Thursday, October 30, 2008

True Finns in Kauhajoki

Kauhajoki, my birth place, makes the news again, this time as a site where "The True Finns" (this party's exclusionary nationalistic name gives it away!) are making inroads. The True Finns, a populist neo-right party that uses simplistic rhetoric to appeal to folks suffering in neoliberal times, made gains in the recent Finnish elections. Like other neo-con groups (we have one in power in Canada), a major platform is the control of the nation's borders from "them"--the undesirables. Who gets in becomes who do we keep out? Canada, for example, is supposedly fighting to bring democracy to Afghanis, but how many Afghani people could actually fulfil the requirements to immigrate to Canada? Only a handful. Canadian immmigration policy is regressive, one needs $$, education, and a professional career to get in because of our points system.

Neo-cons discourse promotes fears of immigrants, particularly racialized people, Muslims, and the poor --and imagine if you are all 3!-- a problem spreading in Western so-called democracies. Parties like this beg the question, whose democratic rights are we talking about?

..."xenophobia is a real problem in Finland and local leaders will be trained to stop any slanderous speech that may occur during council meetings."

Neo-right populist groups use moral discourse of "how it used to be" to put forth their black and white ideas. How it used to be, however, was loaded with exclusionary practices and ideas, promoting moral fears of the abject. You can't know what pure is unless you know what is abject--it's opposite. Constructing nationalism as pure is nothing new. I am sure Hanna Snellman will have some things to say about that tonight at the talk about constructing Finnish women in photos during the civil war period. Reading the True Finns through this past history can be an interesting discussion of Finnish nation-building discourses.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

McVicar's Creek & Maudsley Court then & now

An old hand-painted picture postcard of McVicar's Creek, the Court St. bridge and Maudsley Court in the background. The creek does not curve like that anymore.

That same spot a few days ago.

Closer to the road, this time in the summer.
Looking at the bridge from the other side, across from Maudsley Court. A bough of mountain ash berries waiting for the cedar waxwings.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

beauty treatment then & now

Then. Beauty treatment at the salon. Getting a perm at Eaton's 1922. I clipped this photo from the Toronto Globe & Mail years back and pinned it up by my hair station, when I used to be a hairdresser. I thought the photo was funny; it's electric outrageousness showed how far we had advanced.....

or so I thought.

Beauty treatments today. I wonder, how far have we advanced?

Monday, October 27, 2008

August Mannerheim's Riilahden salonki

Riilahden salonki [Riilahdi's salon] by August Mannerheim. From a 1962 Finnish schoolbook, Uusi Kansakoulun Lukukirja 2, Ennen ja Nyt. [ New Elementary School Reader 2, Then and Now.]

This watercolour by Finnish war hero Mannerheim's great uncle, August, depicts Finnish women in the mid 1800s. No woman wearing a huivi [headscarf] here. The women (and men) are performing European aristocratic class manners. Is there anything in this image that could locate this salon as Finnish? The text on the bottom is French, noting this scene to depict Juillet 1845 or 1849.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Images of Women during Finnish Civil war

ELÄMÄN VIIVAT. Lifelines. photo by Heikki Aho or Bjorn Soldan

Pictures tell a lot of stories. This image is from an old Finnish book (1948), Suomen Kuva [Picture of Finland], in a section titled Pyhäpäivä [Holyday, or day of rest, or Sunday]. This crowd of women are dressed in their Sunday best, standing outside of their village church. I found the book at a rummage sale where boxes and boxes of old Finnish books were for sale. Not many books were sold. Not many takers for old Finnish language books. To me, however, books like this are interesting to read for how the images selected construct particular narratives of Finland and Finnishness. I've noticed that there are often images of wizened elderly peasant women in aprons and headscarves included in these nation-making stories of Finland. As a young girl I remember these sorts of images being impressed on my mind, and when later in my life I came across a photo of a Helsinki woman who looked like a British Victorian woman, I was shocked. I became conscious of how class intersects with gender.

