York University women’s studies 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to York University Libraries’ (YUL) Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections with the intent of preserving these historical documents for future generations.
Born in Helsinki, Finland in 1948, Lindström 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 critically acclaimed 2004 documentary, Letters from Karelia.
Several decades of Finnish-Canadian research has resulted in Lindström creating, acquiring and now donating to the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections some 7.2 metres of textual records. These records include diaries, family correspondences, financial ledgers, war-relief funding and other organizational records. The collection also contains sound recordings of oral histories, folk music, documentary films, and more than 1,000 books, almanacs and plays published by Finnish authors in North America.
“I think it would be great to have Professor Lindström’s collection integrated into undergraduate coursework and research here at York University,” says digital projects and outreach archivist for Clara Thomas Archives & 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.