On Saturday April 22, CHS will offer a bus trip to the Finnish American Heritage Society in Canterbury, where participants will tour the Hall, enjoy a Finnish lunch, and then visit several sites of historical significance to the community in eastern Connecticut. Commentary for the tour will be provided by historians Rachel Carley and Burton Jernstrom. The bus will depart from the CHS at 9:00 am and return at 5:00 pm.
The trip costs $40 for CHS members, $45 for non-members, and $25 for those who meet at the Hall (and don’t require bus transportation–the address to meet up is 76 North Canterbury Rd, Canterbury, CT 06331, and we will arrive at the Hall at 10:30 am).
For more information and to register, call 860-236-5621 x 235.
The bus trip is a program related to our new exhibit, Sisu and Creativity: Finnish Cultural Heritage in Connecticut. For the exhibit, the CHS is partnering with the Finnish American Heritage Society (FAHS) based in Canterbury CT to present art works, images, and documentation of the community’s history from the FAHS archives, one of the largest Finnish collections in the country.
The exhibit explores central characteristics of Finnish settlement in Connecticut – their agricultural cooperatives; the built environment including farms, barns, and community halls; the saunas constructed by every family as a social gathering place; the festivals celebrating important Finnish holidays; and the many artistic and musical traditions still practiced throughout the community. The exhibit illustrates the history, continuity, character, and activities of the Finnish community as a story of resilience, creativity, preservation, and sustainability. Exhibit visitors can explore concepts and ideas about Finnish culture in Connecticut through objects, art works, images, and descriptive labels as well as through stories of individuals told in quotes and audio oral histories. Through the exhibit and programming, viewers and event participants can gain historical context on the Finnish immigrant experience and discover a new understanding of unique Finnish contributions to the ethnic heritage of our state.
The story of the Finnish community in eastern Connecticut demonstrates “sisu” – the spirit of determination, resilience, hard work, and creative problem-solving that has fostered their success and continues to sustain Finnish cultural heritage and identity. The exhibit draws from the art works, images, and documentation of community history housed in the FAHS archives, one of the largest Finnish collections in the country. In 2014 architectural historian Rachel Carley conducted a detailed survey of Finnish heritage sites in partnership with the community. Their work provides an essential background to this exhibit project. For the past seventeen years the CT Cultural Heritage Arts Program at the CHS has collaborated with members of the Finnish community on several traditional arts apprenticeships teaching weaving, sauna building, woodcarving, fiddle playing, and birch bark weaving, as a way to support the community’s interest in their traditional practices.
2017 marks the centenary of Finland’s independence from Russia, as well as the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Finnish American Heritage Society, and our collaborative exhibit project connects to a series of local and national commemorative events. Finns came to Connecticut in the 1920s from Brooklyn, NY where they had immigrated for jobs in the late 1880s. They settled in eastern Connecticut to farm and were especially skilled at raising poultry. Expert carpenters, Finns built social halls as places for the community to gather in Brooklyn, Voluntown, Waterford, and Canterbury where the Finn Hall celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2015. This building, on the National Register of Historic Places, houses the very active Finnish American Heritage Society (FAHS) and the extensive archive, oral history collection, and museum of Finnish life in Connecticut that the group has compiled. Every Finnish homestead built its own sauna, a central cultural expression for health and also a place for families to socialize. FAHS organizes events such as the Tori Open Air Market, FinnFunn Weekend, an annual Finnish cooking demonstration, and plays and concerts often with traditional accordion and fiddle folk music. The community celebrates Finnish holidays of Midsummer, St. Urho’s Day, Finnish Independence from Russia, a Pikkujoulu Christmas party, and a performance of the national epic poem the Kalevala.