EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a two-part article submitted by Carolyn Hokkanen relating her tale of travels to Finland to connect with relatives and learn more about the country of her ancestors. Part one appeared in our Nov. 2 edition. – Kirsten Reichel, HTF Staff Writer
The road that led me to Kuortane was to explore and learn about the history of my family. My grandmother Elisabeth Kurikka was the last born of 10 siblings. Her dad had become a widower at an earlier time with his first wife. He was left with a son and daughter. He later married and had 10 children with his second wife Anna Pennala (1836-1925). The oldest of the 10 of Matti and Anna was Henrik (1859-1930). Elisabeth was the youngest, her mother birthing her at the age of 47. Born in Kuortane, Finland in 1883, Grams died in 1972 in Cook, MN.
In 1909, Grams was transported by a Finnish ship line to Liverpool, England, and from there set sail for New York harbor. She had another girl from her hometown traveling with her. Taking only eight days to cross the Atlantic, arriving on a warm September day. Tests and inspections were performed for each traveler for good health. Do you have a job in America? Do you have a place to reside? All “yes” for Grams.
There was a place to rest overnight, then she traveled the following day by train to Duluth. Next was to the destination of Chisholm where friends from her hometown in Finland resided and worked. She lived with them for a while and worked. Once in America, Grams later changed her name to Elizabeth.
The big Chisholm fire happened in 1908. The town was quickly rebuilt and, by the time Grams had arrived in 1909, the downtown area looked nearly complete. My grandfather Sakari Hokkanen had arrived seven years earlier and worked for the Oliver Mining Company.
The iron ore was of top quality and the Range was booming with activity of mining the iron ore – underground and above ground. It was dangerous work with very little protection for the miners. The 1908 fire had damaged the town. Places to live were destroyed and work halted for a short period of time. Sakari went to Quebec to work until news came of the full start-up of the mines. He came back about a year later in the fall of 1909.
Grams was working in Chisholm when she met Sakari at a social Finnish gathering. They had a short courtship and married. In the fall of 1911 a son was born but passed away from a fever. A year later in November, 1912, my dad Olavi John Michael was born. He later changed his name to Olaf.
When my grams Elizabeth and grandpa Sakari first got married, they lived close to the job site in Chisholm. Sakari noticed, as all miners did, the unfair wages, long working hours and working six days a week for what was it was. I heard $3 a day – that’s hard to comprehend. Sakari was an advocate for fair wages for the workers, less working hours, at least two days off a week, compensation for the injured, and help for the widows and their children.
He was considered a trouble maker, as many were, as they were beat up mentally with poor living conditions and long hours of work. The wild strike of 1916 made history when it made national news. My daddy was three and a half years old then.
Trouble was in the air long before the strike. Sakari had sought land and found a deal on a 160-acre parcel in Alango Township. Sakari built a three-room log home for his family, cleared land, drained ditches and helped the neighbors in repairing the corduroy road. Sakari moved his family to the log house just for the summer until the tension eased.
Alango Township had other families in the neighborhood – the Kujala, Leinonen, Kymberg and Pohto families. The family officially moved to the Alango homestead when daddy Olavi was six years old. He said they moved out there on horse and sleigh on what seemed the coldest day of the year. He was wrapped in sheep skin. The mines had closed down as it was winter and the temperatures were in the digits of 40 to 50 below zero. The roads were frozen solid – no mud oozing out of the roadway with those temps!
After the strike, the mine workers were watched carefully. Pinkerton men were hired – they carried Remington rifles. Tension was high. It’s hard to imagine working under those conditions. In my reading of history of that time frame, the Oliver Mining Company started treating their employees with somewhat more respect.
Sakari died in his early 40s due to a mining accident. Dad was always bitter about the mines as his dad told him stories and a young mind absorbs so much. It was very hard to cope with the loss of a parent and husband.
Grams married a year later to a neighbor and family friend, Matti Mantila. They moved to California as there was work there and warm winters. My dad stayed in Minnesota, then moved to Illinois to attended Coyle Electrical School. His brother and sister Ronald and Ellen went to California with my grams. Grams visited us on the Alango farm the summers.
