“It’s a cultural thing. We want to keep the Finnish culture alive,” said Anja Rissanen, a former manager at the Ontario Finnish Resthome Association (OFRA) and current resident.
On Friday, the rest home held its annual Juhannus Celebration.
Juhannus is Finland’s midsummer festival and is one of the country's biggest events of the year.
In Canada, Finnish immigrants and their descendants continue the tradition and at OFRA the celebrations have been held since 1991, the year Rissanen took on the job of planning activities for residents.
Rissanen moved from Porvvo, Finland to Sault Ste. Marie at the age of 19 in 1966.
She came here to live with her grandparents and to “check it out” for five years but she ended up meeting her husband and having two boys and has been here ever since
In 1986, after her children left home, Rissanen got a job as an overnight security guard at OFRA.
She worked her way up and in 1991 she took on the beefy role having to manage support services, activities, and environmental services.
That year she decided to hold the home's first Juhhanus festival.
Around 300 people from both the rest home and the greater Sault area attended.
“It was big. Because it was the first one . . . we kind of wanted it to be not just for us but for the community also,” said Rissanen.
Back then, the Finnish community was more pronounced in the Sault and at the rest home.
In 1971, the rest home was built by Finnish Canadians who wanted a place for those of Finnish and Estonian descent.
By 1991, the rest home was around 40 per cent Finnish and Estonian and in 2017 it’s closer to 20 per cent estimated Rissanen.
At the first OFRA Juhannus Celebration they had a parade, music, food, and, they crowned a ‘Juhannus’ queen from the rest home’s residents.
It’s basically the same thing today.
Every year until her retirement in 2010, Rissanen was the one who crowned the Juhannus Queen.
In 2016, The Ontario Finnish Resthome Association opened a new senior’s apartment complex called Ussi Koti and Rissanen was quick to move in.
It was fitting that this year, Rissanen was crowned Juhannus Queen of Uusi Koti.
“I always thought, when I was working here, that (I would retire here),” said Rissanen. “My life is still here. I know everybody (and) I love residents and dealing with them. It was a very natural move moving here," she said.
The weather was warm and sunny for the 2017 Juhannus Celebration.
The event also coincided with a formal grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony of Uusi Koti.
This year the event included a version of the somewhat kooky Finnish sport of ‘wife carrying’ although it was customized for young children and involved them running a pretty easy obstacle course holding dolls and throwing water balloons.
Music was provided by the travelling folk group ‘Sound an Echo’ who performed with violin and guitar classic Finnish songs along with their own compositions.