Thunder Bay Hosts 79th Finnish Canadian Grand Festival
By Tiffany Jarva

This June, the Finnish Embassy, Finns, Finnish Canadians, and Nordic artists from all over Canada and the United States will be in Thunder Bay to celebrate the 79th Finnish Canadian Grand Festival. “It’s a great celebration of northern culture,” says Finnish Canadian Cultural Federation chair Kelly Saxberg. This year, the festival coincides with National Indigenous Peoples Day, and will celebrate the culture and heritage of the Sámi, the northernmost indigenous people of Europe.

In 1939–1940, Lempi Johnson of Sudbury was in his sauna when the idea to have a Finnish Song, Sports, and Co-operative summer festival struck him, with the proceeds originally being sent to Finland to help with the country’s struggle after the Winter War. The first festival in 1940 was a success and continued to be held in Sudbury until 1945. In 1946 it was hosted in Timmins. Eventually there was no need to send money to the home country anymore, but the festival continued celebrating the Finnish culture in places like Port Arthur, Montreal, Toronto, and Sault Ste. Marie. In 1961 the festival changed its name to Finnish Canadian Grand Festival.

In 1971 the Finnish Canadian Cultural Federation was created with hopes of expanding the festival across Canada and to help keep the Grand Festivals going. In 1973 the festival travelled as far west as Vancouver, and continues to promote Finnish heritage and a sense of community.

Events this year in Thunder Bay range from a tori (marketplace), a dinner banquet and dance, films and games to a children’s cycling race, lectures and many indoor and outdoor performances. Finnish Ojibway musician Marc Meriläinen, who has performed at festivals around the world, including the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the Mariposa Folk Festival, and the Pan Am Games, will be featured. Other events include a parade, along with a portable sauna display, musicians, artists, and athletes at Waverley Park and other venues close by.

“Of course there will be wife-carrying and boot-throwing contests,” says Saxberg. “There will also be international and local musicians, choirs, folk dancing, two evening dances, and a series of lectures on Nordic history, novels, and genealogical studies.”

The 79th Finnish Canadian Grand Festival takes place from June 21 to 23, 2019. Schedule of events and tickets are available online at finnfestivalcanada.