I think that this elderly woman's face no longer symbolizes salt-of-the-earth elderly women in Finland as most women today have not worked the land and been out in the elements all their lives, so they would not have deep lines like she does. My own mother's face (mid 70s) is a silken sheet. I remember Mrs. Nevala's face, though. She looked a lot like the woman in the photo above. Although we were scolded enough by our mom never to stare, my sisters and I couldn't help but just stare at her when she moved about her woodstove in the small kitchen of her small wood house on Picadilly Ave. Her husband, Jussi, would sit on the side, legs crossed, smoking. He'd have a hevosmiehen hattu on his head. His face was brown as a bean, thin as a korppu and was deeply lined.

Mr. Nevala looked a bit like this, but skinnier. This photo of Riku Sulko is from the 1975 Isoon Lusikän Pitäjä; tarinaa ja totta Kauhajoelta [Big spoon county: stories and truth from Kauhajoki]. Mr.and Mrs. Nevala reminded us girls of the mummo and paappa photos we saw in the books about Finland. No wonder we loved going to the Nevala's!

I've received a poster about an upcoming talk on images of Finnish women, but I am unable to copy it, so I've included the text below. A guest speaker from Finland, Hannah Snellman, is coming to town this week to show images of wartime Finnish women and to discuss their meanings. See below.

1918 Civil War in Finland: a woman’s experience through pictures and narratives

Oct. 30. 7:00pm
Finlandia Hall, 314 Bay St

"In her talk Dr. Hanna Snellman will discuss the historical turning point in the Finnish Civil War in 1918, which has gained new interpretations lately. Today we don't see the war only as a dispute between the Reds and the Whites, the left and the right wing, but also as embodiments of the forces of evil. Everyone suffered as a consequence of the war. Lately a lot of research has been published concerning the fate of women and children during the civil war. She will shed light on the experiences of women during the civil war. She will show 70 photographs taken in 1918 and analyze how roles of women during war are represented visually. Photographs are not only documents of reality, but they also have a great effect on the way the war has been reminisced. The pictures have an "afterlife" in narratives.

Hanna Snellman, PhD, has worked in the Department of Ethnology, University of Helsinki since 1987, first as research associate and later as Academy Research Fellow. Currently she is a Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies finishing her project on Finnish immigrant women in Sweden. In 2007 she served as the fifth Finnish Chair at Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Canada. Dr. Snellman's research interests have mainly dealt with the history of forest areas and migration and are always based on interviews. Dr. Snellman’s oral history approach often focuses on northern issues.

Coffee and pulla by donation to the Finnish Heritage Building Fund

Brought to you by the Lakehead University Chair in Finnish Studies Committee, Northern Studies and the Advanced Institute for Globalization and Culture."

Friday, October 24, 2008

memory box for Alice

[click on the image to enlarge]
When RedShoes, my writing group, had a prompt on mapping this summer, I decided to put together a series of visual representations to map the spaces I walk in the morning. As usual, my creative imagination was bigger than my practical application. I started by drawing a map to McVicar's Creek from my house. My clumsy attempts frustrated me as my hand wasn't able to translate the vision in my mind. I hadn't done much in the way of drawing for years. What was I thinking, anyway? You can't just leave something unattended and then expect to take it up where you left off.

So, next I decided to forget trying to capture a linear, accurate-to-scale map, which at the rate I was going would take days, and many sheets of paper and much re-drawing and starting anew, for me to draw all the way to the Wilson St. headland, never mind beyond. I thought of some of the ideas of bio-regional mapping that I'd read in Boundaries of Home: Mapping for Local Empowerment, a book edited by Doug Aberley that Michele had lent me, so I decided to list all the birds and wildflowers that I have seen on my walks along the creek and shoreline and put those names on the map, rather than street names. After all, aren't the beings that inhabit the place more significant than the frame provided by the manly mapmakers of municipalities who named the streets after themselves and their stories?

My work was taking too long and I was getting clumsier and more frustrated, realizing that what I had behind my eyes was a project that rightfully would need weeks, if not months, of careful sketching and colouring and .... So, I decided, I'll get to Lake Superior and then do something else. So, I collected flowers that I found on the ground by my feet.

At the same time, I had been asked by some of the women at Anishnawbi Mushkiki to join them in making quill boxes. Pauline, an Elder from up Timmins way, was coming in to teach how to make quill boxes. I decided on the spot, Yes! I would love to learn how to make a quill box. Little did I know....but, I digress. The story of my quill box is coming; this is not that story.

