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Daily Life

Finnish immigrants to Canada were mostly working-class and, like most other immigrants to Canada at the time, their daily lives were consumed with providing for the needs of their families. Both women and men worked hard to establish lives in Canada and the centre of activity was the home. During the First Wave of Finns between 1890-1914, the Finnish immigrants were primarily men and single women of the average age of 20 years old. In Fort William and Port Arthur, Finnish men worked as general labourers in the coal docks and railway years. Finnish women were primarily hotel staff, cooks, laundresses, clerks, domestic servants and bath attendants. Significant numbers of single men, and some women, lived a precarious existence as workers in bush camps during the winter, but during the off season they returned to homesteads or residence in the city. For some, religion and the church played a central role in their lives, but for others it was politics and community organization that occupied much of their time.

Food and its preparation were an important means of remaining connected to cultural roots, and in Finnish homes it was common to find Finnish cookbooks. These books contained elegant recipes for dishes such as reindeer roast or salmon pie. Most of these cookbooks were printed in Finland and brought over on the voyage, but others were produced in North America and were aimed at newcomers.

To assist the young Finnish women who worked as domestic servants or as “Cookies” in lumber camps in cooking dishes for the North American palate, cookbooks like the Suomaliais-Amerikalainen Perhe=Keittokirja, or Finnish-American Family Cook Book were available. This type of cookbook not only provided Finnish women with non-Finnish recipes for non-Finnish tastes, but also provided practical information. A Finnish cook could find out how to make Virginia fried chicken, (Virginian kanapaisti), learn how to dress a salad (Sallatin Kaste) and how to pronounce words in English. For example, ohra is translated as barley and to be pronounced baarli and if you were doing someone’s washing and had to use vaatenuora, it was called a clothesline and pronounced klooslain.