Gram Elisabeth intrigued me. I would watch her in the kitchen – what she ate and how she ate – observing her daily activities. I wanted to go to Finland and observe how Grams lived as a young person. To look out of the same window that she did, see what she saw, wonder what she thought. Was she a happy child, did she joyfully help at home? Did she love to go in the barn like I did and smell the different smells of hay and cow poop? Hear the chewing of the cud by the cows and all the wonders of life itself? She came to America when she was 23. Did she miss home terribly once in America? When Elizabeth left for America her mom Anna was age 70.
Three of my grand mom Anna’s chil- died. One at the age of five months, another at 18 months, and another at two years of age. I wonder if she ever shared her loss of children with her other children? Anna lived to 89 years of age. I wondered who took care of her but I found out that the oldest son Henrik and his wife Liisa took care of her.
The church Grand mom attended was built in 1777 and the bell tower in 1831. The graveyard is very well kept, as all the grave sites are. Many are visited as Grams comes from a large family. My grandparents are buried there along with other family members. There are many names from back home on the grave stones since a large number of people came from this area to northern Minnesota. It made pronouncing names easier for me as I hear them often in Minnesota.
I never knew my grand mom, but felt great compassion for her and was grateful to visit her grave site. I wanted to hug her grave stone, but instead sat upon it and looked lovingly downward. Anna lived 19 more years after Elizabeth came to America.
The Great Northern War happened in the 18th century. At that time the Russians occupied Finland. Finns fled to the forests to avoid violence. Small cabins were built called “hideaway cabins.” Heavily forested areas hid them well, but not everyone had this advantage. Kuortane wasn’t exempt from the conflict. It was part of the 1918 Finnish Civil War and the Winter and Continuation War of 1939-1943.
The depression that hit America in the 1930s affected many abroad also. Russia advertised they had a workers’ paradise and many left Finland without a passport and some came from America to work in Russia. Most of the workers never came back.
In addition to many restrictions, Finns were discouraged in following their cultural ways, food rations were put into force, food was grown and given to Russian soldiers, young Finnish men served in the Russian army, permission was required by the government church to wed. A high percentage of taxes were paid to the church. Czar Nicholas of Russia, son of Alexander, tried to bend the Finnish people. The Finnish people wanted their freedom, and they did get it back.
Viewing the grave site in Kuortane gave me a heartfelt appreciation of the sacrifice by many for the love of country, giving up their life for the future of their children and for the generations to follow.
Many fallen soldiers’ graves were honored with respect with well-maintained grave sites. Fresh annual colorful flowers adorned the grave sites, a reminder of battles fought for their independence. With reverence we stood looking at the names of the young lives gone too early in time.
Kurikka Lumber Company
Grams’ oldest brother, Elias Svante Kurikka (1894-1984) started the Kurikka Lumber Company in Suolahti, Finland. The family lived in the Alavus area. The lumber yard had 700 people employed, which helped contribute to a bustling economy.
The year 2018 marked the 90th year of production for the lumber yard. Elias had several ships to deliver their product to various countries. When I asked what was delivered back in the ships I was told it was raisins. It seemed that everyone ate hot cereal for breakfast so, yes, raisins were understandable.
Family is still running the company. Another bucket list for me was to visit the lumber yard and meet my relative who is running the business. Jaakko is now the man in charge of the business.
In Minnesota we have forest management practices, as does Finland. Finland depends on the income that forestry brings and the country works hand-inhand with agricultural and forestry divisions to protect their future generations. Not only for their lush forests, but for their children to enjoy.
In the yard of Kurt Mikko and his wife Mirja is a plaque with the face of Elias Svante Kurikka presented by the town in honoring him for his years of service. Their daughter told me that one day there was noise outside. In their yard people were planting flowers below the plaque and cutting the shrubs to view the plaque from the roadside.
In meeting the family in the Suolahti, I found out that their grandmother was a Hokkanen. My dad’s father was a Hokkanen, but I can’t find out where he was from in Finland; he came to America in 1900. All I know is he was a loved father and knew his bible backward and forward and played a zither.
Grams Elizbeth went back to her home and hometown of Kuortane in 1967 at the age of 85. She visited her nieces Virpi and Riita and their brother, played with Riita’s children and visited other family. Her time was spent visiting family and her culture, knowing her time in life was coming to an end. How brave of her to make the trip at that age! She then returned to Cook and lived with her son – my uncle and aunt Ronald and Rosemary Hokkanen – until declining health brought her to the Cook Hospital where she later passed on.
