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History of Finnish Immigration - SLIDE SHOW
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
June 7, 2010
Richard Tormanen

The June Annandale History Club meeting was held at the Wright County Heritage Center in Buffalo in conjunction with the Smithsonian touring exhibit, Journey Stories.  The attendees were from Annandale and other areas of Wright County.

Richard and Anne Tormanen of Dassel have visited Finland, Norway, and Sweden many times in search of information about their ancestors and Finnish immigration.  Richard has presented his power point presentation, The Path of Finnish Immigration, to several groups in Cokato and Dassel.  Richard and Anne are members of the Finnish Genealogical Society in Plymouth, Minnesota, and recommend the Finnish Genealogical Society and Cokato and Wright County Historical Societies for researching Finnish ancestry.  Many Finnish immigrants traveled the following path of immigration:  Finland to Norway, Norway to the copper mines in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Michigan to Wright County, Minnesota (Cokato and French Lake Townships) and Meeker County (Dassel and Kingston Townships).eritage Center

Terms referring to Finnish people:

Kvens – People of Finnish descent in Norway.

Tornedalians – People of Finnish descent in northernmost Sweden.

Karelians – Finns in the historic province of Karelia.

Ingrian Finns – Evangelical Lutheran Finns in northwestern Russian Federation.

Sami (Laplanders) – Indigenous people of northern Europe, which today encompasses Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia and also in the border area between south and middle Sweden and Norway.

Finnish expatriates in various countries.

The first Finnish people to immigrate to Cokato, Dassel, French Lake, and Kingston Townships in Minnesota were from Northern Norway (Kvens), Tornio and Muonio River Valleys  of Sweden (Tornedalians), and Rybachiy Peninsula of Russia.

1100s:  Sweden and Russia began a struggle for control of Finland.  Sweden conquered all of Finland.  Finland and Sweden were associated since 1154.  Finns were in the Swedish army.

1500s-1700s:  Sweden and Russia fought several wars over Finland.

1638:  Finns formed a significant proportion of the first “Swedish” settlers in 17th century America.  The first Swedish/Finnish colony was in Delaware. 

1720-1820:  Farms in Finland were passed to the eldest son.  Farms could not support a family.  The first large immigration occurred when Finnish speaking people from northern Finland and the Tornio River valley moved to river basins and fjord-ends in Troms and western parts of Finnmark in Norway.   The immigration can be seen as a continuation of Finnish farmers colonizing Lapland. 

1809:  Finland was conquered by the armies of the Russian Czar.  Finland was under Russian rule as an autonomous grand duchy until the end of 1917. 

1845:  Start of Laestadianism.  Lars Levi Laestadius was a revivalist preacher and temperance worker.  He served 1826-1848 as a pastor in Karesuando, Sweden, and in Pajala, Sweden, from 1848 until his death in 1861.  His revivalist message spread into all Sami regions from the Tornio River Valley in Finland and Sweden, to the Kven fishermen on the Atlantic and Arctic coasts of Norway and Russia.

1917:  Finland declared its independence.  Russian rule of Finland ended.

1918:   Brief but bitter Civil War in Finland.

1939-40:   Finland fought the Soviet Union in the Winter War. 

1941-44:  Finland fought the Soviet Union in the Continuation War.     

1944-45:  Finland fought Germans in the Lapland War as they withdrew their forces from Northern Finland.

The “Helping Hands” organization from the Cokato area donated and sent many needed items to Finland during and after the war years.


1850s-1860s:  The famine in northern Scandinavia caused many Finnish farmers to move to the Arctic Ocean to fish, with the hope that Arctic fishing would provide an income to support their families.  Some walked or skied 500 miles. Those with money took reindeer trains.  The Finns brought agriculture to the Arctic region.  Seeds came from Finland for the first plantings of potatoes, turnips, radishes, barley and rye.   Conditions were difficult.

1860s-1890s:  Great migration wave from Finnmark in Norway to the North American continent.  Finns and Lapps learned from the Norwegians, emigration agents, and from American letters that free and fertile land was available in America and that there were jobs in mining and lumbering.

1864:  The first group of Finns arrived in Minnesota after a seven-week transatlantic voyage, and a five-week trip via the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Great Lakes and Chicago, rail to the Mississippi River, and steam boat to Red Wing, Minnesota.  The first Finns homesteaded in Franklin, Renville County, Minnesota.

1865:  The first Finns in Cokato Township came from Vadso, Norway.  They were Mathias Karjenaho (Abrahamson), Johan Wiinikka, and Olli Westerberg.  They were joined by Elias Peltopera, who arrived in Red Wing, Minnesota, in 1864.   

1868:  First sauna built in Cokato Township.

1872:   Cokato Apostolic Lutheran Church was organized.  The first recorded services were held in Adam Ongamo’s cabin as early as 1868.  Isak Barberg was pastor 1868-1883.

1875:  Nils O. Nelson was the first Finn in French Lake Township.  In 1876, Oscar Ingman and Oscar Romback settled in French Lake Township.

The uniqueness of the Finnish language made it difficult for immigrants to learn English and assimilate with other nationalities.

1876:  The Cokato Apostolic Church was built.    The St. Paul and Manitoba Railroad presented to the church a 40-acre plot of land in Cokato Township, and a 24x40’ church was built.  A larger brick church was built in 1902.

1877:  Albert Nelson was the first Finnish male born in French Lake.

1880:  Finnish overseas emigration became a mass movement.

1885:  First census where Finns were classified as a separate nationality group.  They had been      classified as Russians, Norwegians or Swedes.

1886:   French Lake Riverside Church (also known as Crow River Apostolic Church) was built

by Cokato Apostolic Church members who lived in French Lake Township.  The Riverside

Church building is now at Pioneer Park (see 2009 Annandale History Club presentation by Carol

Weir, Pioneer Park Tour).


1894:  Cokato Creamery was founded by Finns and Swedes.  Finns August Hanno, Jacob

Ojanpera, Peter Salmela, Peter Wanha, and Peter Ylijarvi were original members.

1896:   The first Finnish Temperance Society was organized, and Temperance Hall was built three miles north of Cokato.

1910:   Cokato Mercantile Association was founded by Finns and Swedes.  Finns also helped establish other cooperative organizations including the Cokato Farmers Shipping Association, Knapp Creamery in 1901, Albion Creamery in 1903, and Annandale Farmers Elevator Company and Farmers Shipping Company.

1938:   The Cokato Finnish American Historical Society began organizing during the observance of the 300th anniversary of the arrival of Finnish and Swedish immigrants in Delaware.  (See 2005 Annandale History Club presentation by Harvey Barberg, Temperance Corner and the Cokato-Finnish American Historical Society.)

Notes by Annandale History Club Secretary