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When Terjärv Residents Named the City of Toronto


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By Ole Granholm
Translation by June Pelo

Hilding Widjeskog
Emigration is an important part of our history. Nearly every family in Österbotten is touched in one way or another by emigration. Emigration is constantly present and it is difficult to escape the subject.

In the beginning emigrants headed to North America. After WWII, Sweden was an alternative. But emigrants from the Swedish areas of Österbotten also went to Australia, New Zealand, Africa and South America.

The largest exodus from Finland to North America began in the 1870s, but the Finnish migration goes back 370 years to the years 1638-1655 when Swedish Finns participated in the establishment of New Sweden on the Delaware River. Among them was Sven Skute from Kronoby, a lieutenant with the Åbo and Björneborg Cavalry Regiment. Skute was associated closely with Governor Johan Printz.

In the 1770s, Henrik Jakob Wikar from Gamlakarleby was Chaplain in Cape Province. He was employed by the Dutch East India Company, but deserted because of a gambling debt and fled to the backwoods. For five years he lived with Bushmen and Hottentots. He was the first European to explore part of the Orange River in present day Namibia. He wrote a journal in which he related his observations. Wikar was in Africa 100 years before Stanley met Dr. Livingstone on the shores of Tanganyika River.

In the early part of the 19th century, Swedish Ostrobothnia was an area where farming and associated trades were dominant. Shipping was lively and contacts abroad were good. Shipbuilding and tar production were important trades in rural villages. Population growth was strong and, in 50 years almost doubled in Swedish Ostrobothnia. During the latter part of the century the picture changed. The shipping business went into recession with the coming of the steam ship era. As a result shipbuilding and tar export declined. Finding employment for young people in the rural areas became more and more difficult. The economic development of the area stagnated. Breadwinners were forced to look elsewhere for sustenance.

Migration from Finland to North America occurred in waves. The first took place from the end of the 1880s through the early 1890s, and comprised about 42,000 emigrants. The second wave started in 1899 when the notorious February Manifesto was issued and continued to the First World War. During this time 222,157 passports were issued. In 1902, only 23,152 Finns emigrated to America.

When Hilding Widjeskog returned from America at the beginning of the 1970s he began emigration research. Over the past 30 years he accumulated a wealth of information on emigration from Finland, especially from Österbotten and what it signified for Terjärv. Some of the material is included in the book “Emigrantvägar” which he co-authored.

Terjärv lacked the natural prerequisites for becoming a strong agricultural area, and the population growth and rationalization of farming led to unemployment. At first Terjärv residents sought employment in their own country. Many moved to cities in the south, while others went all the way to Russia.

After the famine years of the 1860s, there was a strong migration to Parikkala and Kronoborg (Russian Karelia). The Swedish Finn colony Sorjos “founded” by the three Matts—Björklund, Kronqvist and Hongell—is a good example. Sorjos colony had more than 200 inhabitants with their own school.

According to earlier research a total of 1,467 people from Terjärv emigrated during 1870-1914. Later research of church archives and the emigrant register showed that nearly 1,800 Terjärv residents moved to the United States, Canada and Australia from 1860-1960.

Emigration from Terjärv to America began in the 1870s. In 1872, twelve Terjärv people traveled to the great land in the west. The years 1880-1910 were the greatest emigration period for Terjärv. No less than 650 people left Terjärv during 1890-1901. Many were young men who ran away from the threatened illegal conscriptions to the Czarist army. For 164 emigrants from Terjärv, the following phrase was noted in the church book: invalid excuse for failure to appear. It means the people in question had not been around for the draft notice to be served.

To emigrate means to break away from a familiar geographic and social environment.

But it also meant learning new cultural patterns, norms and customs. Even the great seaports in England, which most emigrants passed through when they traveled to America, must have seemed magnificent in comparison with the Ostrobothnian villages.

Some of the migrants returned to Finland with Hilding Widjeskog while others remained in their new homeland. Those who returned had much to tell. Their stay in America had offered many adventures and gave them a new perspective on life. Some of the stories were based on reality, while others were decked out to make an impression on their listeners.

Now most of the storytellers are gone and their stories are passing into oblivion. In the book “Emigrantvägar” a number of stories pass review. Hilding Widjeskog remembers what he heard and saw and wrote down events and his impressions. His travels to and from America gave rise to many stories. Here are some examples.

Abraham-Fridolf and Haga-Teodor left Storbacka in Småbonders on a beautiful summer day. Parents and neighbors stood with tear-filled eyes and said farewell. “Take care that you come back soon,” people said to them. “Yes, we’re just leaving to open the gate for the money and after that we will come back.” It appears it was not so easy to earn the money. Teodor returned 30 years later, but nothing has been heard from Fridolf.

Some planned their journey far in advance, others needed a shorter time. Oskar was courting a girl. He wanted to make an impression and came on his newly purchased ball-bearing bicycle to see the object of his love. But she was not in her best humor. She declared there would never be anything between them. Oskar was discouraged when he returned home and couldn’t see any future in Finland. He cycled to Dahlbacka and saw Joel standing barefoot behind the corner of the cottage. “Shall we go to America”, he said, half jokingly. Joel swiftly accepted the invitation. “ Whatever,” he answered. Not much more was said between the two, but not long thereafter the two youths were on the boat in Helsingfors. The trip to the land of dollars had begun.

