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Aimo Björklund Saw the Remains of Sorjos Village

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By Ole Granholm

Translation by June Pelo

Only the house foundations remain and the birch trees have rotted away.

The years 1867 and 1868 were troubled years in our country. Österbotten with its peasant culture was especially hard hit. With ice still on the lakes at Midsummer all hope of harvest was gone. There was famine in Finland. People fled and the roads were filled with famished wanderers. The will to live was faint in the ice-cold houses in the foodless parish. It meant terrible times when hunger, bark bread, and beggars were the order of the day, when the merciless frost covered the tilled fields.

Matts Björklund, born 1833, was a crofter and logger from Jeussen in Kronoby. He was the tenth of fourteen siblings. During the journey home from Petersburg, where he worked in logging, he heard that the Justice of the Court of Appeals Alexander von Etter in Kronoborg had land to sell. He contacted von Etter and expressed a desire to move to Kronoborg.

That was in 1866.

When Matts Björklund came home he told others of his discussion with von Etter. Matts and his wife Ulrika, nee Knuts from Vörå, decided to sell their croft and move to Karelia. They were accompanied by two families from Terjärv.

On 5 April 1867 Matts Björklund, Matts Henriksson, and Matts Hongell with their families traveled south to Karelia to find a new place to live. Matts Björklund’s family consisted of his wife Ulrika, and children Janne 14 years, Maria 8 years, and David 5 years. With horse and cart they traveled via Saarijärvi-Jyväskylä-Kuopio-Kronoborg, a journey that took four weeks.

Sorjos Descendants Remembered

I sat with Aimo Björklund at Bottensviksvägen 21 in Jakobstad in the mid-1990s. Aimo was 74 years old, was born and grew up in Sorjos. There he went to school and then moved from Sorjos the first time during the Winter War, and returned after peace. In 1944 he left Sorjos for good.

Aimo Björklund is a grandson of David, who sat in the cart when the family left Kronoby and directed their course to an unknown destiny in the Karelian wood.

When my forefathers came to Kronoborg they contacted von Etter and he bid them to cultivate the land. But the Ostrobothnians would not become crofters for Justice von Etter; they wanted to purchase the land.

Then von Etter offered some land near the neighborhood of Parikkala parish. When they inspected the land by a high slope, they saw it was stone-free ground with large woods, and they decided to live there. An agreement was reached and they were allowed exemption from taxes for ten years.

Then they built their house ”where no dwelling had ever existed.” Accordingly Sorjos, the mythical Finland-Swedish colony in Karelia was established.

The first house that Matts Björklund built consisted of a room and the backside of the oven was outside of the house during the first winter. The following summer a room was added and the oven came inside the house. Three years later von Etter went into bankruptcy and the State took over his estate.

Then there was a problem for the new settlers about the long period of payment with the State. The matter was settled and in 1876 Sorjos village was divided into eight homes. New families arrived. Years passed, children grew and it became cramped in the house. Therefore Matts decided to build a new house for the family. He built a house 20 meters long in the Ostrobothnian style of two stories with 14 rooms. He assumed that both boys with their families would have room to live in the house.

But in 1901 the house burned down and a new house was built. It was smaller than the other house and we lived in the house until the end of the Winter War, remembers Aino.

David on the Horse Cart

We return to David who sat on the horse cart and was five years old when Sorjos was established. He gradually came to personify the stubbornness and the optimism that characterized the farmers in Sorjos. It was he who put his soul into the school and the colony in general. He was a member of the board of directors of the school for fifteen years, and he called on president Lauri Relander for assurance of the school’s continued existence. “We never knew what grandfather discussed with the president, but the school remained in existence, “ said Aimo.

A story that was well-known in Sorjos mythology is about the bear hunter the Ostrobothnian farmers were involved with. There are different variations, but Aino had heard his grandfather tell about it and he knew how it went. Matts Kronqvist, who hereafter was called ”Starke Matts”, had a tussle with the bear when the gun misfired. David rushed forward and smacked it with the axe and the beast was conquered.

Journalist Ruth Dahl, who visited Sorjos in the summer of 1939, wrote that David Björklund was a rugged old Swedish man with bushy grey hair, ”his face lined and weatherbeaten, but over his features rested a look of humble confidence when he bowed his head in prayer.”

When the Winter War broke out and Karelia and Sorjos had to evacuate, David waited for the day he could return. The day finally came. The Continuation War gave Karelia hope that everything was not lost and many returned to their log houses.

The fortunes of war turned, but David never needed to flee again. He died in his beloved Sorjos and was buried in Kronoborg. “We wandered around the old burial place, but everything was destroyed,” said Aimo.

Second Visit 10 Years Later

Together with his wife Verna he took a family journey to Sorjos this summer. A trip similar to the one of 10 years ago, but then his sons were on that trip. Aimo glanced through photos he took 10 years ago and saw a video that was taken during this July-August trip.

The change is a change for the worse. The birches in the yard are gone. But I must admit to the sadness of leaving Sorjos village where I was born, went to school and where I grew up, said Aimo.

When the school was built in 1890 with the help of Svenska Folkskolans Vänner, there were 33 students awaiting on opening day. The Swedish-speaking population was estimated at 213 people. In 1903 the schoolhouse burned down, but a new school was ready in 1905. At the same time the railroad between Elisenvaara and Nyslott was completed. Sorjos got a new railroad station which caused the Finnish people to move to the village.

In 1931 the school had 26 students but many Finnish families sent their children to the Swedish school. In 1928 the school was thoroughly renovated – central heat was installed and the roof was repaired. It was financed by shipowner J. V. Paulig of Viborg.

Wounded as a Soldier

In the autumn of 1939 when the Winter War broke out, the school had 24 students. Later the school became a war hospital and the people were evacuated from the village to various places in the country.

Aimo Björkund said their family moved via Parikkala to Kuorivesi where they stayed over the summer.

In the autumn of 1940 I went to school in Kronoby. The following autumn I was back in Sorjos again. In 1942 I was wounded on guard duty. In the autumn of 1944 we were moved again. I was ordered to drive the horses and cows to Tahkaranta. Thereafter we were loaded on three barges that took us from Nyslott to Jorois where we stayed in the country. The animals were loaded into a wagon and after seven days we were in Ylistaro. Then we went to Untamo villlage – a trip of 20 km.

There we stayed the entire winter, during which Ernst von Born offered land to buy in Pernå.

Aimo Björklund didn’t become a farmer but chose to study. In 1954 when he completed his technical studies, he was employed by Elverket in Jakobstad. He advanced to production chief from which post he was pensioned. He was 74 years of age in August. His wife Verna, nee Krigsman, met him as a ”refugee” in Lovisa


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