Saturday, March 20, 2010

Red Finns, Broken Dreams, and History Remembered

A review of Red Finns of the Coteau
By Beth L. Virtanen

In Red Finns of the Coteau, Larry Warwaruk tells of the struggles and aspirations of a group of Red Finns who settled in Canada. The Reds were so named for their communist leanings in a pre-McCarthyist political arena. At that political moment, their concerns for the collective well-being of community and society preceded individualistic notions of wealth and capitalistic success.

Divided into “white” and “red” camps, but with predominantly Red tendencies, the Finns’ political lives reflected the activities of global political upheaval in the early twentieth century. Influenced by immigration, Finnish independence and civil war, the Winter War and World Wars I and II as well as the Great Depression, the Red Finns in Canada made choices to create socialist or communist unions and to debate these issues publicly.

We get a sense of what ideas these Red Finns were entertaining and what books they were reading: Darwin, Nietzche, Marx, Plekanov, and Kautsky, all important thinkers and philosophers of the day. They also read Tolstoy and other great works of literature. We also get a sense of the publications that catered to their needs, including the Työmies, the Vapaus, Canadan Uutiset, and the Socialisti.

With this information we develop a sense of respect for the learnedness of the community and the earnestness with which they strove to meet their ideals for a better society.

In text, Warwaruk gives names and faces to the characters in the drama of diaspora that is played out in modern history. We discover and see photos of the Lahti family and the Lekanders who migrated from Finland to Canada and went on to Karelia. We discover that they found only hardship there, instead of the utopian dreams of idyllic soviet farm life, and that the Lahtis left Karelia within the year. We also discover that the Lekanders, having left Canada before acquiring citizenship, had no citizenship rights other than in the Soviet Union and thus could not leave.

We discover tidbits about these families and others. Warwaruk shares Finns’ experiences as they locate themselves as global citizens.

Originally released in 1984, this re-released edition contains additional photos and presents, in short, the author’s further discovery of descendents of the Coteau Finns in the remnants of the former Soviet Union. It is a small densely packed book with facts and figures related to the experiences of a small group of Red Finns in Canada and their migrations in search of a better life. For those with interest in Finnish migration, the book provides particular insight and information into the motivations of those sojourners.

The text is published by St. Peter’s Press of Muenster, Saskatchewan, and is available from the author at Box 1556, Outlook, Saskatchewan S0L 2N0, Canada.

Larry Warwaruk is a principal at a school on the south rim of the Coteau Hills.

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