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Nordic Culture

Who they are

  • The Nordic countries is a term used collectively for five countries in Northern Europe and the North Atlantic;Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and their associated territories, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland.
  • In English, Scandinavia is sometimes used as a synonym for the Nordic countries.
  • About twelve hundred (1200) years ago, people from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark formed the Viking culture. Vikings were skilled craftspeople, warriors, and traders. Vikings also raided countries across Europe.

 When they arrived

  • Odd Lovoll has divided the Scandinavian immigration to Canada into phases. He sets the first “Canada-rush” about 1890, and 1901 as the end of the first rush. The next phase, the period from 1901 – 1914, is characterised by considerable immigration to the Western provinces of Canada. In fact, the annual Scandinavian immigration to Canada was larger in these years then in the rush of the 1890s. Source: Nils Olav Østrem-University of Stavanger-
  • By the 1890s, the Finnish had begun to settle in Ontario. The first Finnish immigrant group had its destination in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Source: Reino Kero Published in The Lake head University Review, 9(1976), p. 7-16.
  • “The Finns first started arriving in the Sault area in the late 1880s, many migrating north from established Upper Peninsula settlements, to join 800 men working on the Sault Canal” source : Dan Bellerose, the Sault Star newspaper 2011.
  • The first families from Iceland reached Ontario in 1873 in a party of one hundred persons. Half of these went on to Wisconsin, but the remainder made a fruitless attempt to found a colony at Rosseau, Muskoka, and, by the next summer (1874) they began to scatter to different places to the south and on into Wisconsin.

Language:  North Germanic Languages: Danish, Swedish , Icelandic, Finnish and Norwegian

  • The language group is sometimes referred to as the Nordic languages, a direct translation of the most common term used among Danish, Swedish and Norwegian scholars and laypeople.
  • Most people in Canada who are still able to speak Swedish, other than those born in the homeland, are members of the second generation. In very few cases has the language survived into the third.
  • Finnish is different from the other Nordic countries because its language is of the Finno-Ugric group (related to Estonian and Hungarian).
  • Canada has the largest Icelandic population outside Iceland, with about 88,875 people of Icelandic descent as of the Canada 2006 Census.  Many Icelandic Canadians are descendants of people who fled an eruption of the Icelandic volcano Askja in 1875. Gimli, in Manitoba, Canada, is home to the largest population of Icelanders outside of the main island of Iceland.


  • Hans Norman and Harald Runblom write about the early Scandinavian/Nordic emigration to Canada – from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland  “The first Nordic emigrants who arrived in Canada in substantial numbers were the Icelanders during the latter part of the 1870´s.
  • Immigration from the other Nordic countries to Canada became more intense during the 1890´s, when a significant part of this migration occurred via the USA.
  • Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish immigration was spread over the provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, the Finnish immigrants were concentrated in Ontario, and the Icelanders in Manitoba.”Source: Migration – Canada, by  Nils Olav Østrem -PhD-student – Stavanger University College, Dep. of Humanistic Studies.
  • According to Statistics Canada ( 2006), 0.7% of Canada’s population is Danish descent, 0.4%  are  Finnish  descent,  0.3% are Icelandic descent, 1.4% are  Norwegian and 1.1% are Swedish  descent.
  • Sault Ste. Marie is home to a boasting population of over 3,000 proud Finns and those with Finnish lineage. Source: City of Sault Ste. Marie.,21,39,47 Visit: June 05, 2012.
  • Thunder Bay boasts the largest Finnish population outside of Scandinavia, and the only Finnish Cultural Centre in Canada, housed in the Finnish Labour Temple along with the Hoito Restaurant.
  • The major centres of Estonian settlement in Manitoba and northern Ontario include Winnipeg and its environs, the northern Ontario cities of Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, Timmins and Kirkland Lake, as well as a number of smaller communities in the northern Ontario gold-mining belt.
  • The highest concentration of Scandinavian Americans is in Western Canada, especially British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. There are nearly 1.2 million Canadians of Scandinavian descent, or 4% of the total population of the country.


  • Christianity has been the dominant religion in the Nordic countries for more than a thousand years. Before that, people followed various Pagan religions.
  • Scandinavians are predominantly Lutheran;Protestant denominations and Catholic, in this order
  • Most people of Nordic background in Canada are well educated and would be considered to belong to the middle class. Finnish are avid readers and Finnish literacy is 100 percent. Source: The Legatum Institute Index 2011.

