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October 28, 2005

Cameron Finns Remember in Mattawa

Numerous Finnish families had a major impact on Cameron Township near Mattawa beginning about 90 years ago.  There is little left of their presence except memories.  A display on their history there was unveiled at the Mattawa Museum recently with a large gathering that became a sort of reunion among these Finns and their former Cameron neighbours. 

The Mattawa Museum operated by the Mattawa and Area Historical Society spreads its interest beyond Mattawa.  A large display on farming in Cameron is well on the way to completion and is located next to the new Finn display. 

Suoma Luoma, the first Finn born in Cameron Township 89 years ago.

The Finn display came about as a result of the work of several people at some distance physically from each other.  The spark for the initiative came from Toronto from Suoma Luoma, an 88 year old Finnish woman and former Cameron resident who read my article on Cameron Township a while back and thought that the Finns had not received appropriate coverage.  She sent a translation of the story of the Cameron Finns from a book Canadian Finnish History.  The story was written by Miriam Sandberg, a former Cameron Finn. 

She also directed me to Tapio “Tup” Saari and I went to see him and his wife Eunice to look at photographs and plan an article (see Remembering the Cameron Finns, December 2004 on my website).  Tup and I talked about establishing a display at the Mattawa Museum and contacted René Lamarche there.  With the Museum’s support a display was planned.  Tup, a brother, and others helped put together a large panel board display with text and photographic material and it was located on the upper level of the museum. 

It was a nice feeling to see that Suoma, the last of 9 Hill children and the many former residents at the museum as a result of her pride in their past and her persistence in having it recorded and remembered.  After more speeches the group heard Finnish music and had refreshments and many memories were shared and friendships reestablished.  It was refreshing to see the various supporters of the project including the Museum board and staff working, usually at some distance from each other, take the opportunity to remember the Cameron Finns. 

The new display on the history of the Cameron Finns.

On Thanksgiving Saturday, October 8, Suoma Luoma, some of her family and dozens of other Finns from as far as Winnipeg converged for the unveiling.  Everyone was surprised at the number who came and the event turned into a reunion of old friends.  The Museum kindly provided refreshments and people stayed on well after the formal opening.  As M.C. for the event I pointed out that the Museum was designed by Cameron Finnish Architect Jules Paivio, who came to the event from Sudbury.  Jules pointed out that the building was built by Eric Salkeld, another Finlander with Cameron connections. 

Some of the guests at the unveiling.

Suoma spoke to the group and mentioned that her mother and father Sanna & Herman Hill were the first Finns to arrive in Cameron in 1915 along with their 5 children.  Suoma was born in April 1915 – the first Finish birth in Cameron.  She later married a Finn and had 3 children.  The main attraction in Cameron was the free land available for a small registration fee and later with a small fee to gain possession when appropriate land had been cleared.  At one point the map showed fifty 100 acre lots owned by Finns.  The other main reason for coming was the availability of work in the lumber camps and at the Klock Sawmill on the nearby Ottawa River.  They also started many businesses and were very cooperative on various projects including a couple of Finnish Halls which were the centre of their cultural life.  Cameron/Papineau Councilor Phil Bangs brought greetings from the Council and gave a brief history of the Finnish contribution including their musical and athletic abilities.

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