Mika Roinila
, a native of Helsinki, holds a Ph.D. in cultural-historical geography from the University of Saskatchewan. His dissertation, Finland-Swedes in Canada: Migration, Settlement and Ethnic Relations, was published by the Institute of Migration in Turku. Roinila is a professor and currently teaching at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Book:

Finland-Swedes in Canada: Migration, Settlement and Ethnic Relations, Institute of Migration Publication Series C, Turku, Finland, 2000, 266 pages

Online articles by Mika Roinila

Finland-Swedes in Canada: Discovering Some Unknown Finnish Facts

Finnish Sailors and Soldiers in the American Civil War

Finnish Ethnicity in the State of Virginia

Finnish Fishermen of Lake Superior

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Web editor Staffan Storteir

"Hard feelings":Past and present attitudes of Canadian Finland-Swedes

MIKA ROINILA

 

"Svenska talande bättre folk!" is a statement many Finns still make in Finland when conversations turn to the Finland-Swedes. Many readers may have heard these words as well, and it may be quite safe to say that within the history of Finland, which dates to the beginning of the Swedish Period in the 12th Century, there is still some truth to this statement. There are still some Finns and Finland-Swedes today who can recall the early 1900s period of Finnish and Finland-Swedish nationalism which swept Finland during the country’s quest for independence. It is also among the immigrant population that these memories have stayed, and the resulting attitudes and feelings experienced in Finland of the past are still echoed in the present.

  The linguistic battles between the majority Finnish-speakers and the traditionally more educated and well-to-do Finland-Swedes galvanized the population in Finland into separate camps, which over time have begun to heal and meld into a more homogenized "Finnish" population which may have become more acceptable of differences.1 This was not the case in the past. With the linguistic struggles of the early 1900s, many immigrants to Canada brought their own attitudes and memories of Finland to North America. Indeed, solidarity amongst the immigrant citizens of Finland has remained as elusive as the mutual respect and coexistence between the two ethnolinguistic groups in Finland.2-3 With many of the Old World Attitudes which have remained intact from one generation to the next, it is not surprising to note that the

"…intertwined political and military history of Sweden and Finland is no longer known today among the second, third and fourth generation Finns and Swedes in the USA. They know nothing about this interrelationship. But they still have some of the old prejudices."4

While the Finland-Swedes predate the Finnish-speaking immigrants to Canada by a few years, their settlement and association with one another in densely populated areas of Canada was segregated. From British Columbia to Ontario, there were non-accepting attitudes amongst the Finns as well as the Finland-Swedes. This paper briefly examines three main Finland-Swedish populations in Canada: Vancouver, Thunder Bay and Toronto. Regional differences in attitudes towards other ethnic groups are encountered, and were noted in many interviews conducted in the summers 1995-96. The many quotations and statistically analyzed data shows regional differences in attitudes and feelings amongst the Finland-Swedes.5

Attitude balance theory

Attitude balance theory argues that effective bonds between individuals or groups will be "balanced", that is, liking or disliking will tend to be reciprocated.6 Simply put, if I like you, you will like me. Thus, reciprocity of sympathy, attitudes and feelings will occur between groups. Given the history of the Finns and Swedes (and Finland-Swedes), it was not surprising to find that in Finland, asymmetrical attitudes exist between the Finnish-speakers and the Finland-Swedes (Table 1). While the Finland-Swedes ranked their attitudes high towards the Finns (3rd place), the Finns did not reciprocate this ranking and placed their countrymen in 10th place on a list of 13 ethnic groups.6 Reasons for this asymmetrical attitude in Finland can be tied to a number of historic events which the Finnish-speaking majority has remembered well. They include historical memories of Swedish supremacy; ideological differences that touched off the Finnish Civil War in

TABLE 1. Sympathy Scores towards selected ethnolinguistic groups, Finnish and Finland-Swedish samples in Finland, 1983 (averages, on a scale from 0-100)

Finnish sample

Target group

(n=4482)

Score

Finland-Swedish sample

Target group

(n=2269)

Score

1. Finns

92

1. Finland-Swedes

92

2. Sami (Lapps)

86

2. Norwegians

85

3. Norwegians

80

3. Sami (Lapps)

78

4. Estonians

78

4. Finns

78

5. Finns in Sweden

77

5. English

76

6. Hungarians

76

6. Swedes

75

7. English

75

7. French

71

8. French

74

8. Estonians

70

9. Japanese

73

9. Japanese

67

10. Finland-Swedes

67

10. Hungarians

66

11. Swedes

65

11. Finns in Sweden

65

12. Germans

60

12. Germans

65

13. Gypsies

52

13. Gypsies

47

       

Mean (all groups)

73.4

Mean (all groups)

71.9

Source:McRae, Kenneth. Conflict and Compromise in Multilingual Societies, Vol.3 - Finland, 1997:156.


