The sense of identity, equalitarianism and self-sufficiency that Finnish immigrants brought to Canada was influenced by Finland’s history, geographical location and culture. As a first language, Finnish was spoken and sometimes Swedish. However, the Finnish language dominated. When Finns began arriving in North America they generally only communicated with other Finns primarily through their newspapers, music, drama, dances, sports clubs, congregations, temperance societies and other activities. Every Finnish community in Canada, no matter how small, built a hall to host activities that inevitably became known as a “Finn Hall”.
By 1905, Finn halls could be found in both Fort William and Port Arthur. Inevitably, these converted buildings proved unsuitable for cultural needs of the Finnish community. By 1910, through the combined efforts of the Finnish-American Workers’ League Imatra #9 and the Finnish New Attempt Temperance Society, Finns at the Lakehead completed construction of the largest Finnish hall in Canada, the Finnish Labour Temple at 314 Bay Street in Port Arthur. The new building was designed to serve the needs of the Finnish community and featured offices, a library, a reading room and an auditorium for meetings, dances, theatrical productions and sporting events. The building later became known as the “Big Finn Hall” while the adjacent hall controlled by the Communist Party of Canada was known as the “Little Finn Hall”. The two halls were the focal points for the activities of Finnish workers and provided a centre for Finnish language and culture to thrive.