History of Finland's representation in Canada

n the early 1920s, newly independent Finland recognized the importance of good relations with Canada and its growing Finnish immigrant population. On January 23, 1923, Akseli Rauanheimo was appointed Finnish Consul in Canada (1923–1932) and a Finnish Consulate was opened in Montréal. This coincided with the heaviest period of Finnish immigration to Canada, now including also the province of Québec.

After the United States passed restrictive immigration legislation in 1922, the annual numbers of Finnish immigrants to Canada soared. Between 1923–1930 nearly 35,000 Finnish immigrants landed in Canada.

Ably assisted by his wife Betty Järnefelt-Rauanheimo, Consul Rauanheimo coped with the steady stream of immigrants who sought assistance. In 1925, the office was upgraded to a Consulate General and by the end of the decade it had obtained a vice-consul and administrative staff.

Rauanheimo was an exceptional man, affectionately called the “shepherd” of the Finnish immigrants. He successfully lobbied Canadian private companies, particularly the Canadian Pacific Railroad, and the Seamen’s Mission in Finland for funds to establish a Finnish Immigrant Home and a Seamen’s Mission in Montreal.

In September 1927, the Finnish Immigrant Home accepted its first registered guests. At its busiest period the 26-room home squeezed 5–6 beds per room allowing thousands of immigrants to find refuge in the temporary “home” that also served as a soup kitchen, employment office, and a place where newly arrived or itinerant immigrants could pick up their mail.

The enthusiastic planning for the Helsinki Olympic games came to a sudden halt when the Soviet Union attacked Finland on November 30, 1939. About 250 Finnish immigrants left Canada to defend Finland and joined the “American Legion.” Initially the Canadian Foreign Enlistment Act was a hindrance for Canadian citizens who also wished to volunteer in this battle between “David and Goliath.”

For the next three and a half months, the Consulate General in Montreal, now headed by K.F. Altio (1939-1941), and the seven honorary consulates that had been established across Canada, lived through tumultuous times organizing passports and documents for the Finnish Canadian volunteers, seeking clarifications from the Canadian government of its position vis-a-vis Canadian citizens who wished to fight in Finland.

The consulates transferred goods and funds collected in Canada by the many Finland Aid organizations and the newly established Canadian Relief Fund chaired by the Senate Leader of the Conservative Party and former Prime Minister of Canada, Arthur Meighen.

The relations between Finland and Canada cooled during the spring and summer of 1941 as Finnish co-operation with Germany, Canada’s enemy, increased. In August, Finnish consulates in Canada were ordered closed and Consul General K. Kuusamo (1941) returned to Finland. On August 11, 1941, the Swedish Consulate General was appointed to protect Finnish interests in Canada.

Germany’s surrender in May 1945 began the normalization of Finnish Canadian relations. The Paris Peace Treaty was ratified by the Parliament of Canada on September 19, 1947 and Finland’s enemy status was rescinded. Diplomatic relations were resumed on November 21, 1947 and on December 1, 1947 Finland named Urho Toivola (1948-1952) to head the newly opened Finnish Legation in Ottawa. In 1952, this post was taken over by Hans Martola (1952-1954) who was followed by Sigurd von Numers (1954-1959). A year later the Ambassador of Canada in Stockholm, Sweden, Thomas Archibald “Tommy” Stone, was appointed also to look after Canadian interests in Finland.

In 1960, the Finnish Legation in Ottawa was transformed to an Embassy and Artturi Lehtinen (1959-1964) was appointed Ambassador. A year later Canada established an Embassy in Helsinki, headed by Ambassador John Harrison Cleveland. Since then, contacts between the two countries have blossomed in joint UN missions abroad, athletic, artistic, scientific or student exchanges, increased trade, formal cultural, economic, social, and political agreements.

Article by Varpu Lindström (1948-2012), Professor of Women Studies and History