I somehow ended up with 2 circular pieces of birch bark meant for the cover of my quill box. Once at home I thought, hmmm. What to do with this pretty circle of birch bark? Alice Quoquat Netemegeesic's name came to my mind. I had found her name earlier by chance when I had been searching history about McVicar's Creek for my bio-regional mapping; I found her name on a list of murdered and missing First Nations women of Ontario. Other women from the NWO region are noted on the same webpage. Alice had been murdered along the path of the creek back in the 70s, the same path that I love, that is such a peaceful haven, that is an oasis, a creative wellspring, a sanctuary...well, it might have been those for Alice, too, but it was also a place of death for her. It really bothered me that she was murdered there and that no one was ever convicted. I decided to pay my respects to Alice by including her somehow in my bioregional map. Her history is there where I walk, although it had been unknown to me; indeed her invisible death is part of many. I decided to make a small plaque for Alice from the birch bark circle. So, I wrote her name and the few details that I knew about her, marked the circle into quadrants to symbolize the 4 directions, and stitched fresh sweet grass around the edge with red wool, red wool that I'd gotten from Alli, my elderly Finnish lady friend, who had knit me a pair of red wool socks. It took me all night to make the circle.

After making the circle for Alice, I wondered, how should I incorporate it with my other pieces? At the same time, the Walk4Justice group had arrived in Thunder Bay from the West Coast and held a commemorative ceremony for First Nations women at the lake front. I was going to bring what I made for Alice there but I decided against it. I decided instead to go and listen to what they had to say. After the ceremony, I thought, I should place Alice's circle in its own safe sacred space, in my own small way grant her the dignity she had been denied and acknowledge her death, so I decided to make her a memory box. I needed a special box. I ransacked my cupboards and closets looking, then, I thought of the cedar box my dad had given me years ago, probably 20 years ago. It had held salmon from the West Coast. The box was so nice that I'd kept it, although it was only ever empty; forgotten at the bottom of a box in my garage where I eventually found it.

The artist's name is in the corner, but I can't make it out.

Inside the box, I placed the birch bark circle, rose petals and sage from my garden (they filled the box like a cushion, but now are paper dry morsels!), sewed a small butterscotch square stuffed with tobacco, organic tobacco from Lebanon, and wrote down some words onto a small card. I felt that another First Nations woman's words would have the healing power to talk to Alice's spirit.

I searched through Jeannette Armstrong's poetry book, BreathTracks, for the words. This slim book of poetry was one of the first poetry books I read cover to cover. The first poetry book I ever bought. Jeannette Armstrong's words are very powerful and healing. I knew I would find a poem for Alice, and sure enough, I found it: Sahapxenelks Our Matriarch.

When I opened the box today, the scent of cedar, sage, rose, and sweetgrass slipped out to caress my nose. I made the memory box early in the summer, and what a surprise today greeted me: today I received an email from a woman who had come across the photo of the birch back circle I had made for Alice as I had posted it on the Facebook group, Full Moon Memory Walk. Her words are the postscript:

"I just saw the photo of the circle you made for Alice for your memory box ...
it is so beautiful ...

her children were all put in CAS/adoptions ... 4 or 5 sons, 1 daughter who lives somewhere in Vancouver The last # I have for one of the sons was a Native men's residence in Toronto ... I will try and find him so he can see what you did for his mother"

Thursday, October 23, 2008

talking paper dolls

My Grandfather is a Postcard* but My Sister is a Paperdoll...

Last night, my friends and my sister and I were talking paper dolls. Carol-Ann said, remember how the paper dolls used to collapse forward at the waist because their waists were so small that they'd fold forward? ...phisshhhhhh.... and then the waist would get hopelessly creased and you'd try using tape to fix them but it would never work? They could never stand up again?

And then the tabs would break off all the clothes, said Michele.

I said, well, funny thing is, I wrote about paperdolls on my blog yesterday...

And Katja said, Well, Taina and I used to say, "Even when we're adults we're going to play with paperdolls!"