1917-1918; surviving stereotypes of Swedish speakers as an economically privileged class; the favored current position of Swedish speakers as a small and almost invisible minority; and the resettlement legislation of Karelian Finns following the Second World War.8

While an imbalance of attitudes thus exists in Finland, there is a motivation for individuals or groups to alter their relationships and attain "balance". A second way to alter the imbalance is to incorporate attitudes towards objects that are relevant to the relationship and the attitude system of the individual or group towards the out-group member(s).9 Through many shared experiences since the Second World War, the language controversy between the Finnish and Swedish speakers in Finland has lost some of its acuteness. With shared successes in the realms of economic, social, and political advances, successes in sports, fine arts, and others, a more homogenized Finland has emerged. Still, the language climate over the past few decades has caused some negative associations. One of the more exceptional examples of this was the suggestion made by a Member of Parliament, in the summer of 1990, that the Åland Islands be exchanged for Soviet Karelia.10

Canadian Finland-Swedish Examples

With the history of Finland behind us, we turn to look at the Finland-Swedish population in Canada. The highest concentration of Finland-Swedes is encountered in British Columbia, especially in the Vancouver area. In 1991, the Vancouver Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) had a population of Finland-Swedish 340 individuals. According to the 1991 Canadian Census, Toronto was home to 175 Finland-Swedes, and only 10 were found in Thunder Bay.11 The Finland-Swedes in the Vancouver area established many social, fraternal and religious organizations in the early 1900s, and have been able to maintain some of them to this day. Examples include the two active lodges of the Order of Runeberg, the Finlandssvenska Klubben, Order of Runeberg Chorus and Social Club.12 Linguistic differences between the Finnish and Swedish-speaking immigrants from Finland have often been cited as the primary reason for a lack of interaction between the two ethnolinguistic groups, which in turn has caused varying ethnic identities amongst the Finland-Swedes of Canada.13 Lack of association and Old World attitudes are easily seen from a number of comments across the country.

"The Finland-Swedes stay away from the Finns as they have their own clubs"

"Swede-Finns stick together."

"We never go to each others doings; not very much in the past and not very much today."

"Finns always have meetings in Finnish rather than English. We should go to more meetings if they did them in English."

"There was no contact between the Finns and Finland-Swedes because of the language. Finns wanted to speak Finnish, no English. Therefore Swede-Finns were uncomfortable, and this was a strong feeling."

"Both groups don’t know each other… small minded, stuck on their ways."

"There is bickering and putdowns. The two groups are very ignorant of one another; they don’t know about each other."14

While many of these comments show a dissociation from Finnish-speakers, there is a growing trend amongst some Finland-Swedes in Canada that indicates more integration into the activities of Finnish-speakers. In Vancouver, the Finland-Swedes have joined the Finns in organizing a collective unit within a relatively new Scandinavian Center which houses other Nordic groups as well. The Finnish House Society in the Scandinavian Center is thus well represented by both ethnolinguistic groups. In Thunder Bay, which has a large Finnish-speaking population, aging Finland-Swedish organizations and congregations which still exist have remained intact. With the decline in immigration to the Lakehead area of Lake Superior, the older, less linguistically adaptable generation has maintained a more distinct separation between the Finns and Finland-Swedes. Finally, Toronto has exhibited a much more positive shift in attitudes towards the Finnish-speaking population in comparison to the two former locations. Finland-Swedish immigrants to Toronto, since the 1960s, are bilingual in both Swedish and Finnish and can thus meld into any Finnish-language activity. Many read Finnish-language newspapers such as the Vapaa Sana, attend the Finnish Lutheran Church, participate in Finnish-language associations, and so on. Similar trends are also found in Vancouver. 15

TABLE 2. Sympathy Scores towards selected ethnolinguistic groups, Finland-Swedish and Finnish samples in Canada, 1996 (averages, on a scale from 0-100)

Finland-Swedish sample

Target group

(n=302)

Score

Finnish sample

Target group

(n=18)

Score

1. Finland-Swedes

92

1. Finns

94

2. Canadians

91

2. Canadians

91

3. Swedes

88

3. Norwegians

86

4. Norwegians

87

4. Estonians

85

5. Finns

87

5.Finland-Swedes

85

6. Danes

85

6. Japanese

84

7. English

81

7. Swedes

83

8. Americans

79

8. Hungarians

82

9. Estonians

78

9. Americans

82

10. Hungarians

75

10. Danes

81

11. Germans

73

11. English

74

12. Japanese

73

12. French

72

13. French

69

13. Germans

71

       

Mean (all groups)

81.9

Mean (all groups)

82.6

Source: Roinila, Mika. Finland-Swedes in Canada, 2000:147 & 158.