Helsinki, Finland: Places to go, things to see
There are many places to go in Helsinki. The three days there for me included straying not too far from my residence. The third-floor apartment had view of a court yard, the road leading to the central railway station, plus much more.
The central railway has a big building with shops in it. One can buy food, books, clothing and tickets. The architectural design of the building doesn’t look like a railroad station. The rail line goes all the way to Russia. It accommodates about 200,000 commuters daily.
The tram transports people around the city of Helsinki. The hop-on/hop-off buses make 22 stops every 20 minutes and they run from May to September.
The Helsinki University Kaisaniemi botanical garden is beautiful. It has collections of plants, some used by the university for research and teaching. The big glass buildings let in light for the environmental growth of desert, tropical wetlands, and rainforest plants. It is by the city park and is delightful to the senses to walk through and observe.
The Lutheran church called, “The Rock” is a sight to see. Two architect brothers, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, built this rock church directly into solid rock. The roof is a dome shape and it lets in light – truly a feat. Pipe organs carry music to the inner soul from the dome shape, reverberating off the rock. The church opened in 1969.
Market Square was a quick ride on the hop-on/hop-off bus. I traveled with my cousins Dr. Tom and Raija Krusius to an active place with vendors selling their wares. Market Square is a central area and includes many buildings, including the Helsinki Cathedral. It was built and completed in 1852 as a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. He declared the Russification of Finland and took over Finland for several years – 19 years, if I remember my history. Senate Square is also located in this central area. This is the area where talks were held by U.S. President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin just before my arrival to Helsinki.
Walking the Square, it was a hot day – 82 and humid. The area borders the Baltic Sea. There were pools to swim in and one was a salt water pool called a “sea pool.” People were sun bathing too. The Helsinki swimming stadium was built for the Olympic Games which were held in Helsinki in 1952. The pools and surrounding area are well maintained and one can use the pools, saunas, small gym and jump or dive off the 10-meter jump tower, if you dare.
We ate at a fine restaurant with professional staff, white table cloths, and music playing outside. A pleasant atmosphere, and the food was good too. Cruise ship lines are in the area and tour boats are available for people to view the scenic and beautiful 300 archipelago islands.
While walking to the post office to mail some thank-you notes and pick up some food at the market, I heard people speaking in Finnish, English and other languages. There were outside restaurants everywhere. People were enjoying the warmth of summer. Bikes were swishing by me. Bicyclists were all over, and one better watch where they are going as it seemed they have a rule for us walkers. People appeared to be enjoying their coffee, ciders, and beer in the afternoon. That in itself made me happy!
Being as I am interested in anything old and ethnic I was reading about a place called Fiskars. The village is about an hour drive west of Helsinki. It’s in Raseborg, Finland (Pohja). The village was founded by a Dutchman named Peter Thorwoste in 1649. It is deep in the forest and has a river running through it.
Work-shops were set up to make consumer goods. Metalworks, design, furniture building, smithies, candle making and various other sellable items. In the 1980s, the industrial buildings were closed down. Then artists and designers moved into the industrial buildings, bringing in their creative talents and doing what they enjoyed – making and designing.
Today there are boutiques, ceramics, furniture, cheese, bread, coffee, a brewery distillery, and the nineteenth-century homes are lived in again. In 2015 the Fiskar village made the Finland stock exchange due to their consumer products. So many great places to explore!
Reflecting on my time in Finland, I think of the beauty. The water, trees, the care people take in keeping their land pristine and the emphasis on education and culture, diet, exercise and wellbeing.
I think of the family I became close to, the homes of my grandparents and great grandparents. Family honored, but not forgotten, at the various grave sites we visited and their hope for their children to walk their land in freedom knowing they would be safe.
White Nights Summer of 2018
I felt so safe with the white nights
I could see the daytime sights
Of the city flowing traffic lights
There were no nightly fights
I basked in an awake dreamland
Awaiting the sandman
I pondered at the light
With all of my might
Closing my eyes tight
Not wanting to see the light
In the middle of the night
My heart and soul smiled at the sight
And the safety of the light
So welcoming to the sight
The midnight summer’s dream can be seen
by the white nights summer queen
By Carolyn Hokkanen – in the middle of the night.
Carolyn Hokkanen lives in Tower, MN.