And she was right. Here we are, adults, playing with paperdolls. You can see the paper doll she made yesterday; it's the wonderful image above, which is the art that she created for RedShoes, our writing group. She made herself into a paperdoll standing on a clothesline of crows. That's my sister at about 4 years of age, her bxw photo self coloured in this time.

"Where is the girl who..."

This was the writing prompt we left with last time we met. Katja made a visual image. I'm jealous, I want to be a paper doll, too!

*My Grandfather is a Postcard is the title of a poem about our maternal paappa that my younger sister, Della, wrote. You know the postcard I mean; I told you about it before.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

paper dolls then and now

My sisters and I used to love playing with paper dolls. In the early 60s paper dolls were actually made of paper. You can still buy them like that, but now there are more "options". The paper dolls we played with used to come in large, flat booklets like the ones that Valentine's cards used to come in. Like each and every Valentine, you had to painstakingly cut out each of the paper doll's clothes. The paper dolls themselves were punched out of thicker, shinier paper.

The clothes had little white tabs that you folded back to secure to the doll. Inevitably, despite our chastising ourselves to "be careful not to wreck the tabs!", we unintentionally cut through them, or bent too many times, they simply fell off. Then the clothes couldn't stick on the doll. Yet, there was something about the fragility of these paper dolls that drew us to them, but what we really liked about paper dolls was that we could draw and cut out our own outfits for them. It was an occasion to use Katja's precious Laurentian pencil crayons! (Laurentian was the only brand available, and they were expensive). Being the older sister, she was the one who was given the privilege by our parents of getting pencil crayons. Remember, this is in the days when each child amassing her own hordes of stuff did not exist.

An important difference from the 60s and now is that there wasn't as much consumer stuff, but getting 'stuff' was well on its way to becoming implanted in our minds, as this was the rise of consumer culture. On the rare occasion when we had money to spend or were given the 10c needed to get on the bus, my sister Katja and I would walk to the bus stop at the end of the line on Red River Road and take the trolley downtown Port Arthur to Kresge's to look over the paperdolls.

If we didn't have any money and were lucky to get an old discarded Eaton's or Simpson-Sears catalog, we would cut out women from it, as well as furniture, clothing, and dreamily go through the pages for all those household consumer goods that we imagined we would need when we "were older" and "got married" and had "our own house."

Now, however, while you can still buy those paper booklets, you can buy paper dolls online and select the doll you want. You can even change the head of the doll. You can print up your own doll. You can buy uber patriotic dolls and mold young minds to the story of Homeland Security or you can find multi-ethnic and non-gender specific dolls these days too. My sisters and I were restricted to white women and girls, although we didn't know that then. Mostly fairytale women, like Snow White and Cinderella, or Airline Hostess, all traditional gender scripts.

Today, a girl could spend hours in a consumer dream world of dolls, playing with endless options, such as dressing Shopping Couple or pop teen queen or Teenage Girl Decorating, and with the cursor of her mouse, trying different looks on different dolls, in fact, these new interactive consumer/game sites encourage a girl to select a name for herself and play with different looks, but despite the options, those choices narrowly reflect rigid gender scripts that are entangled in consumption.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Eagle Bridge Westfort

Leaving my car at Midway Alignment on Gore St, I decided to stroll around Westfort, but then saw the Eagle Bridge that crosses over the train tracks, at the end of Brown St., so I decided to walk over it instead, knowing not where it leads.

Looking east, a myriad of tracks and trains in the foreground of the Fort William Elevator Company. West Fort, earlier known as Fort William Town Plot was selected by the Dominion of Canada to be the site where a railway to the Pacific would be located. When the building of the railroad began in 1875 (did the colonial fathers bring Chinese indentured labour here, too?) West Fort became the eastern terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railways.

Looking west, the Place where Thunder Birds Nest, aka Mt.McKay.

A plate bolted to the bridge announces it as Eagle Bridge. Is this a new name? I'm not sure. A man who lives on the other side of the bridge told me he was surprised to see me walking over it, to see someone using it. He was tinkering in front of his house/shop with a log cutting machine that he had made which was For Sale. He had cut a beautiful large beam of poplar. He said I was like the 3rd person he's seen on the bridge since it was re-built about a year and a half ago. Before that there was an old wooden bridge, 150 years old, he said, that was used by the men who worked at the elevator. They would get off the street car at the end of the line and then walk over the bridge to work. That elevator is still in use, the man told me when I said it looks abandoned, like a derelict, but the street car is gone, so too most jobs. I can't imagine why the bridge was rebuilt. It goes nowhere really. When you descend off of it, signs all over the place announce: No Trespassing. Perhaps it helps the residents of

make a shortcut to Westfort Village? But as most folks these days use cars and not feet to get places, I wonder....

