A Finnish Experience on Bay Street

With one of the largest populations of Finnish people outside of Finland, Thunder Bay has Finnish culture on full display.

Bay Street and its Finnish connection, continues to be a unique and important part of the developing cultural hub and charm of Thunder Bay. As a National Historical Site, the Finnish Labour Temple, also known local as the Finlandia Club has been around since the early 1900s and is a living monument of activity. It is a prime location for entertainment and comfort food, served at the famous Hoito Restaurant with its entrance at street level.

Thunder Bay's Finnish Connection

Built in 1910, it's most recent restoration in 2010 has preserved its history, colour and importance in the community, especially for the Finns, one of the largest populations of Finnish people outside of Finland. As a National Historical Site, the temple also has a little museum and an office where the Canadian Sanomat, is produced, a newspaper written entirely in Finnish. A young person, directly from Finland, will write for the paper for a six-month period, often doing his or her own research into Thunder Bay's Finnish history.

Known today for hosting musical performances, comedy shows, the Bay Street Film Festival, amongst other festivals, the Finlandia all above street level is a location that draws people from all walks of life to the Bay/Algoma corner. Young and old are familiar with its quaint yet spacious multifunctional interior. With a stage and dance floor, the space has multiple uses. In 2011, it was turned into the film set for the documentary, Under The Red Star, featuring two young actors brought in directly from Helsinki to portray the communist leaders of the workers union who fought abusive private companies, back in the 1930s. For decades these workers gathered at this temple regularly to discuss worker's rights.

Hoito 2

The Hoito – A Taste of Finland

In the Hoito Restaurant, below the hall, the blue trim between the wood panels, and blue wainscoting below reference the colours of the flag of Finland. As a large sunken space, it is a clean environment filled with many regulars and a few tourists. All are supporting tradition, in the food and the location, operating now for 94 years.

As I write, today's specialty is Kropsy, an oven baked pancake. It's only $2.80. You can order Lohiperunalaatikko. This is a salmon casserole. It costs $10.30. The Finnish food offerings change regularly. The menu also offers shepherd's pie, roast chicken, turkey clubhouse, burgers, along with other typical restaurant fair, but the Hoito is famous for their Finnish pancakes, large and flat, they are served all day with other breakfast fair. Most of the servers are Finnish. The Finnish language can be heard more prominently from older folks who sit on the blue chairs at the big S-shaped wood counter. Payment is made at a poster-covered booth by the door. Tips are left at the tables or at the booth.

Children especially love the idea of this semi-hidden restaurant, where the double doors protect from the winter cold, and the entrance is sandwiched between two flights of stairs leading to the Finish Hall above. Often, especially weekends, the queue to the restaurant stretches out the doors.

About Duncan Weller

A writer and visual artist, Duncan Weller is a Governor General's Award winner who lives in Thunder Bay. You can visit his website at www.duncanweller.com. His latest two books are a novel, Flight of the Silk, and an expanded edition of the award-winning children's picture book, The Boy from the Sun.

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