Monday, May 30, 2022

Searching for Finnish-Canadian publications, films and music

Dr. Veli Niinimaa, Ph.D., was born in Revonlahti, Finland and immigrated to Toronto with his family at the age of 14 in 1964. After completing his high school education, he graduated from the University of Toronto with a BPHE (‘73), M.Sc. ('76) and Ph.D. ('79) in exercise physiology. He taught at the Universities of New Brunswick and Calgary for four years. Veli's sport career began in 1973 when he joined the University of Toronto cross-country ski team and coached it for the following five years. His organizational skills were tested when the home team hosted the annual inter-university competitions in Midland, ON. He arranged the race details, coached the team, raced, and even won a medal a few times. In 1978 Veli started in biathlon at a race at the Kitchener Pioneer Range.

The Toronto Sisu skiers also liked this new sport, so he organized a series of biathlon competitions in Southern Ontario, including in Udora (Finnish Club north of Toronto). He went on to win three Canadian Championship medals. Officiating started in earnest after Niinimaa moved to Calgary in 1980. The city was just putting a bid together for the 1988 Olympics. Veli was called upon to provide biathlon “expertise” to the Bid Committee. Yes, he knew how to spell the name of the sport. After the bid to the IOC was successful, then the work started. A new location with snow had to be found, a master plan for the new Canmore Nordic area needed to be developed, 220 officials recruited and trained. Veli Niinimaa and Ray Kokkonen developed the biathlon officials training program in 1985 and both also qualified as International Referees. The last step in the preparations for hosting the Olympic Games was the hosting of a series of training competitions ranging from Alberta Cups to national championships and culminating with the pre-Olympic World Cup.

The key Olympic appointments were made early, so OCO'88 appointed Veli Niinimaa as the Biathlon Chairman in 1982. With extensive planning and training, the Olympic Biathlon competitions went very well. The tough East German Technical Delegate called the event "the first professionally organized Olympic Games biathlon competitions,'. Veli spent seven years preparing for the Olympic competitions and 14 years (1984-1998) on the Executive Boards of UIPMB (Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne et Biathlon), which became the International Biathlon Union (IBU). During his officiating career, he organized many provincial events, Canadian and North American Championships, three IBU Cups, two World Jr. Champs, four World Cups and the biathlon competitions in the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.

Lasting contacts with the Finnish community started with the Toronto Sisu pesäpallo team in I977 and continued with two terms on the Finnish Canadian Cultural Federation Board and as the Chairman of the 1983 and 2002 Calgary Finnish-Canadian Grand Festivals. He produced two plays, Miehet asialla and Pöytäkirja, with the Vancouver Finlandia Club Theatre group. He also produced Dear Lotta and The Shipbuilder with the Toronto Finnish Theatre, and the Kalevala-based musical theatre production, The Sampo, with a local company. Veli sang with the Calgary Finlandia Club mixed choir and the cappella group Finntastics. Veli's latest efforts with Finnish culture have consisted of presentations at the Canadian and US summer Festivals from 2001 on. He has served as the Canadian Vice Chairman of the Finnish Expatriate Parliament for five years starting in 2007, then as the Chairman from 2012-2017, and he was re-elected again until 2021.

Veli’s hobbies have included scuba diving, licensed pilot in 1977, genealogy, sailing, hunting, motorcycling, curling and recreational cross- country skiing in the mountains. Dr. Niinimaa has authored and/or published 2l books, one translation, two chapters, l7 refereed scientific articles, and over 100 newspaper magazine articles. Topics have varied with interests at the time, ranging from biathlon to coaching, officiating, family history and Finnish-Canadians.  He shares his life with his wife Gail and their two daughters, Lisa and Sara. He is the proud grandfather of twins Isla and Barrett.

Dr. Niinimaa is currently compiling an extensive catalogue of Finnish Canadian publications, films/TV series and music.  The purpose of this program is two-fold, first to recognize creativity in those areas, and secondly to collect the information into a single source, primarily to help researchers to find all possible reference materials easily. 

This project is limited to publications such as books and other printed material such as newspapers, magazines, club newsletters, almanacs etc.  The publications must be published by or about Finnish Canadians.  Films and TV series must have some creative contribution by the acknowledged person.  The music section will consist of pieces composed or recorded by Canadian Finns.

Working with researchers throughout Canada, about 1,600 entries have been catalogued thus far.  This is a very appropriate project during COVID-19, as all work is done remotely via internet or by telephone.

About 900 books have been catalogued now, written by authors such as Ernest Hekkanen, Nelson, BC with 51 books, followed by Kaarina Brooks, Alliston, ON, Kallie George, Vancouver and Helena Puumala, Edmonton, AB.  Over 160 other publications have been located, starting with the newspaper Aika in Nanaimo and Sointula, BC, in 1901.  Of the nearly 100 Finnish Canadian newspapers and magazines published over time, only about half a dozen is still going.

You will likely be surprised to learn that the Finns have made a major contribution in the motion picture field.  The recently departed Arvi Liimatainen, Vancouver, was involved in 44 films and TV series, producing or directing 145 episodes.  The Karvonen family, Boyle, AB has produced 160 documentaries, which have been shown in over 150 countries.  Daughter Ava has been involved with 70 TV series episodes.  Kelly Saxberg, Thunder Bay, has over 20 films on her merit list.

In the music department, Dr. Jan Järvlepp, Ottawa, has composed over 80 pieces for orchestras and small ensembles.  More info on the above stars and other Finn accomplishments is available at

The items recorded so far are found at  If you know of any Finnish Canadian publications, films or music not on the list, please forward the information to Veli.  The items needed are the author’s name, publication title, year published, number of pages and ISBN number, if available.  The forwarding e-mail address is Veli ( @ )  If you have any questions, Veli can be contacted at (403) 282-5320.  Monet kiitokset!

By Dr.  Veli Niinimaa – President – Finnish Expatriate Parliament

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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