 

When all Finland-Swedes are considered, an increasingly positive trend in attitudes is encountered towards outgroup members from one generation to the next. This result is exactly in line with the comments made by Raymond Wargelin, noted earlier in this paper. In a country where neither Finnish nor Swedish is the required language, English now dominates the conversations of both groups. By forgetting the mother tongue, a more homogenous Finnish ethnicity can form and thus include both Finland-Swedes and Finns without prejudice or Old World attitudes.16

It may be a contradiction in terms to assert that the assimilation of Finland-Swedes with the Finnish-speakers in Canada is a "good thing". Traditional sociological view of the loss of identity into the host or dominant society is seen as a negative development which leads to the loss of the minority identity. Arguments for the "good" development include the assumption that as more Finland-Swedes become familiar with, and are accepted by the Finnish-speakers of Canada, the overall Finnish ethnicity will become more homogenized and better represented in future Census tabulations. Arguments against this development includes the eventual loss of a distinct ethnolinguistic presence of Finland-Swedes. With each successive generation of descendents, fewer Swedish-speaking Finland-Swedes will remain to keep up the memberships of the declining clubs and organizations in Canada. In the end, it is postulated that the Old World asymmetry in attitudes will disappear in the New World, and both Finns and Finland-Swedes will hold balanced attitudes towards each other. Only further study into this can verify this hypothesis.

Sources:

1.Marika Tandefelt, The Finland-Swedes: The Most Priviledged Minority in Europe? in Minority Languages: The Scandinavian Experience, ed. Blom, Graves, Kruse, and Thomsen (Oslo, 1992).
2. Park and Miller, Old World Traits Transplanted (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1921), 46.
3. Old World attitudes were brought to North America by the immigrants from an early stage, as noted in Park and Miller, above; John Syrjämäki, Mesabi Communities: A Study of Their Development (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Dept. of Sociology, Yale University, 1940); Vern Mattson, History of the Order of Runeberg (Portland, Ore., 1977); Raymond Wargelin, Dear Uncle: Letters by J.K. Nikander and Other Pioneer Pastors (New York Mills, Minn.: Parta Printers, 1984)
4. Correspondence with Rev. Raymond Wargelin, St.paul, Minn., 30 January 1995.
5. Mika Roinila, Finland-Swedes in Canada: Migration, Settlement and Ethnic Relations (Turku, Finland: Institute of Migration, 2000). Hereafter FSC.
6. F. Heider, Psychology of Interpersonal Relations (New York: Wiley, 1958); and T. Newcomb, "Interpersonal Balance," in Theories of Cognitive Consistency, ed. R. Abelson (Chikago: Rand McNally, 1968)
7. Kenneth McRae, Conflict and Compromise in Multilingual Societies, Vol. 3, Finland (Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1977), 156.
8. Silvo Hietanen, Siirtoväen Pika-asutuslaki 1940 (Helsinki: Suomen historiallinen Seura, 1982). A Finnsih Center party member notes that the expropriation of farmland focused on Finnish farmers in Österbotten, while the Finland-Swedes were not obligated to do so; FSC, 56.
9. M. Brewer and D. Campbell, Ethnocentrism and Intergroup Attitudes: East African Evidence (New York: Sage-Halsted, 1976); and John berry and Rudolph Kalin, "Reciprocity and Inter-ethnic Attitudes in a Multi-cultured Society," International Journal of Intercultural Relations 3 (1979): 99-112
10. FSC, 145.
11. A total of fifty-eight Finland-Swedes were found in Thunder bay in 1995-96, thus indicating that the census counts can sometimes be very misleading; FSC, 116.
12. FSC, 80-85.
13. Finland-Swedes have been shown to vary their ethnic self-identies. Prior to 1920's, a Swedish identity was dominant. Finland-Swedish identity dominated amongst immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1920-1960, while a Finnish identity is more common since World War II. See Mika Roinila, "Model of Shifting Identities: The Finland-Swedes in Canada," SAHQ (October 1997): 190-202.
14. FSC, extracted from many places in the book.
15. Ibid., 109.
16. Ibid., 205-6.
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