This project is quickly coming to a close, and we are looking forward to getting some more material out to the public very soon!
Grant money has been spent. Our Finnish Archives Specialist has a few more hours of work to put in before the end of April, and we’re anticipating some new translations and explanatory essays. Watch this site!
A small physical exhibit of printed signs and copies of key records is being produced. This will be shared at upcoming events this year, and can be available for anyone to borrow.
Descriptive work is done for CSJ and CTKL records, making these documents much more discoverable and accessible for researchers.
A project wrap-up event will be held on May 3, 6pm, at the Embassy at 314 Bay Street. Official invitations will be going out shortly. We’ll discuss the project, what we learned, and how we’ll continue to work with these invaluable records of the Finnish-Canadian experience.
The descriptive work was carried out in 1996, but until recently was only available to consult in a paper format. Now all file titles and descriptions are searchable, and can be downloaded as a PDF document.
The CTKL fonds receives its title from Canadan Teollisuusunionistinen Kannatus Liitto, the Finnish organization which translates to the Canadian Industrial Union Support Circle. This organization was the majority shareholder of the Labour Temple at 314 Bay Street in Port Arthur from 1925 to 1972 and was disbanded in 1979. Prior to 1926, the central administration of the CTKL was in Sudbury after which it relocated to Port Arthur.
The CTKL was made up of supporters of industrial unionism who formed associations in their own local communities and observed rules and regulations as established by an executive committee. This executive committee, the Toimeenpanevakomitea (TPK), was comprised of members of the CTKL elected annually from the central administration and from the local associations. This committee managed the affairs of the league and supported industrial unionism through agitation by engaging speakers, supporting workers in their union activities, and through monetary assistance, as well as writing, publishing, and distributing written materials.
Significant cultural and social events at the Labour Temple and at other branches were supported by the CTKL during the peak years of labour organization.
The records contain minutes of meetings, correspondence, financial records, publications, and miscellaneous items. The fonds has been divided into series as follows:
A – Finnish Building Company
B – Hoito Restaurant
C – One Big Union
D – CTKL
E – Industrial Workers of the World
F – Lumber Workers Industrial Union #120
G – Canadian News Service
H – Miscellaneous
Records of the Canadan Suomalainen Järjestö [Finnish Organization of Canada], Vapaus Publishing Company (responsible for publishing Vapaus and Liekki and other publications), Suomalais-Canadalaisen Amatoori Urheiluliiton [Finnish-Canadian Amateur Sports Federation], co-operatives, and more.
Includes meeting minutes, reports, financial statements, and correspondence related to the operations and administration of these organizations. Also includes a variety of document and pamphlets related to socialism, communism, and the peace movement in Canada and worldwide.
The Canadan Suomalainen Järjestö (CSJ; Finnish Organization of Canada) is the oldest nationwide Finnish cultural organization in Canada. For over a century the CSJ has been one of the main organizations for Finnish immigrants in Canada with left-wing sympathies and, in particular, those with close ties to the Communist Party of Canada. Through the early to mid 1920s, Finnish-Canadians furnished over half the membership of the Communist Party and some, like A.T. Hill (born Armas Topias Mäkinen), became leading figures in the Party. Beyond support for leftist political causes, the cooperative and labour union movements, many local CSJ branches in both rural and urban centres established halls – some 70 of which were built over the years in communities across Canada – that hosted a range of social and cultural activities including dances, theatre, athletics, music, and lectures. The CSJ is also known for its publishing activities, notably the Vapaus (Liberty) newspaper.
The CSJ underwent several changes in its formative years related to both national and international developments. Founded in October 1911 as the Canadan Suomalainen Sosialisti Järjestö (CSSJ; Finnish Socialist Organization of Canada), the organization served as the Finnish-language affiliate of the Canadian Socialist Federation which soon after transformed into the Social Democratic Party of Canada (SDP). By 1914, the CSSJ had grown to 64 local branches and boasted a majority of the SDP membership with over 3,000 members. One year later the organization added two more local branches but membership had dropped to 1,867 members thanks, in part, to a more restrictive atmosphere due to Canada’s involvement in the First World War and an organizational split that saw the expulsion or resignation of supporters of the Industrial Workers of the World from the CSSJ.
