The largest club during those early days was the Finnish Athletic Club Nahjus which grew out of the Jyry Club. Founded in 1920 it was located in the Finnish Labour Temple, which was referred to by many as the ‘Big Finn Hall’ which was a way to distinguish it from the ‘Little Finn Hall’ which was located next door. The Nahjus club was alive with activity up until the mid-1950s.
One of their big events was the hosting of annual shows which featured gymnastic demonstrations utilizing such equipment as the rings that hung from the ceiling and a locally built trampoline. In addition to gymnastics, the club also had a number of members who were involved in other sports, including wrestling, boxing and track and field and would often travel to attend events in such places as Sudbury, Toronto and the United States.
With the Nahjus club starting to wind down in the late 1950s it was the Reipas Sports Club that carried on the tradition of sports involvement with the Finlandia Club for the next half century.
Although primarily known for their activities outside of the hall, including such sports as running, skiing, hockey, broomball and the Finnish version of baseball, pesäpallo, the club did maintain an affiliation with the Finlandia up until their disbandment in 2011.
In 2013, through the joint efforts of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame (NWOSHOF) and the Thunder Bay Finnish Canadian Historical Society (TBFCHS), the research and writing contributions of local historians Dave Nicholson and Laura Nigro, combined with the editing skills of Peter Raffo, A Century of Sport in the Finnish Community of Thunder Bay was published. The 150-page book contains information about the arrival and settlement of people of Finnish heritage to the Thunder Bay area, the development of a number of sport clubs and organizations, biographies of NWOSHOF) Inductees who are of Finnish heritage, and a wonderful photo gallery full of images from the collections of both the NWOSHF and the TBFCHS.
Some of the other club histories that have been researched and highlighted in the book include the likes of Elo, Isku, Kiri and Pohjola. Early pioneers of the Finnish sports community that are included in the publication include such names as Anttila, Kajander, Lehtinen, Rita, Saivo and Widgren. In fact, over 800 names appear in the names index at the back of the book. Close to twenty people who have been inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame individually as athletes or as builders who are of Finnish heritage themselves, or through their parents or grandparents, are also featured in the publication, including the likes of Pentti Lund, Weikko Koivisto, Anne Saasto, Kathy Kangas, Joe Wirkkunen, Reijo Puiras Reino Niemi and Albert Pudas to name but a few.
A Century of Sport in the Finnish Community of Thunder Bay is a great read and a great celebration of one of the many contributions the Finnish community has made to Thunder Bay.
Copies can be purchased through the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame by calling 622-2852, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or ordering online at www.nwosportshalloffame.com.