Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Biography: Hulda Wilhelmina Gröhn (Lindgren)

By Dianne Kilback                                                                                                                        

Hulda Wilhelmina Lindgren was born March 30, 1892 in a village called Myllymäki in Finland.  The village was on the shore of a small lake.  She was the second oldest of ten children.  Shortly after she was born, the family moved to a place called Salmi, about 50 kilometres from Helsinki.  The Lindgren family made their living farming and fishing. 

Hulda, being one of the older children, helped her father mend and make nets for fishing and sold fish from a market stall in Helsinki.  When the oldest son left for America at age seventeen, she also helped with shoeing the horses, a chore her brother normally performed.

As there were so many mouths to feed, Hulda left the farm to seek employment in the city of Helsinki and an early age.  She found an apprenticeship in a small tailor shop and began learning her trade as a tailor sewing pants and vests.  When she finished the apprenticeship, she found a job in Helsinki and began to make money.  She liked to tell about the time she received her first pay cheque.  She went to the bakery, bought a whole loaf of Pulla, went directly home, made coffee, and ate the entire loaf in celebration.

Hulda met John Gröhn while she was working in the same tailor shop in Helsinki.  They were married in 1913.  Their son, John Kalervo was born in July 1914.  Times were hard in those days.  Money was scarce, and the family lived in a small room next to the stable.  When John got a better paying job, the family moved to a spacious one-room apartment.

In 1921 John Gröhn decided to move his family to a small town called Kalajoki. Several people living in Kalajoki had been to Canada and painted a rosy picture of the opportunities in that country.  John decided that Canada was the place to seek the family fortune.  He went ahead to Fort William (now Thunder Bay). When he made enough money, sent for Hulda and his son, John Kalervo to join him.             


The family stayed in Fort William until 1924, then moved west to Vancouver.  Hulda began her life in Vancouver in a two-room cabin situated in what is now downtown Vancouver.  The cabin had wooden boards on the floor and dirt underneath.  Both Hulda and John lived there until 1925 when they moved to a better house on Hawkes Avenue.

They worked hard for a couple of years and saved enough money to buy some land on East Hastings Street. Hulda and John built a Tailor shop on East Hastings Street not far from what is now Exhibition Park.  They had taken a mortgage on the building when the depression hit in 1929.  Somehow, they managed to hold on to their property.   

They made uniforms for the Vancouver Fire Department, B. C. Electric, and the Streetcar Conductors.  They also ran a Public Sauna in the basement of their Tailor Shop.  They managed to make it through the Depression through hard work.

In 1948 Hulda and John retired from the tailoring business and took a trip to Finland.  Even though she was retired, Hulda continued to make clothes and quilts for the family and her three Grandchildren.  When money was tight with their son John’s business, Hulda always helped by buying groceries for the family.  Hulda was always available to assist with the gardening, canning and housework.  She helped with her great-grandchildren when they came along, never coming to visit without a bag of groceries.  She felt that good food was important.  Over the years, she sent many food packages to her relatives in Finland. 

Hulda was a life member of the Finnish Organization.  She participated as a member of the women’s auxiliary and helped to serve many meals from the Finnish Hall. In her later years she went to live in the Finnish Rest Home.  Her health deteriorated after falling and breaking her hip.  She died in the Burnaby extended care unit October 18, 1990 at the age of ninety-eight.

By Dianne Kilback 

Originally printed in the Canadian Friends of Finland Spring 2020 Newsletter. This is one of the benefits of being a member of the CFF – at less than $20 a year, it is a great way to help keep Finnish stories circulating.


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