church in Copper Cliff. Lyyti belonged to the Women’s Circle at the Chapel. Matti joined the Whitefish Lions’ Club in the late 1960s.

Matti retired from INCO in September 1971 at the age of 65. He suffered a stroke in April 1973 and died on January 27, 1975. Lyyti died on April 25, 1986 following a stroke four weeks earlier. They are buried in Park Lawn Cemetery in Sudbury. Their farm was sold in 1986.

 Matti’s dream to own more land to farm in Finland did come true because he bought land there but gave it to his brother. Two Finnish immigrants with nothing more than determination built a better life for themselves in Canada.





Matti and Lyyti Laakso Sudbury Ontario Fall 1945











Laakso Family: Anni, Matti, Eila, Lyyti, Elsie, and Olavi . Oct 4th 1958. Galardo Studios Sudbury Ontario





My Immigration Story by Paula Kristina Rautanen

 December 2, 1951 was a grey foggy morning when we awoke moored at Pier 21 in Halifax. The M/S Gripsholm had navigated the stormy winter North Atlantic crossing from Göteborg Sweden. Previously we had boarded a ferry in Helsinki for the trip to Stockholm. It was a tearful goodbye with all the relatives gathered to see most of my family one last time. We were a small group: my parents Heikki and Ellen (o.s. Westerberg) Rautanen and 2 daughters Pirkko and Paula. My father and older sister never lived to visit their homeland.

The next stage in our adventure was travelling by train via Montreal to Sudbury Ontario. It was amazing that we arrived at our destination with 3 trunks of possessions. My father had 2 cousins who had immigrated to Sudbury before us and the prime reason we also ended our journey there. My father was quickly hired by INCO (International Nickel Company) to work underground at Creighton Mine and given the English name Henry. The village of Creighton was thriving in the 1950’s and 60’s. The Sudbury basin mines were a major source of Canada’s nickel, copper and various precious metals. The living conditions were substandard but leaving post-war Europe offset the harsh conditions.






Ellen Rautanen in the Creighton Mine Public School yard with number 3 shaft in the background. Creighton Mine Ontario Spring 1953




My father Heikki’s story began February 24, 1916 in Miikkulainen Inkerinmaa on the shores of Lake Ladoga. Inkerinmaa (English Ingria, Ingermanland) was one of the Finnish territories ceded to the Soviet Union in 1944. Forced to abandon their homes 2 of my father’s sisters chose to move to Estonia. An older brother immigrated to Sweden and a younger brother lived in Karelia and Estonia until able to travel freely to Finland. My parents decided on Canada a safe distance from the Soviet Union and Stalin’s purges. My father had served in the Finnish army at Rukajärvi on the Karelian border during the Winter War and Continuation Wars. Unfortunately he passed away before the Finnish-Canadian War Veterans’ Association Canadian Region was formed in Sudbury in 1984. Their purpose is to look after the wellness of frontline veterans, their spouses and widows. At the time there were almost 700 veterans and now in 2016 only 130 remain.

 Heikki Rautanen in the sniper on skis uniform when serving near Rukajärvi, Finland

Winter War 1939-1940



In my early 20’s I had the opportunity to live in Finland and work at HYKS Meilahti Hospital for a year. I met my relatives for the first time. The Finnish design was incredibly beautiful. Overall I found the Finnish society and culture to be very rewarding. But because of language and especially grammar difficulties I never felt I belonged there. Growing up in Canada I always felt different – like an outsider. When I started school I was terribly shy because I couldn’t speak a word of English. Landed immigrants and refugees share my feelings of being in limbo without a country. But today I have found my niche at my home on Long Lake and Finlandia Village in Sudbury, a Finnish retirement community that allow me to enjoy the best of both countries.


Our family stories represent three waves of Finnish immigration to Canada. Historically, we span almost the entire 150 years since confederation of this country. Finns came here before Finnish independence and after. We came for a home and for freedom and better lives. We brought our northern Finnish skills and knowhow for working with the land. We farmed, logged and mined alongside people from all over the World. Our hard work and ingenuity helped to build this country literally from the ground up. We have taken our place in all aspects of Canadian society. Finnish descendants have prospered and multiplied reaching all across this new nation. Still, as Finnish Canadians we can celebrate both this homeland of Canada and the other homeland of Finland, the one that bred us to be who we are. We are fortunate to have both.