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1911 - 1981 (Creation)
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Records of the Canadan Suomalainen Järjestö [Finnish Organization of Canada], Vapaus Publishing Company (responsible for publishing Vapaus and Liekki and other publications), Suomalais-Canadalaisen Amatoori Urheiluliiton [Finnish-Canadian Amateur Sports Federation], co-operatives, and more.
Includes meeting minutes, reports, financial statements, and correspondence related to the operations and administration of these organizations. Also includes a variety of document and pamphlets related to socialism, communism, and the peace movement in Canada and worldwide.
The Canadan Suomalainen Järjestö (CSJ; Finnish Organization of Canada) is the oldest nationwide Finnish cultural organization in Canada. For over a century the CSJ has been one of the main organizations for Finnish immigrants in Canada with left-wing sympathies and, in particular, those with close ties to the Communist Party of Canada. Through the early to mid 1920s, Finnish-Canadians furnished over half the membership of the Communist Party and some, like A.T. Hill (born Armas Topias Mäkinen), became leading figures in the Party. Beyond support for leftist political causes, the cooperative and labour union movements, many local CSJ branches in both rural and urban centres established halls – some 70 of which were built over the years in communities across Canada – that hosted a range of social and cultural activities including dances, theatre, athletics, music, and lectures. The CSJ is also known for its publishing activities, notably the Vapaus (Liberty) newspaper.
The CSJ underwent several changes in its formative years related to both national and international developments. Founded in October 1911 as the Canadan Suomalainen Sosialisti Järjestö (CSSJ; Finnish Socialist Organization of Canada), the organization served as the Finnish-language affiliate of the Canadian Socialist Federation which soon after transformed into the Social Democratic Party of Canada (SDP). By 1914, the CSSJ had grown to 64 local branches and boasted a majority of the SDP membership with over 3,000 members. One year later the organization added two more local branches but membership had dropped to 1,867 members thanks, in part, to a more restrictive atmosphere due to Canada’s involvement in the First World War and an organizational split that saw the expulsion or resignation of supporters of the Industrial Workers of the World from the CSSJ.
In September 1918, the Canadian federal government passed Order-in-Council PC 2381 and PC 2384 which listed Finnish, along with Russian and Ukrainian, as ”enemy languages” and outlawed the CSSJ along with thirteen other organizations. The CSSJ successfully appealed the ban in December 1918 but dropped ”Socialist” from its name. The organization operated under the name Canadan Suomalainen Järjestö until December 1919. The SDP, however, did not recover from the outlawing of its foreign-language sections, leaving the CSJ without a political home. Stepping into this organizational vacuum was the One Big Union of Canada (OBU), founded in June 1919. The CSJ briefly threw its support behind this new labour union initiative, functioning as an independent ”propaganda organization of the OBU” until internal debates surrounding the structure of the Lumber Workers Industrial Union affiliate and the OBU decision not to join to the Moscow-headquartered Comintern led to its withdrawal shortly thereafter. In 1924, CSSJ activists including A.T. Hill helped to found the Lumber Workers Industrial Union of Canada (LWIUC).
Inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution that toppled the Tsarist Russian Empire in November 1917, and following the founding of the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) as an underground organization in May 1921, the CSSJ rapidly became an integral part of the nascent Communist movement in Canada. Reflecting this change, in 1922 the organization was renamed the Canadan Työläispuolueen Suomalainen Sosialistilärjestö (FS/WPC; Finnish Socialist Section of the Workers’ Party of Canada) – the Workers’ Party of Canada being the legal front organization of the CPC. In 1923, Finnish-Canadian Communists formed a separate cultural organization, the Canadan Suomalainen Järjestö (CSJ; Finnish Organization of Canada Inc.), to serve as a kind of ”holding company” ensuring that the organization’s considerable properties and assets would be safe from confiscation by the government or capture from rival left-wing groups. With the legalization of the CPC in 1924, the FS/WPC became the Canadan Kommunistipuolueen Suomalainen Järjestö (FS/CP; Finnish section of the Communist Party of Canada). Between 1922 and 1925, membership in the CSJ through its various transitions also doubled as membership in the Communist Party. This arrangement ended in 1925 when the FS/CP was disbanded following the ”bolshevization” directives of the Comintern. These directives demanded that separate ethnic organizations in North America be dissolved in favour of more disciplined and centralized party cells. It was hoped that this reorganization would help attract new members outside of the various Finnish, Ukrainian, and Jewish ethnic enclaves that had furnished the bulk of the CPC dues paying membership in Canada. From this point onwards, the CSJ officially functioned as a cultural organization but maintained a close, albeit sometimes strained, association with the CPC. The 1930s represent the peak of the CSJ size and influence, occuring during the Third Period and Popular Front eras of the international Communist movement. During this period CSJ union organizers assisted in the creation of the Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union – a unit of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of the American Federation of Labor, successor to the LWIUC – and the reemergence of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers in Sudbury and Kirkland Lake. CSJ activists also helped to recruit volunteers for the International Brigades that fought against nationalist and fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Finally, in the 1930s some 3,000 CSJ members or sympathizers embarked on the journey from Canada to the Soviet Union to help in the efforts to industrialize the Karelian Autonomous Soviet. Hundreds of Finns in Karelia would later perish in Stalin’s purges.
Despite the CSJ’s active support for the Canadian war effort, the organization was still deemed to be a threat to national security by the federal government and again outlawed in 1940. All FOC properties were seized and closed. The Suomalais Canadalaisten Demokraattien Liitto (SCDL; Finnish-Canadian Democratic League) served as the FOC’s main legal surrogate until the organization was legalized in 1943. The rapid decline of the FOC following this period is apparent from the fact that of the 75 locals in operation in 1936, only 36 remained active in 1950.
Edward W. Laine (edited by Auvo Kostianen), A Century of Strife: The Finnish Organization of Canada, 1901-2001 (Turku: Migration Institute of Finland), 2016.
Arja Pilli, The Finnish-Language Press in Canada, 1901-1939: A Study of Ethnic Journalism (Turku: Institute of Migration), 1982.
William Eklund, Builders of Canada: History of the Finnish Organization of Canada, 1911-1971 (Toronto: Finnish Organization of Canada), 1987.
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