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Finlandia Association warns it is in dire financial straits

THUNDER BAY – For more than 100 years the Finnish Labour Temple has served as a cultural hub in the city.
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The local Finlandia Club is dealing with significant financial pressures and is under threat of closing, says the association's treasurer. (Matt Vis, tbnewswatch.com)

THUNDER BAY – For more than 100 years the Finnish Labour Temple has served as a cultural hub in the city.

Yet, just as it receives recognition from the federal government, members of the board overseeing it and the popular Hoito Restaurant are raising concerns that closure could be imminent.

Kelly Saxberg, treasurer of the Finlandia Association, said the organization is in dire financial straits.

“We’re facing substantial debt and challenges that came as a result of renovations that were necessary. The new roof, heating system and wheelchair accessibility but we’re struggling,” she said.

“We need everybody’s help to make sure this place does not close. I’m telling you, as the treasurer, we are that close.”

The temple has been designated by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada as a site of national historic significance, with a ceremony taking place Saturday morning that included the unveiling of the plaque that will be featured along Bay Street.

The distinctive landmark was built in 1910, serving as a key gathering place for two major Finnish groups.

It hosted many labour meetings and was a local centre for the early years of the Canadian labour movement.

Mauri Ahokas emigrated from Finland in the 1950s, arriving in Thunder Bay and joining the rich Finnish heritage already existing in the city.

The longtime board member and volunteer said the building was a sort of town hall for the local Finnish community.

“This was the place to meet with your friends and families as well,” Ahokas said. “You had a lot of people involved with your favourite events that happened here at the hall.”

Now it is more of a modern space, hosting multiple film festivals as well as other various comedy, music, entertainment shows.

But costly renovations, such as more than $2 million of retrofitting to make the hall accessible, and the ill-fated Embassy bar and bistro have combined with more competition for the Hoito, a cooperative enterprise have threatened its future.

Saxberg wants to see the hall continue to be a community fixture for the next 100 years but said it will take the whole city to help.

“It’s not just for Finns. It’s for all of us in the community of Thunder Bay and this is a national treasure, we have the plaque to prove it,” she said.