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LOCAL HISTORY - Rural Roots # 2

‘Rural Roots’ is drawn largely from my book ‘*Sisu – The Finnish Determination of a Canadian Family’.

Copies are available ($30.00) by calling me at 577-7484, cell 621-6621 or email: leoh@tbaytel.net









Rural Roots
by Leo Hunnakko
Issue #2 (Published in 'GrassRoots'  February 2009)

The Arrival of the Early Pioneers

My father’s journey mirrors that of many early immigrants. His birthplace Jalasjärvi Finland sits north-west of Helsinki almost on the 63rd parallel as compared to Thunder Bay which is just above the 49th. Valde (Walter) grew up in a rural area not unlike our region here in north-western Ontario.
He had seen his sister Lempi and her husband Jack Huhta leave for Canada, as well as other friends and neighbours from the Jalasjärvi district. The lure of the new land and hope for a better future, in what was perceived as new fertile ground, was for him irresistible. He applied for and received his passport on March 26th, 1928 and visited the Jalasjärvi church office on November 15 to get his “Papin Kirja” (extract from the church register). This document was necessary for everyone who moved abroad.
Valde bid farewell to his home and beloved mother only days prior to his twenty-first birthday. My cousin Matti related how dad kept turning to look back toward the house and waved a white handkerchief as he walked along the road from his Ketunneva home, disappearing out of view at the start of his long journey.
He sailed out of Liverpool England on December 21st, 1928, on the S.S. Montclare, later designated HMS Montclare, built by John Brown & Co. Ltd. of Glasgow, Scotland. She was 550 feet long and 70 ft. wide with a gross tonnage of 16,314. She had 2 funnels and 2 masts and the engines were double-reduction steam turbines providing a speed of 16 knots. Her capacity included 542 cabins, however Valde sailed third class of which she could accommodate 1,268 passengers.
After nine days at sea, he arrived in St. John, New Brunswick on December 30th, 1928. Based on the initial Canadian Immigration Service documents, he was asked about “money in possession belonging to passenger”, to which he answered –“$25.00”. Not much but enough to get started. My father traveled by train on the Canadian Pacific Railway, which was often the only viable option for reaching more remote communities in the interior. Port Arthur, his destination, was most often reached by CPR and later by the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.
Upon arrival in Port Arthur, the immigrant was directed to the Immigration Hall. This was a large two-story building which did not supply food or bedding but was heated by a stove, and had available free utensils, fuel and water. The local immigration staff would assist them in making contact with countrymen and often assist them in finding a job usually in bushwork, construction or mining. My father knew from correspondence where Lempi and Jack lived and in all likelihood took the P. D., “Pientiä” train to Wolf Siding, which later became known as Suomi.
The land of opportunity offered few options for making a living, usually cutting pulpwood and/or farming that required perseverance to squeeze out a harvest. Enduring hard work, whether clearing balsam underbrush or clearing rocks off the fields, the better future we all now benefit from came on the backs of those early pioneers.