To mark both Finland 100 and Canada 150 we've asked Finnish Canadians, friends of Finland, and Finnish friends of Canada to blog for us. In this instalment former Member of Parliament Judy Erola writes about the similarities between Canada and Finland and Finnish culture in Canada.
The Hon. Judy Erola is a former federal politician who was the Member of Parliament for Nickle Belt from 1980 to 1984 in Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's government. She was a Cabinet Minister throughout the entirety of her term and served as the Minister of State for Mines, Minister responsible for the Status of Women, Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, and Minister of State for Social Development. Erola has deep Finnish family roots in Canada which date back to 1883 and she is a proud member of the Finnish Canadian community in Sudbury.
What a happy coincidence that Finland and Canada are celebrating their 100th and 150th anniversaries this year! Our countries have so much in common, beyond our shared climate and geography. For example, until they gained independence both countries lived under the umbrella of other lands. When my grandfather arrived in Canada from Finland in 1883 he carried a Russian passport, and when my mother came to Canada in 1924 and later became a citizen here, she became a British citizen! Much has changed in our countries in such a short period of time.
Throughout the years, Finnish culture has survived and thrived in Canada. I grew up in a family where Finnish was the primary language as neither sets of my grandparents spoke English. We lived on a dairy farm and we were surrounded by other Finnish farmers. Our community of Finns helped to establish the Finnish Lutheran Church in Copper Cliff, which I still attend today. My family life revolved around the usual rituals with a heavy emphasis on Finnish food. Pulla (sweet bun), lettuja (Finnish crepes), riisipuuro (warm rice pudding), and lanttulaatikko (rutabaga casserole) were our favorites and we still love them. However, my sisters and I never did develop a taste for our mother's favorites, maksalaatikko (liver casserole) and lipeäkala (lutefisk).
I was one of seven daughters and all of my sisters married non-Finnish husbands. Their husbands were in short order converted to our Finnish ways. The beloved sauna became our rallying place. My granddaughter's husband who hails from Georgia, USA, is the first to light the fire in the sauna when they arrive for the annual summer visit to the family's lake cabin.
I made my first visit to Finland with my husband in the spring of 1976 and we toured widely from Helsinki all the way to Rovaniemi. We were struck by the similarities of the countryside to Northern Ontario. Were it not for the Finnish signs and the names on the postal boxes, we could have been at home! Discovering relatives we'd only heard of but had never seen was a very emotional experience. They recognized us immediately and overwhelmed us with their hospitality. It was a home away from home.
During my political career, particularly when I was Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, I was often asked about the origins of my feminism. I am quick to point out that Finland was the first country in Europe to grant women the right to vote and the first to have a female president. I am extremely proud that the women in Canada won the fight for the inclusion of the Equality Clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms during my tenure. That took Sisu!
One final thought: should we object to the cultural appropriation of the sauna which is now in use throughout the world? At the very least people could pronounce it correctly: we pronounce it "SOW-na" not "SAW-na".