Nathan Hatton wants to see return of old-style wrestling to the Finlandia Hall

This spring has been full of unusual activity at the Finlandia Association of Thunder Bay. Besides making it to the big news with the possible closing of Hoito restaurant and the successful crowdfunding campaign, the association also got a one-year founding from Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation for hiring a community liaison worker.

Nathan Hatton started as a Director of Programming in May. Besides his work at the Hall, he's also an adjunct professor in History at Lakehead University teaching classes on Sport History and Canadian Immigration History, among other topics. One of his main research interests is Finnish sports history, especially wrestling.
How did Nathan become interested about the sports culture of the Finns? How does his new job benefit the users of the Hall? We'll let Nathan tell himself.

How did you end up with this job and what have you been doing so far?

– Given that I had a fairly long involvement with activities at the Finnish Labour Temple, which included historical research on the Hall and its early use among the region's Finnish immigrants, when the opportunity came up to help promote and preserve our remarkable hall, I took it.

– I work with our regular member organizations and occasional users of the hall to co-ordinate schedules for events. We are already taking bookings into 2018! In addition to working with our many groups, I have been involved in developing social media, creating educational tours of the hall, developing funding grants, and formulating policy. We want to ensure that the Finnish Labour Temple stays a fantastic venue for years to come and remains at the heart of the arts and cultural scene in Thunder Bay!

How did you get interested about the Finnish sport history in Thunder Bay?

– My research into Finnish sport history in Thunder Bay began in 2004. My main interest is in wrestling: a sport in which the Finns once held global dominance. There were many incredible Finnish immigrant wrestlers either living here before the 1930s or visiting the region on a regular basis to compete or coach. In my book, Rugged Game: Community, Culture and Wrestling at the Lakehead to 1933, I chronicled many of the wrestling-related activities undertaken by the local Finnish community.

– I have always been interested in wrestling, and prior to looking at the region, was already actively engaged in research on the sport's history. My interest in Finnish wrestling came about quite by accident: in conducting general research on the sport in Thunder Bay, I was amazed to see such an active Finnish presence. Their dominance, especially during the 1920s, was undeniable! I became more and more intrigued and tried to unearth everything that could be found on the subject. Today I not only continue to look at Finnish-Canadian involvement in wrestling but also work regularly with historians such as Jasse Junkkari in Finland, who is also doing a huge amount of research on the sport.

What kind of influence have sports had in the Finnish community and how is the situation today?

– Not only wrestling, but sport in general, has had a huge impact on the Finnish community in Canada. Back when there were many Finnish halls, they almost inevitably had a sports club associated with them. Here in Thunder Bay, in addition to the Finnish Labour Temple, there were two other halls. They, too, had their owns sports clubs. When Finnish immigrants would come to Canada to work in the logging camps, they also set up sports clubs. Sport was infused into the blood of the early immigrants and they put tremendous efforts into forming not only individual clubs but wide-reaching sporting organizations.

– Nowadays, the local Finnish sports scene is not what it was in previous generations. Certainly, Thunder Bay has many great athletes of Finnish heritage, but the forces of acculturation, among other things, have resulted in a decline in ethnically-Finnish sports organizations. However, we are trying to reinvigorate our connection to sports here at the Hall and to make our facilities more accessible to all residents of the city with an interest in sport. We have a great outdoor park, Tapiola, which has a soccer field, running track, cross country ski trail and sauna on site. Personally, I want to see a return of real, old-style professional wrestling to the hall. It is beginning to make a comeback now in the States and Great Britain, and holding events would be a great way to link the hall's storied past to its present.

What has your new job taught you so far?

– Getting to know many more members of the local Finnish community and their rich, personal ties to the hall has proven to be an incredible experience. So many people have stories of their personal involvement with the hall, or that of their parents or grandparents. I have had people who moved away 50 years ago come and visit the hall for the first time since their youth and it is wonderful to hear all the stories flooding back. I have also had people look at photos and point out relatives and tell me about them. That's the kind of history that you don't easily find in the books!

How does the future of the Labour Temple look at the moment?

– The IndieGoGo campaign for the Hall was quite successful; exceeding the amount of funding that was set as the goal. We greatly appreciate everyone's generosity. However, the Hall is not out of danger yet. We need continue to work to see that the Hall remains open and further donations, rentals, and volunteer efforts are essential.

– We have a number of events coming up during the latter half of the summer and into the fall. Cambrian Players, a theatre group which has been operating in Thunder Bay for over half a century, has just moved into the hall and they will be holding their shows in August, as well as later on in the Fall and Spring. Later in August Applauze Productions will be setting up for a series of performances and in September the 11th annual instalment of the Bay Street Film Festival commences. The hall is becoming a busy place!

Text: Nora Uotila
Photos: Archives of Nathan Hatton and Lakehead University

Read the longer version from this week's Kanadan Sanomat!

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