In September 1918, the Canadian federal government passed Order-in-Council PC 2381 and PC 2384 which listed Finnish, along with Russian and Ukrainian, as ”enemy languages” and outlawed the CSSJ along with thirteen other organizations. The CSSJ successfully appealed the ban in December 1918 but dropped ”Socialist” from its name. The organization operated under the name Canadan Suomalainen Järjestö until December 1919. The SDP, however, did not recover from the outlawing of its foreign-language sections, leaving the CSJ without a political home. Stepping into this organizational vacuum was the One Big Union of Canada (OBU), founded in June 1919. The CSJ briefly threw its support behind this new labour union initiative, functioning as an independent ”propaganda organization of the OBU” until internal debates surrounding the structure of the Lumber Workers Industrial Union affiliate and the OBU decision not to join to the Moscow-headquartered Comintern led to its withdrawal shortly thereafter. In 1924, CSSJ activists including A.T. Hill helped to found the Lumber Workers Industrial Union of Canada (LWIUC).
Inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution that toppled the Tsarist Russian Empire in November 1917, and following the founding of the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) as an underground organization in May 1921, the CSSJ rapidly became an integral part of the nascent Communist movement in Canada. Reflecting this change, in 1922 the organization was renamed the Canadan Työläispuolueen Suomalainen Sosialistilärjestö (FS/WPC; Finnish Socialist Section of the Workers’ Party of Canada) – the Workers’ Party of Canada being the legal front organization of the CPC. In 1923, Finnish-Canadian Communists formed a separate cultural organization, the Canadan Suomalainen Järjestö (CSJ; Finnish Organization of Canada Inc.), to serve as a kind of ”holding company” ensuring that the organization’s considerable properties and assets would be safe from confiscation by the government or capture from rival left-wing groups. With the legalization of the CPC in 1924, the FS/WPC became the Canadan Kommunistipuolueen Suomalainen Järjestö (FS/CP; Finnish section of the Communist Party of Canada). Between 1922 and 1925, membership in the CSJ through its various transitions also doubled as membership in the Communist Party. This arrangement ended in 1925 when the FS/CP was disbanded following the ”bolshevization” directives of the Comintern. These directives demanded that separate ethnic organizations in North America be dissolved in favour of more disciplined and centralized party cells. It was hoped that this reorganization would help attract new members outside of the various Finnish, Ukrainian, and Jewish ethnic enclaves that had furnished the bulk of the CPC dues paying membership in Canada. From this point onwards, the CSJ officially functioned as a cultural organization but maintained a close, albeit sometimes strained, association with the CPC. The 1930s represent the peak of the CSJ size and influence, occuring during the Third Period and Popular Front eras of the international Communist movement. During this period CSJ union organizers assisted in the creation of the Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union – a unit of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of the American Federation of Labor, successor to the LWIUC – and the reemergence of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers in Sudbury and Kirkland Lake. CSJ activists also helped to recruit volunteers for the International Brigades that fought against nationalist and fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Finally, in the 1930s some 3,000 CSJ members or sympathizers embarked on the journey from Canada to the Soviet Union to help in the efforts to industrialize the Karelian Autonomous Soviet. Hundreds of Finns in Karelia would later perish in Stalin’s purges.
Despite the CSJ’s active support for the Canadian war effort, the organization was still deemed to be a threat to national security by the federal government and again outlawed in 1940. All FOC properties were seized and closed. The Suomalais Canadalaisten Demokraattien Liitto (SCDL; Finnish-Canadian Democratic League) served as the FOC’s main legal surrogate until the organization was legalized in 1943. The rapid decline of the FOC following this period is apparent from the fact that of the 75 locals in operation in 1936, only 36 remained active in 1950.
Edward W. Laine (edited by Auvo Kostianen), A Century of Strife: The Finnish Organization of Canada, 1901-2001 (Turku: Migration Institute of Finland), 2016.
Arja Pilli, The Finnish-Language Press in Canada, 1901-1939: A Study of Ethnic Journalism (Turku: Institute of Migration), 1982.
William Eklund, Builders of Canada: History of the Finnish Organization of Canada, 1911-1971 (Toronto: Finnish Organization of Canada), 1987.
The working class that has involved itself in the labour movement is at present thoroughly under the sway of pessimism. Its boundless enthusiasm, its faith, its self sacrificing trust in the labour movement has ended. It has forsaken its weapons of struggle, abandoned its organizations, and retreated bitterly to recall the beautiful dreams of the past….dreams that were never realized.
Everywhere we see formerly organized workers, but rarely those who are presently organized. The last nearly twenty years have been a time of tribulations for the labour movement. The last years especially, which according to some theories should be a time of fiery upsurge, have proved to be the most destructive period in the history of the labour movement on this continent and the entire world.