After an original by Jouni Korkiasaari, The Institute of Migration

During 1871-1929, 366,000 emigrants left Finland. Most of them went to the United States and Canada; only about 1,500 people took passports to Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Anders Myhrman estimated the number of Finland Swedes from Finland to America as a fifth of the total number of emigrants from Finland. According to this the numbers should have been 73,000. About 75% of the Swedish-speaking emigrants came from Österbotten.

It is difficult to have an exact figure of how many of the Finnish emigrants who took out passports were Swedish-speaking; the applicant’s mother tongue was not registered until 1924. Statistics about passports issued also don’t give concrete numbers of emigrants. Not everyone who applied for passports used them and many traveled without passports, usually via Sweden. They used a “Monäs passport” (going by boat to Sweden without notifying authorities and then going on to America).

During the great emigration period before the first world war, the Swedish Finns often settled on the east coast, from Philadelphia in the south to Boston in the north; in the central states of Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin; the great lakes states and also the province of Ontario in Canada; and on the west coast from California in the south to British Columbia in the north.

Swede Finns from certain areas or cities tended to live together. South Ostrobothnians have been concentrated in cities on the east coast, for example Worcester in Massachusetts and Branford, Connecticut. New York has been the center for emigrants from Åland, Terjärv and Närpes. Terjärv people lived in parts of the Bronx, on Terjärv Hill. Pörtom emigrants went to Dollar Bay, Michigan, and Korsnäs emigrants went to Muskegon. Karleby and Öja residents were dominant in Coos Bay, Oregon. Immigration there began in the 1880s. In the eastern industrial area, Swedish Finn emigrants worked mainly in the metal industry.

In New York, emigrants worked as carpenters. They built houses and public buildings, bridges and docks. In the central states they worked as lumberjacks, in the timber trade and in the mines. In the seaports of Northern Michigan and Minnesota they loaded cargo on ore ships in Duluth.

In the mountain areas they worked in mines during the decade before the WWI, then they moved to the Pacific coast. On the West Coast, the large forests were a natural place to work. The Swedish Finn emigrants had been involved in the plywood industry since 1920 when Olympia Veneer Company was established with Terjärv emigrants as shareholders.

Many of the Terjärv emigrants had no plans to spend the rest of their lives in America. They would visit there for a time, earn their dollars and return home. The dream of acquiring wealth rapidly shattered. But there were some who returned with money in a strongbox. Sund-Sandra who, among others, ironed clothes for multimillionaire Rockefeller mentioned that the bank in Terjärv became so overloaded with dollars that it began “to lean toward Kortjärvi village”.

In the beginning of the 1930s many of the Terjärv emigrants returned home with new ideas and they started to make use of their competence in the construction business. The meter- and centimeter system was displaced by the American foot and inch system. A lot of English terms were also used in discussions.

Langfors-Alfred pointed out: “Working with them is OK after learning the language. It is impossible to get work in the village when one doesn’t know English.” I personally remember Oskar Holm or Fallback Oskar who reminded me of Churchill with a cigar in his mouth. Oskar often sat in the café and talked of his American trip. The short and hot tempered Alfred Nelson or Timmerback-Alfred also sat there. Alfred who was in the Wild West talked about his experiences as a bouncer in a saloon. He was interrupted by someone who said: “You aren’t fit for anything else.” Alfred became “stiff as a bow” and the discussion heated up.

Rafael and Cede Timgren moved to Canada in 1925. Their sons Bruno and Ole went with them. In 1928 Ray was born and six years later Douglas was born. Rafael was the next oldest of Matts Timgren’s twelve children. Gösta and Tor also emigrated to Canada. The brothers were in the construction business building houses.

Ray Timgren grew up and turned to ice hockey. In 1949, he won the Stanley Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1951 he repeated this exploit, but was forced to cut off his NHL career in 1955 because of an eye injury. Ray had a civil career as a teacher and attained the position of headmaster before retiring in1987. He passed away in November 1999.

Mention should be made of Ray Timgren’s NHL success and his father’s brother’s construction work. “Timgren Road” in Toronto is named after them.

Ray Dolby who revolutionized sound reproduction (Dolby Sound) has his roots in Terjärv and Kaustby. One can read about him in “Emigrantvägar.” It is said that the name of the city of Toronto has its origin from the Terjärv dialect. It has to do with the answer from a group of emigrants who worked in Canada. When asked how they liked it over there, they answered: “We don’t like it but we are there, nevertheless (tär än tå.)” . So people began to call the place Toronto.

Most of the emigrants have experienced America as their new homeland. They took the chance to create a secure future; they worked and brought up new generations. It is the second and third generations who reaped the richest fruits of their forefather’s labors.

That thought is in harmony with the American President Bush’s words in connection with the 350th year commemoration of New Sweden when he said: “It is you emigrants who, through your work, have built up the land that we today call the United States of America.”

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