FinnFest chair gives history, overview

HANCOCK – The celebration of Finnish culture and heritage known as FinnFest will be hosted by the city of Hancock and communities from Copper Harbor to Covington from June 17 to 23, and this year the event will have a special significance, according to Jim Kurtti.

“This is the 30th anniversary year,” said Kurtti, director of the Finnish American Heritage Center at Finlandia University, and chair of FinnFest USA 2013.

FinnFest began in 1983 in Minneapolis, mostly due to the efforts of two people, Kurtti said.

“They were inspired by Canada,” he said.

Kurtti said the Canada Grand Fest has taken place since the 1930s, and the two creators of FinnFest in Minneapolis used that as a template for FinnFest.

This isn’t the first time for FinnFest locally, Kurtti said. In 1976, Suomi College conducted what they called Finn Fest to coincide with the nation’s bicentennial celebrations. However, that was just intended as a one-time thing. In 1985 and 1990, Suomi hosted the FinnFest USA celebrations. It took place at Northern Michigan University in Marquette in 1996 and 2005, also.

Kurtti said to be considered as a host city for FinnFest, representatives of the community must put in a bid to the FinnFest USA board in Minneapolis, or get an invitation from the board.

“Sometimes the FinnFest board suggests a community put in a bid,” he said.

Since the remembrance of the 1913-14 copper miners’ strike will also take place this summer, Kurtti said the FinnFest USA board thought it would be a good idea to have FinnFest locally, also.

“The Finns were very involved in the labor movement,” he said.

Of the 73 people who died in the Italian Hall tragedy on Dec. 24, 1913, Kurtti said 55 were Finns.

This year, Kurtti said FinnFest begins June 17 with registration for those who haven’t already done so online or with a paper registration form. There are also tours of various sites planned, as well as presentations of art.

“We have about 23 exhibits,” he said.

Representatives of a hunting and trapping museum from Finland will give a presentation, also, Kurtti said. There will be demonstrations of Finnish log construction.

A large tori, or market place, will open June 19 at the Michigan Technological University Student Development Complex, Kurtti said. This is a much larger version of the tori, which takes place in Hancock beginning in May and closing in October. There will be 150 tables at the SDC tori, and 96 percent of them have been reserved.

“They’re just about full,” he said.

Also at the SDC on June 19, Kurtti said there will be people available to conduct genealogical searches, live music performances all day and a children’s area.

June 20 is the 1913 Theme day, Kurtti said, and it will include gatherings at the Italian Hall site on Seventh Street in Calumet followed by processions to the Calumet Theatre to attend the Red Metal radio show, and to St. Paul Catholic Church for a requiem for victims of the Italian Hall tragedy.

June 22 is the Midsummer Theme, which Kurtti said recognizes the arrival of the first Finns to the Copper Country in Hancock on the first day of summer 1865. The summer solstice is known as Midsummer in Finland.

The schedule for FinnFest USA 2013 was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the arrival of the first Finns to the area, and to avoid conflict with other summer events which may take place in July.

“We were responding to our local business community,” he said.

FinnFest wraps up June 22, Kurtti said, with special church services, including a service presented by the Suomi Conference from Finland at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church on West Quincy Street in Hancock. There will also be a Finnish-language service by the Laestadian Lutherans at the Finnish American Heritage Center.

Kurtti said FinnFest USA 2013 organizers have been working on the local version for about three years, and they’re excited it’s almost a reality.

“Some days, we compare it to having a baby,” he said. “It’s going to come.”

For more specific information about FinnFest USA 2013, including times, dates and locations for events, visit