It is ironic, that while fishing has occurred along the
shores of Lake Superior, sometimes well before the growth and development
of other industries such as mining very little documentation
is to be found in literature. From examining books for any information
on Finnish fishing industries, it becomes apparent that most authors
have not included this industry at all (Holmio, 2000). Only a few bits
of information is available, and even these are sketchy.
The earliest Finnish fishermen on the US side of Lake Superior arrived
with the great wave of Finnish immigrants in the late 1800s.
Some of the known locations on the American side include Larsmont,
Minnesota, which was named after the town of Larsmo in Finland. Originally
settled in 1909 by Finland-Swedish fishermen, some of the fishermen
included the Sjoblom the Hendrickson families, who sold their catch
for market in Chicago (Sjoblom,1998; Strandberg,1995). There is no longer
any active commercial fishing taking place at Larsmont.
According to Margaret Bogue (2000), the Finns had a prominent fishing
outpost at Portage Entry on the Keweenaw Peninsula (83). Damage and
pollution from the developing mining industry in nearby Calumet and
the Keweenaw Peninsula in the early 1900s had a negative impact on the
fishing industry. Hard times fell on the village of Craig, at the mouth
of the Portage River, where in 1885 thirty to forty families, including
sixty-four fishermen lived. Settled primarily by Finns, it was the only
settlement in the area where any considerable percentage of people were
interested in fishing (Bogue,130).
Other notable fishing ports with Finns were to be found in Grand Rapids,
Lutsen, and Two Harbours in Minnesota, in Superior, Wisconsin, and in
Calumet, Copper Harbor, Traverse Bay, Dollar Bay and Marquette, Michigan
(Myhrman,1972). According to Carl Silfversten (1931), Finland-Swedish
fishermen were also found in areas such as Ontonagon, Michigan, Duluth
and French River in Minnesota (Strandberg,1995).
It is widely believed that the earliest European fishermen began to
fish the Ontario side of Lake Superior in the 1890s (C.Westerback,1996).
However, it was not until the 1920s that official records on commercial
fishermen was begun (Giddens,1992). According to John and Carl Westerback
who arrived in Rossport in 1926-27, many Finland-Swedes were employed
in commercial fisheries, using gill nets and pound nets to catch whitefish,
herring, trout, pickerel, pike and smelt in Lake Superior. The Finland-Swedes
used old row boats, converted lifeboats, as well as tugs for their work.
Lifeboats were converted to fishing boats by adding a cabin and a small
engine. Seaworthy wooden skiffs were fashioned from local materials
and former pleasure crafts were also made into fishing boats.
Some twenty individuals moved from the fishing stations at Rossport
to the tip of Sibley Peninsula and established their fishing stations
at Camp Bay and Tee Harbor. Among these were the Westerbacks, as well
as Gunnar Ingves and Roy Hedman. Other fishing stations also developed
along the North Shore of Lake Superior at Port Arthur/Fort William,
at Squaw Bay, Johnson Landing, Pass Lake, Hurkett and elsewhere. While
many Finns and Finland-Swedes worked from these fishing stations during
the fishing season, families returned to their homes in Port Arthur
and Fort William for the winter months (Figure 1).
Gunnar Westerback was one of the old-time Finland-Swedes who brought
their fishing trade and knowledge from Finland to Canada in the 1920s.
This knowledge was passed on to the second generation, and in 1947 John
Westerback began fishing as well.
2: Gunnar Westerback reeling gill nets, Camp Bay, Lake Superior, 1961.
Photo of Carl Westerback, by courtesy of the Institute of Migration.
Figure 3: Vern Erikson with the boat "Sea Scout", at Point Magnet,
Lake Superior, 1956. Photo of Carl Westerback, 1996, by courtesy of
the Institute of Migration.
Figure 4: Gunnar Westerback, Silver Island, Lake Superior with prize
Lake Trout, 1957. Photo of Carl Westerback, by courtesy of the Institute
With the coming of the lamprey in the 1960s, the valuable trout fisheries
collapsed, which forced many commercial fisheries out of business. Only
a few remained, such as the Aijala and Sameluk families, and the Westerbacks.
John Westerback, who quit fishing in 1989, spent almost 40 years as
a fisherman. The last remaining fishermen today include Alf and Carl
Ronquist of Pass Lake, who are originally from Kristinestad, a fishing
community on the western coast of Finland.
The memory of the Finnish fishermen has been recognized by a monument
that stands at the shore of Green Point, just north of Thunder Bay on
Lake Superior. The statue was erected in 1990 as part of the 100th
Anniversary of the first fishermen to work from Green Point. The monument
was built by Mr.Lindsay Eade, who is related to some of the early fishermen
of the region. The Green Point area used to have a 110-foot dock which
was used to tie up some of the ten or more fishing tugs that worked
on Lake Superior. The Finns of Green Point would sell their fish to
Kemp Fisheries located in Duluth, Minnesota, and over the years a very
trusting and lasting association was formed between the fishermen and
the American seller. In fact, when an unexpected thaw one winter left
the fishermen with no way to keep their harvest frozen, Kemp Fisheries
rented the Port Arthur Arena to freeze the fish and preserve them for
market. Today, marine traffic is limited to small fishing and pleasure
crafts used by the owners of the many cottages that line the shore.
1990 saw the last commercial fisherman of Green Point Esko
Kangas give up his license for retirement. This marked the end
of a long line of commercial fishing that had gone on for a century.
While only the names of people who are recorded in official documents
are listed on the memorial, all the names listed are of Finnish descent.
The names of the fishermen are as follows: Fred Arnold, Heikki Maunula,
Reino Maunula, Victor Ketola, Charlie Eskola, Edward Salmi, Wilfred
Eskola, Edward Salmi, Wilfred Arnold, William Arnold, Andrew Pudas,
Laurie Pudas, Walter Stenroos, Frank Lahti, Evert Pasola, Svante Wierikko,
Leo Hannula, and Esko Kangas.
Bogue, Margaret Beattie. Fishing the Great Lakes: An Environmental
History, 1783- 1933. The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison,
Giddens, Grag. "Monument for Finnish fishermen",
Focus 92, Vol.1:7, 1002. Thunder Bay, Ontario, p.1
Hedman, Roy. Interview, May 1, 1996. Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Holmio, Armas (translated by Ellen Ryynanen), History of the
Finns in Michigan, Wayne State University Press, Detroit,
Ingves, Gunnar. Interview, Nov.1, 1996, Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Myhrman, Anders M. Finlandsvenskar i America. Svenska
Litteratursällskapet, Helsingfors, 1972.
Prothero, Frank. "Through the years: The Finns of Thunder Bay",
Great Lakes Fisherman, Vol.16:1, 1988, pp.16-21.
Silfversten, Carl.Finlandssvenskarna i Amerika: Deras Materiella
och Andliga Strävanden. Interstate Printing Company,
Duluth, Minnesota, 1931.
Sjoblom, Tom. "The Autobiography of a Herring Choker",
Journal of North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum,
Tofte, Cook County, Minnesota, summer 1998.
Somes, Tommy. "Tiny hamlet picturesque survivor of once-lucrative
fishing industry" Port Arthur News Chronicle,
Thunder Bay, Ontario, October 18, 1961, p.3.
Strandberg, Frans E. "Finland-Swedes in America" (translation
of Silfversten,1931), Ledstjärnan-Leading Star,
Portland, Oregon. April & May, 1995.
Westerback, Carl. Interview, May 1, 1996, and correspondence, Sept.18,
1996. Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Westerback, John. Interview, May 1, 1996, Thunder Bay, Ontario.