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Finnish-Canadian “memories” donated to Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections

May 10, 2012

York University professor Varpu Lindström is known as a “memory keeper” in Finnish-Canadian communities. What’s extraordinary about the “memories” that Lindström keeps is that they aren’t just hers – they are reminiscences of many Finns who immigrated to Canada in the 1880s to early 1900s as a result of economic depression and war in Finland. Lindström has donated her retrospective collection of professional and scholarly research to York University Libraries’ (YUL) Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections with the intent of preserving these historical documents for future generations.

Varpu Lindström was born in Helsinki, Finland in 1948 and immigrated to Canada in 1963. She pursued a distinguished career as a professor and scholar at York University, specializing in North American social history, immigration, and women’s studies. Lindström is recognized both nationally and internationally as an expert in Canadian immigration history, particularly that of Finnish-Canadians. Her research has manifested itself into several publications such as Defiant Sisters : A Social History of Finnish Immigrant Women in Canada, 1890-1930 and From Heroes to Enemies : Finns in Canada, 1937-1947. Lindström was also a researcher and historical consultant for the National Film Board’s 2004 critically acclaimed documentary, Letters from Karelia.

Several decades of Finnish-Canadian research has resulted in Lindström creating, acquiring, and now donating to Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections over 7.2 metres of textual records. These records include diaries, family correspondences, financial ledgers, war-relief funding and other organizational records, sound recordings of oral histories, folk music, documentary films, and over 1,000 books, almanacs, and plays published by Finnish authors in North America.

“I think it would be great to have Lindström’s collection integrated into undergraduate coursework and research here at York University,” says digital projects and outreach archivist for Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, Anna St. Onge.  “Documents from Lindström’s collection give researchers a sense of the immediacy of history and could certainly add realism to Canadian history coursework that focuses on North American immigration and settlement.”

 In addition to primary source material, Lindström acquired photocopies of rare documents such as two volumes of a Soviet register of Finnish war crimes, a list of persons found in the mass grave at Karhumaki, and Soviet lists of North American Finns who journeyed to Karelia to help build a socialist utopia.

Pertti Kaski collectionAlso a part of Lindström’s donation is the Pertti Kaski photograph collection which has been digitized and uploaded to Yorkspace.

Chronicling the immigration experience from the perspective of a teenage girl, Lindström has given Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections a collection of correspondences between herself and her best friend back in Finland, Kaisa Lindberg, written from 1963 to 1965. Many of these letters were published in the 2012 book, Letters from an Immigrant Teenager. Lindström’s generous donation to Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections has helped to position York as a leader in Finnish-Canadian research in North America, advancing new efforts to preserve the records of the Finnish community in collaboration with the archives of Lakehead University and the Finnish Canadian Association.

For more information about Varpu Lindström’s donated documents or how to integrate this special collection into coursework and research, please contact:

St. Onge, Anna
Archivist, Digital Projects and Outreach

Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Scott Library 3rd Floor

 To see the finding aid for this collection, see:

 *Images from the Pertti Kaski collection, showing a group of Finnish family and remnants of a postcard from Helsinki, 25 June 1918. YUL, Clara Thomas Archives, ASC08114