It's an interesting street. I saw the oldest and largest poplar I have ever seen in Thunder Bay in a lot beside someone's house. You can't tell from this photo but the tree must be at least 200 years old. Compared to most poplars around, this tree's base is huge, elephantine to the slender deer-like stalks of other poplars. The sound of its hundreds of leaves quivering in the wind was like the whirring and shaking of an immense shaman's rattle, a thunder rattle building up whirlwinds of energy.

Lots of car parts and body parts and machine shops on the street. This whole area has been a machine shop area since the Dominion of Canada was instituted.

An old outhouse still standing, and a pile of wood. Maybe it's used for storage now?

Back up the stairs of Eagle Bridge.

Monday, October 20, 2008

141 Kingston St. Westfort

To get to the James St. swing bridge, I first crossed over the Eagle Bridge over the train tracks and traipsed through dried grasses down to the shore of the Kam River.

Leaving the riverside, I walked past this abandoned wooden shop. You can see the James St. swing bridge way off in the back.

The place is quite ramshackle.

It must've been a shop, as it doesn't look like it was a home. Whatever its original use, its address is still sharp and unfaded, 141, that is 141 Kingston St, Westfort, Fort William, Ontario, Canada. Do you know this place?

An old rusting Caterpillar sits in the field beside the shop.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

James St. swing bridge

Last week I had to bring our car for a wheel alignment at Midway Alignment in Westfort (best price in town!) and I had one hour to kill while waiting for the car to be ready. The shop is on Gore St, which runs parallel to the Kaministiqua River, so, I decided to walk to the James St. swing bridge that crosses onto Fort William First Nations Reserve. Here you can see the north bank of the Kam River, with Fort William Elevator in the distance

Crossing the bridge to Fort William First Nations Reserve. The swing bridge is 100 years old. It is narrow and one lane per direction. Made of metal and wood, vehicles crossing it make an awful rattle. Walking across it, you could easily touch the cars that pass, and the SUVs and trucks make you cling to the railing. We used to cross this bridge on Sunday drives to Chippewa Park with my family when I was a little girl and it never failed to bring us girls in the back seat to rapt attention. Despite the metal plates that have been laid down, you can still hear each slat clatter and clang under the car tires. It's a bit unnerving.

Looking through the slats of the bridge down river

Looking down into the river, a skeleton of a tree lies caught in a board walk

I wouldn't want to walk on that board walk. It looks awfully precarious.

Feeling a bit queasy from all the clattering, I glanced up at the sky

Relief! South bank of the Kam River, FWFN land

Dodging traffic, I jumped across the road and walked back the other side of the bridge

This is the part of the bridge that swings

looking up river, you can see the Place where the Thunder Birds Nest aka Mt. McKay

Back to Westfort

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Bluffs, part 3

After walking along the south ridge of the Bluffs, you end up looking north, over the Hydro corridor. Because it is a clearing for hydro lines, all the trees have been clearcut. So the north side of the Bluffs looks unlike the south side, which I showed you earlier.

A trail follows along the Hydro corridor to Centennial Park. You can see a family with a baby stroller walking on the path. There are a few paths that lead down from the Bluffs; one path descends on a slow arching curve down the back of the Bluffs, but another goes almost straight down causing you to grab onto slim poplars so you don't slide down. The paths all lead to this trail going to Centennial Park. From there, you can get on the trails that will take you to the Cascades, which I have already told you about.

However, my husband and I had gone for a quick hike before Thanksgiving dinner at my mom's, so we didn't have time to hike to Centennial Park or beyond, instead

we took one of the paths

leading to

the bottom of The Bluffs

These cliffs are used for rock climbing and ice-climbing in the winter.

My husband scampered up the rock face somehow, don't ask me how. I told him, "I'll meet you up at the top"....