THUNDER BAY - With historical items being removed from the Finnish Labour Temple, members of the Finlandia Association continue to question the transparency of the board and why it is moving to liquidate the corporation as more details emerge surrounding its financial situation.
Last week it was revealed the Finlandia Association plans to hold a private, members-only meeting online this week, where a motion will be presented to liquidate the corporation.
According to information shared by association members with Dougall Media, the association has an outstanding mortgage debt of $295,000 with the Royal Bank of Canada.
Liberal MPP Michael Gravelle sent a letter to the RBC ombudsman, as well as several provincial and federal ministers, expressing concerns over the situation involving the Finlandia Association. The letter also states the Finlandia Association qualified for the Canada Emergency Business Account funds as part of the COVID-19 relief efforts.
“My understanding is the association did apply for a federal loan under some of the new COVID-19 rules and were accepted by the government but were turned down by their financial institution,” Gravelle said.
“I did get a response from the bank who said they would be reviewing the matter. That gave me some encouragement, but I haven’t heard anything since then. I did write them twice. The challenge for me is I don’t have any authority to tell what the banks what to do.”
RBC was contacted to provide clarification on the the debt. A spokesperson said the matter is being looked into but did not provide comment.
On Tuesday, the Thunder Bay Finnish-Canadian Historical Society, which is affiliated with the Finlandia Association, removed items from the building on Bay Street.
“This is just a really sad moment for all of Thunder Bay,” said Anneli Tolvanen, president of the Kiikurit Folk Dancing Group and a member of the Finlandia Association.
“This is a 110-year-old institution that has provided extensively, without stop, for all those years multiple services and programs and assistance and sporting activities and cultural activities. It’s done lots of wonderful things in this community and has been part of everyone’s life in Thunder Bay for a really long time.”
Tolvanen said it is tragic this decision is being made now during a pandemic and is being done through a virtual meeting.
“A call should be sent out very loudly that there needs to be a moratorium on bank foreclosures, that this shouldn’t be happening in this way at all,” she said. “It is absolutely obscene that this decision has to be made in this way. This is not something that benefits the community. When the fog of the pandemic lifts and we lost places like this, we are going to be very sorry.”
Other members have expressed concerns regarding the process. Ulla Ahokas said Wednesday evening's scheduled meeting goes against the board’s bylaws, and in an email she shared with Dougall Media questioned the board about why members have not been kept up to date on the organization's situation, the steps the board has taken to improve the situation, and why such an important meeting is being held now when the majority of members will not be able to attend.
A Finlandia Association spokesman said they will not comment publically until after the meeting.
Kelly Saxberg,chair of the Finnish-Canadian Cultural Federation, president of Friends of the Finnish Labour Temple, and past treasurer of the Finlandia Association, said the association has been in dire financial trouble for years, and the board is not being transparent.
“Now for the Finlandia Association to call a meeting, with short notice, and they are having it on Zoom, the majority of the members can’t attend,” she said. “Especially seniors and people who have dedicated decades of service as volunteers.”
“How can you take advantage of the COVID situation to not have this discussed openly with transparency in front of the community?”, she asked.
The Finnish Labour Temple was built in 1910, while the Finlandia Association was established in 1962. The building served as a meeting place for Finnish labourers for decades, and the popular Hoito Restaurant became a staple in the community.
According to Saxberg, the association has been in financial trouble before, but the community and government funding kept it going.
“We knew for a fact that we could count on all levels of government and the community to step up and save the place,” she said. “Why that isn’t being done now, I have no idea.”
“They didn’t make one attempt. They have been pretending for the last three years that everything is fine.”
Saxberg added the financial situation the organization now finds itself in did not occur overnight, saying steps should have been taken to prevent this from ever happening.
“Right from the very beginning, this place has had a fully democratic method of operating itself,” she said. “They are the true owners of this building. It’s the community and it has always been that way. Why it is now going to be taken over by a bank, I don’t know.”
Tolvanen will participate in the online meeting, where she hopes to get a better understanding of the current situation and what other members are saying.
She hopes something can be done, and that perhaps various levels of government can intervene.
“To stop the foreclosure, to buy time, to refocus, to probe just what this means to our community,” she said. “We need time to think about that. There is a lot of energy and a lot of goodwill out there and people would like to have that chance.”
The members-only meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday via Zoom. There are currently 94 registered members of the Finlandia Association.