It is not at all surprising that the bitter experiences and overwhelming disappointments that the international working class has had its share of in recent years, at the hands of the workers’ political parties and conservative trade unions, has given birth to pessimism and hopelessness. It is not at all surprising that a segment of the workers has lost all hope in the working class in relation to class action and plunged entirely into indifference. After all, it’s quite natural that not all of these disenchanted workers have had the strength right away to grasp the real reasons for the cause of this disappointment. They cannot manage to comprehend that these disappointments have resulted from organizations, to which they have belonged, being unfit to realize their aspirations. These workers need time for reflection and effective class education that must be carried out among them, as they must be included in the real class war.
Non-class conscious workers fear collective action and they have always feared it. According to their conception, there is something dry, old, and inappropriate about it, since they believe that the structure of society is just as it ought to be. The purpose and objective of the C.T.K.L. is to uproot these conceptions by teaching workers those lessons in struggle that the I.W.W. represents as a class organization of the proletariat. As the workers are freed from the hypnotic power of the politickers, and come to see the meaninglessness of the conservative trade unions, they will become supporters of industrial unionism – true class fighters.
WORKERS, you who meekly sigh, stop to think about the organizational backwardness that has pushed you into this misery.
Arise and do more than only complain!
START TO THINK!
AND THEN TO ACTION!
Think about what your life is now, what it could be and what it should be.
The current life of the working class is not living – it is merely being.
It will not be improved by complaining nor sighing, but only through struggle.
Humanity is faced with a problem and it is this….shall the MANY or only the FEW, benefit from the abundant fruits that we have learned to conquer from the soil and the powers of nature.
Industrial unionism was born to solve just this problem. It proclaims that the earth and all that is on it BELONGS TO US ALL.
Our ranks have space for you too. Join us and do your duty, as this sprouts and bears a fruit that we ourselves as well as our descendants can be proud of. You are not alone. Your work is not futile. We will pull our stalks together, our power will grow and we will win.
Neighbour – fellow worker – come along!
I agree to CTKL membership
Present this membership application at your local CTKL meeting
What a black and white photograph of an unidentified man found in the Lakehead University Archives tells us about violent class relations in the twentieth century.
This black and white photograph appears, at first glance, to be quite ordinary. An unidentified man poses in front of a tar paper shack, possibly at a logging camp, hands clasped behind his back. His stony gaze is contemplative, confident. Perhaps even defiant.
Although the identity of the individual in this photograph is currently unknown it is almost certain that he lost his life prematurely and tragically, possibly murdered for his beliefs.
The first clue about the identity of this man comes from the fact that this photograph was included in a collage, found tucked inside of an account ledger dating from the 1920s that belonged to the Lumber Workers Industrial Union, headquartered in the Finnish Labor Temple on 314 Bay Street. The creator(s) of the collage, also unknown, believed that he belonged in this collection.
The picture of the unidentified man appears to be a one-off, original photograph, possibly local in origin. The other images are mass produced, postcard-sized portrait photos. Together, they tell a grim tale of the fight for workers’ rights in the twentieth century.
Three of the men in the collage – Frank Little, William McKay, and Wesley Everest – lost their lives brutally at the hands of anti-union thugs. The other three – Joe Hill, Nicola Sacco, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti – received the death penalty following famous murder trials that captured international attention amid accusations of unfair trials and racial profiling. With the exception of Sacco and Vanzetti, all of these men belonged to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) union.
In Part 2, I will discuss who this man might have been, and who he definitely wasn’t, based on some other clues. This post will concentrate on the other six men included in the collage.
“Better to go out in a blaze of glory than to give in.”
Frank Little was a leading member of the IWW from its establishment in 1905 up to his death in 1917. A fearless union organizer with Cherokee heritage, the legend of Little – “half white, half Indian, all IWW” – spread throughout the logging, mining, agricultural, oil, and waterfront industries where he fought to improve wages, hours, and working conditions. Little was lynched by vigilantes in Butte, Montana on August 1, 1917.
Little had arrived in Butte, Montana in mid-July 1917, lodging at the Steele Block boarding house located next door to the Butte Finnish Worker’s Hall which housed the offices of the IWW Mine Metal Workers’ Union. Little came to Butte to support a copper miners’ strike against the Anaconda Copper Company, one of the largest and most powerful mining companies in the world. Miners had walked out in protest of unsafe conditions following the Granite Mountain/Speculator Mine disaster, during which an underground fire claimed the lives of 168 miners. It remains the worst hard rock mining disaster in American history.
Speaking at mass meetings of striking miners, Frank Little publicly denounced not only the powerful Anaconda Copper Company, the substandard safety conditions in the mines, poor wages, and the practice of blacklisting pro-union miners, but also the Great War being waged in Europe. Little’s opposition to the war stemmed from his view that it was a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
In the early hours of August 1, 1917, Little was forcibly removed from the Steele Block boarding house by six masked men. The men tied Little to the bumper of a car, dragged him along the streets for several miles, and hung him from a railway trestle outside of town. His murderers were never apprehended.
