When Finland’s Vesa Lehtonen first visited Sault Ste. Marie in 1986, he was a backpack tourist who stopped by to say hello to a friend.
Now, on his second visit, he is Finland’s ambassador to Canada, with a full list of activities lined up for Thursday.
Lehtonen, speaking to SooToday while touring the Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site, said he has been watching the Sault’s efforts to obtain a ferrochrome production facility.
It was announced Tuesday Noront Resources has chosen the Sault to be the site for its ferrochrome production facility, to process chrome ore when the Ring of Fire region is developed.
“We were happy to hear Sault Ste. Marie will be the place for the Noront ferrochrome site,” Lehtonen said.
“In Europe, the most similar plant is in Finland, in Tornio (a city in northwest Finland), and I think the Tornio plant, by Outokumpu, which is a main player in the field, has actually been a benchmark for Noront when planning this new plant.”
“That was a success story in Finland. The mayor of that city was a proponent of it. It’s quite interesting,” added Shirley Mantyla, who succeeds the long-serving Raimo Viitala as Honorary Consul of Finland in Sault Ste. Marie.
Lehtonen, who has served as Finland’s ambassador to Canada since 2016, said he was looking forward to visiting the Ontario Finnish Resthome Association (OFRA) buildings and residents.
“I think the Finns in Canada were very farsighted decades ago when they invested and took the risk to build up these institutions. There are several of them in Canada, and nowadays many of them are part of the local or regional elderly care system, and I’m very happy and proud of this initiative by Finnish Canadians,” said Lehtonen, accompanied by his wife Pirjetta Manninen, who is experienced in the field of gerontology.
Along with his visit to the Ermatinger-Clergue site, Lehtonen was also scheduled to visit the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, meet with Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano and, after his visit to OFRA, attend an invitation-only reception at The Delta.
“Sault Ste. Marie is special for Finland, and one part of that is we have an honorary consul in Sault Ste. Marie,” Lehtonen said.
“It’s exciting,” said Mantyla of her new role as Honorary Consul of Finland in Sault Ste. Marie.
“Raimo Viitala, who has been Honorary Consul for 30 years, has done a wonderful job in the community, so it will be big shoes to fill,” Mantyla said, noting the Sault’s Finnish-Canadian population is declining because of an aging demographic, with no new large wave of Finnish immigrants coming.
According to Stats Canada’s 2016 census profile, 3,200 Sault residents were of Finnish origin.
“(As Honorary Consul of Finland) I can sign affidavits and be a notary of documents for the Finnish community, we are a conduit for anything that arises with Finnish citizenship, and we keep them up to speed on what’s happening in Finland,” said Mantyla, an Ontario government employee.
“There is a long history of Finnish people and people of Finnish background here in Sault Ste. Marie, and plenty of their activities and institutions here, so I’ll be very happy to meet the Finnish community,” Lehtonen said.