The Finns of Webster’s Corners

The original Sampola Farm commune in 1910, showing L to R, the house; the swing with two adults and two children; a combination mess hall and sauna (behind the slope of land); a cottage. The woman holding her baby daughter Sylvia is Mrs. Mini Teppo. The other woman is her sister Mrs. Hilja Toikka.

The early Finnish population in Webster’s Corners arrived not from Finland, but from Malcolm Island in the straits between northern Vancouver Island and the BC mainland.  At Malcolm Island, Matti Kurikka, a Finnish radical, founded an idealistic agrarian society for which the Kalevan Kansa Colonization Company was incorporated in 1901.  The Finnish settlement on Malcolm Island was named Sointula, meaning Haven of Harmony. However, the difficulty of rural life, the indebtedness of the community’s incorporated company and a major fire resulted the end of Kurikka’s involvement in the Sointula commune, and a large portion of the Finnish population there departed.

The original Sampola farm house became the Bell family home when the commune split up.

In 1904 and 1905 many of them came to Webster’s Corners after Kurrika was able to acquire a shingle bolt contract at Webster’s Corners. The initial group consisted of the Puska, Skytte, Nikander, Teppo, Bell, Hendrickson, Pederson, Anderson, Kartu and Karst families. At first, the group lived in a campsite that was left behind by previous Chinese settlers. Working together closely to ensure survival during the first severely cold winter in Webster’s Corners, the settlers named themselves Sammon Takojat, which is taken from a Finnish folk legend meaning ‘forgers of the place of the Sampo.’  Sampo is the name of a mythical and bountiful mill from the Finnish epic poem Kalevala.

In a short time, the Sointula émigrés managed to earn extra money by renting out fishing boats and pooled their money together to purchase a 159-acre farm, which they operated as a commune, with everyone working together for collective and not private profit. The land, bought for $2700, was bounded by Dewdney Trunk Road on the north and Webster Road [256th Street] on the east. The settlers named their premises Sampola, place of the Sampo.

With a successful farming venture added to the shingle bolt work, the community quickly prospered and more families moved into the area. However, after seven years the growth of families overwhelmed the resources of the commune and it disbanded. In 1913 the land was subdivided amongst the families and one acre was set aside for the construction of Sampo Hall.

The Jack Tanttari house was used for the meetings and social events of the Kalevala Brothers and Sisters, a benevolent Finnish Lodge. The Webster’s Corner chapter was organized on April 27, 1927. Pictured is a lodge picnic with people gathered on the front porch and steps of the house in 1932. The house was also used during the war years when the hall was closed up.

Though the collective aspect of the settlement was abandoned, the tight-knit ethnic group continued to cooperate and assist one another. While there were “many hard times in Webster’s Corners,” recalls Minda Leponiemi, “and more for some than for others, but there were always neighbours willing to help out.” Resident Ada Rauma was known to say “if you’re a Finn, you’re related.”  In times of conflict or adversity, Finns generally appealed to the idea of sisu, a Finnish word which exemplifies determination and resilience in response to stress.

Historian Sheila Nickols notes that many of the Finnish children who attended Webster’s Corners School did not speak any English, as at home and in their community everyone spoke Finnish. However, most of the children quickly learned the language.  The Sampo Hall hosted community dances and celebrations, and these were famous throughout Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, attracting many people of non-Finnish descent.

A picnic at Sampola in 1912. Large group of Finnish people all wearing their finest clothes and hats.

The Finnish population in Webster’s Corners were mostly engaged in chicken tending and other types of farming, much of which they could sell at the co-op store which they organized in 1931.

In 1985, a commemorative gathering took place at Sampo Hall to mark the 80th anniversary of the Finnish settlers that came and pioneered in Webster’s Corners. The Finnish Organization of Canada, who sponsored the event, provided refreshments following a series of speeches and the commemoration of a stone monument in the area “as a lasting tribute to the Finnish settlers.”  Many people of Finnish heritage continue to live in the district. The stone now has place of honour in Webster’s Corners Park which is located on the former Sampola farm.