Raija Suomela has been living in Canada for more than three decades now, but it was not clear from the beginning that Canada would be her new home. Many factors made Suomela to stay and now she has been working for the last 15 years in Canadian Urban Institute.
The summer of 1980 was a hot one in Helsinki, when Raija Suomela and her family put their things together and prepared to move to Canada.
– When I recall it now, everything happened really fast. In a few months, we got our things organized in Finland and our apartment sold. Also, the immigration process in itself was very quick when compared to what it is nowadays, Suomela recalls.
There were no exact reasons for her and her family, that at the time included two small children, to move to Canada. Some of their relatives had already moved here, and that encouraged the Suomela family to try a life in a new country. Soon as the kids grew older the family started to feel more and more at home in Canada.
– I remember that in the beginning I always thought that we can always move back to Finland if we don’t like it here. But I have liked it here very much for all these years now. Sometimes I have had a thought that maybe in Finland everything would have been easier, the better social security and such matters, but I am sure that here life is much more interesting.
Suomela says that especially the fact that her kids liked it here made the whole family to stay in the country.
– When we moved here, my daughter was four and my son nine. My son got into his own age-class’ group at the local elementary school and after a few intensive English lessons he was the spelling master of his class, Suomela laughs.
The Finnish Community Made Acculturation Easier
When Raija Suomela, who had studied French and German linguistics at the University of Helsinki, started to search for her first job in Canada, she first turned to the local Finnish communities. Soon an opportunity in a Finnish-Canadian newspaper appeared for Suomela, who already had been working as an office clerk in Finland.
– My first job in Canada was in Vapaa Sana’s office. I worked there with different kinds of assistance tasks in 1984 and 1985 when Lauri Toiviainen was the editor-in-chief.
Since then Suomela has worked for several years at the consulate of Finland in Toronto. She was also in the Finnish-Canadian Cultural Federation where she took part in organizing a few of the FinnFests.
– I left the consulate in the beginning of the ‘90s when they started the downsizings there. Actually, it was then when most of my connections to the Finnish communities ended.
Suomela says that nowadays she does not have the time, or the will, to participate in different Finnish-Canadian activities.
– I still subscribe Vapaa Sana and from the paper I get to read enough about what’s going on with the Finns. I also like to go to some of the concerts and other similar neutral Finnish events. Also, the Agricola church has been a part of my life for all these years in Canada. My son’s children were baptized there and they enjoy the happy and approachable style of the church. From their mother’s side, the kids are Catholic and therefore used to a slightly different type of religiousness.
Finnish Activities for the Youth Too
Suomela thinks that many of the Finnish-Canadian organisations should offer more activities for the younger generations as well.
– For example this group called Finnophiles is very nice and it brings together more or less Finnish people of different backgrounds and age groups. I doubt that the younger generations find anything of their interest from the older organisations.
Suomela points out that there is a lot of good in keeping up the ethnic backgrounds – and this is something the government of Canada encourages with different kinds of grants.
– Of course, many people find support from their own ethnic group. But one should not stick only into their own small groups.
Living in Toronto, Suomela finds that the variety of cultures, and especially the intercultural communication, enriches the everyday life.
– The future generations are much more open-minded because of this multiculturalism. Even though one enjoys staying with their own kind of people, one should also be able to communicate with others and to adjust in the society, Suomela says referring to the very multicultural atmosphere of Toronto.
– My children are both fluent in English but also in Finnish. When they were young, I decided that they would be spoken to with both languages, even though some people said to me back then that the kids might end up somehow disturbed if they grow up among several languages.
Suomela says that she is still proud of her Finnish background and that there is nothing to be ashamed of about being a Finn.
– Even though one was not a part of any those Finnish groups, every Finn can bring up the Finnish qualities in their own social circles: the logicality, the good organizing skills, the practicality and the efficiency.
Suomela says that she herself educates her colleagues of the Finnish virtues, but she calls them “The Nordic Model”.
– From the distance, we are first of all Europeans, then Nordic and of course Finns. And there’s no room for the infamous Finnish bad self-esteem.
Analyzing the Urban Environments
Since 1996 Suomela has been working as the administrator of the finance and corporate services in the Canadian Urban Institute, CUI, which is and organisation that studies the development of urban environments in different sectors. Multiculturalism is everyday life for Suomela since CUI employs people from various backgrounds.
– During the ‘90s, there were lots of people coming to Toronto from Eastern Europe and we too have many employees from the former “Eastern Bloc”, mainly because of the projects CUI has in Ukraine. Nowdays there’s no such thing as “Eastern Europe” in the same sense as for example in 1980s. Also the migration from Europe to Canada is not what is used to be. Most of the people, who come here, come because of work or a marriage.
CUI is a non-profit, research institute type of an organisation, which provides custom-made studies about basically any issue related to the urban environment, be it something about economic, environmental or cultural sustainability. The organisation has both Canadian and international projects. In addition to Ukraine, at the moment there are projects funded by CIDA in Philippines, Jamaica and Ethiopia. The biggest clients of CUI are cities and municipalities, which do not usually have a similar kind of institute or the resources within their own organisation.
Suomela’s job is to coordinate different kinds of projects and to assist the management of the organisation. The projects going on in Toronto at the moment are a survey of the water supplies and a study of the overall energy-usage in the city.
– The facts and the so-called “engineer-knowledge” come from cities’ own departments but the research and the future-analysis is done at the CUI.