Thousands of miners marched in Frank Little’s funeral procession, many of them Finns. One of them was Reino Erkkilä, then five years old, who marched to the cemetery with his parents behind union banners. These experiences shaped Erkkilä’s understanding of the labour movement and motivated his union activism. He later worked in a variety of roles, including chief dispatcher and president, of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 in San Francisco.
Joe Hill (born Joel Hägglund) was a Swedish-born IWW union activist. Hill joined the union while working on the docks in San Pedro, California around 1910, but worked various jobs around the country, frequently travelling by freight train. Hill is best known as a songwriter and is arguably the most famous IWW member. His songs are still sung today on picket lines and labour events around the world, and his story continues to inspire songwriters and artists. Arrested and convicted of murder, Hill was executed
by firing squad on November 19, 1915 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The incident for which Hill was convicted occurred on January 10, 1914. Two masked men entered a grocery store, shooting and killing a grocer and his son. One of the victims managed to shoot an assailant in the chest before they escaped. Later that same evening, Joe Hill paid a visit to a local doctor seeking treatment for a bullet wound in his left lung. Salt Lake City police used the gunshot wound to tie Hill to the crime.
Hill denied any involvement with the murders. He claimed that he had been shot in an argument over a women by a jealous lover, but refused to name names in order to protect the reputation of the woman in question. In support of his claim that he had hands up when he was shot – unlike the assailant – the bullet hole in Hill’s coat from the exit wound was four inches below the wound on his back. Four other people had been treated for bullet wounds in the city that same night, and police had previously arrested 12 suspects before charging Hill with murder. Hill’s trial and subsequent conviction attracted international attention, including an appeal for clemency from President Woodrow Wilson. Hill’s defenders argued that he had been framed on the murder charge due to his involvement with the IWW.
Joe Hill’s “Last Will” was penned the night before his execution. It reads:
My will is easy to decide
For there is nothing to divide
My kin don’t need to fuss and moan
“Moss does not cling to rolling stone”
My body? Oh, if I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and final Will.
Good Luck to All of you
Hill kept his sense of humour right up to his execution date. In a note written to William “Big Bill” Haywood, a leading figure in the IWW, Hill wrote:
Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize… Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.
At his execution, as the deputy in charge of the firing squad called out “Ready, Aim…” Hill, with a smile on his face, exclaimed “Fire — go on and fire”.
In Washington, 48 logging camps had walked out in support of the general strike. They were joined by groups of sailors and longshoremen in Aberdeen, who picketed the waterfront. In total, approximately 4,000 to 5,000 workers in Grays Harbor County alone joined the strike in April and May 1923.
In an effort to spread the strike, IWW picketers marched to the Bay City mill in Aberdeen, setting up an information picket outside the gates of the mill. William McKay, one of the picketers, took exception to the loud taunting of company gunman E.I. Green who remarked that only “foreigners” and those “who cannot speak English” belonged the IWW. McKay angrily responded “Do you mean that for me?” During the ensuing quarrel Green pulled his revolver and McKay, attempting to flee, was shot in the back of the head and killed. The gunman was later released on bail and never faced trial for the murder of McKay.
The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti attracted international attention, including support for their cause in Canada and Thunder Bay. Their defenders argued that anti-immigrant bias and the political beliefs of Sacco and Vanzetti influenced the verdict. Their legal defense argued that this prejudice, along with evidence of coerced witness testimony, demonstrated that the defendants had been denied a fair trial. In November 1925 Celestino Medeiros, a gangster awaiting trial for murder, confessed to the robbery and shooting of the paymaster. Despite the original flawed trial and confession, the Supreme Judicial Court denied a new trial.
Centralia lies about 130 kilometres south of Seattle in the middle of Washington’s logging industry. In 1917 the IWW opened a union hall in this strategic location to support the growth of labour union organization in the logging camps. A year after it opened, a mob attacked the hall during a Red Cross parade. Union property was destroyed and members were beaten and driven out of town.
On November 11, 1919, Armstice Day, the anticipated raid occurred. As a mob forced entry into the hall they were met with gun fire. Four of the mob were killed before overpowering and jailing the union men and destroying the hall. Later that evening, the mob captured Wesley Everest from his jail cell, apparently with no resistance from the police. Everest was then driven outside of town and hung off the Chehalis River bridge. His body was retrieved by the sheriff and deputies the next day and thrown into the cell with the other prisoners with the noose still around his neck. Although no one was ever arrested or charged for the murder of Everest, seven IWW members received prison sentences of 25 to 40 years.