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.