How did they contribute to life in Sault Ste. Marie

  • The Nordic presence is deeply felt in the Sault Ste. Marie community with several contributions in business.  Finnish based businesses including bakeries such as TUULA’S Scandinavian baking and cooking, Sault Ste Marie and District Finnish Canadian Historical Society, The Ontario Finnish Rest Home, Finnish Ski Club, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Finnish Language School and Apex Log Homes to name just a few.
  • Many Nordic women have been active in the service industry. More women arrived in 1939 through a special government plan to bring Scandinavian domestics to upper-class homes in Montreal and Ottawa. Source: Encyclopedia of Canada’s people. By Paul R. Magocsi, Multicultural History Society of Ontario.
  • By imparting various elements of their ancestral knowledge, experience, skills and institutions to other Canadians, Finns have added significantly to the development of Sault Ste Marie and Canadian society.
  • The Finnish in Sault Ste. Marie did, by founding churches, temperance and cultural societies, sports clubs and consumer co-operatives, as well as publishing newspapers, magazines and books to satisfy their own needs, assisted one another in integrating into Canadian life.

 Holidays and Celebrations

  • Midsummer’s Day (Juhannus).  -June 21. Midsummer is observed on or around June 24th. Nordic culture (especially for the Finnish and the Swedish) is one of the most important holidays of the year and one with strong traditions
  • May DayWalpurgis day (Vappu)-  May 1 For the Nordic, especially in the Finnish and Swedish calendars,  is one of the four biggest holidays along with Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and Midsummer– In Canada May Day is celebrated in some parts of the Province of British Columbia. Celebrations often take place not on May 1 but during the Victoria Day long weekend, later in the month and when the weather is likely to be better.
  • Finnish Grand Festival – A three-day Suurjuhlat (Grand Festival).  Sault Ste. Marie hosted the Festival in 2010. It has defined educational and entertainment components. This festival is staged every five years, alternating between Canada and the United States. Chaired by Raimo Viitala along with a local organizing committee comprised of more than 200 volunteers working on 15 committees. The Finnish Grand Festival attracts more than 3,000 participants.
  • The Kalevala Day- February 28. The Kalevala is regarded as the national epic of Finland and is one of the most significant works of Finnish literature.
  • Shrovetide (fastelavn)- February.  A Carnival in Denmark and Norway which is either the Sunday or Monday before Ash Wednesday and features children dressed in fancy costumes going from house to house singing songs and begging for money, candy, or even buns.
  • Saint Lucia Day.  December 13. Another traditional Nordic celebration in Canada is St. Lucia Day, which is marked by a processional led by a young woman wearing a crown of candles on her head and the singing of traditional songs.
  • Iceland Independence Day June 17. Members of the Icelandic community in Canada gather in front of the statue of Jón Sigurdsson, Iceland’s father of independence, located outside the Manitoba legislative building, to lay a wreath.
  • Finland Independence Day – December 6. The Finnish community celebrates the festivals of the Christian calendar and, especially, December 6th, Finland’s Independence Day, usually with the Finnish War Veterans in Canada playing a central role.
  • Íslendingadagurinn – August- The annual Icelandic Festival of Manitoba, has, since it was founded in 1890, been a time for public celebration among Icelandic Canadians.

 Notable Nordic Descent in Sault Ste. Marie

  • Ms. Helena Huopalainen-  Sault Ste. Marie Library- Senior Circulation Clerk
  • Mr. Raimo Viitala– Honorary Consul of Finland in Sault Ste. Marie.
  • Reverend Jouko JyrkamaPastor of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church
  • Mr.  Todd Slotegraa– Chairperson of The Ontario Finnish Rest Home.
  • Charles Thorson– A visual artist of Icelandic descent. He was a cartoonist from Winnipeg who worked for Walt Disney and Warner Brothers. He designed the prototype for Snow White, which he based on the image of a young Icelandic woman he had once admired; he also created cartoon character Bugs Bunny.
  • Martha Ostenso- Norway , won a literary prize for her book Wild Geese (1924).
  • Magda Hendrickson- Norway,  received acclaim for Pioneer Days in Bardo, Alberta (1944) and This Land Is Our Land (1992).
  • Leslie William Nielsen, Order of Canada (February 11th, 1926 –November 28th, 2010). He was a Canadian and naturalized American actor and comedian. Nielsen appeared in more than one hundred films and 1,500 television programs over the span of his career, portraying more than 220 characters. Nielsen was born on 11 February 1926 in Regina, Saskatchewan. His mother, Mabel Elizabeth (née Davies), was a Welsh immigrant from Fulham, London, and his father, Ingvard Eversen Nielsen, was a Danish-born Constable in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Video/interviews  gallery  click here  Icelandic Culture , Finnish Culture 1 , Finnish Culture 2


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