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Discovering the truth about Eli Kiviaho

November 8, 2005

This is pure speculation on my part, but it is a good theory I think.

Back in August 2003, I had the good fortune to attend a public lecture series in Helsinki on the history of Finland at the University of Helsinki. So for eight weekday evenings a group of about 60 of us took in the lectures of American Jason Lavery (PhD.), an authoritative voice on Finnish history.

It was during one of these lectures that I suddenly realized why my great grandfather Eli (Eeli) Kiviaho had left Finland in 1910 to go and make a life for himself in Canada. He was only 17 years old and in 1910 Finland was still a part of the Grand Duchy of Russia. Finland finally became an independent country in 1917. But there it was like a bolt of lightning – Eli had left Finland to avoid being conscripted into the Russian army, where he would have been nothing more than cannon fodder.

Since I moved to Finland over seven years ago I have tried to track down some of my family history in Finland. I have some wonderful relatives who have helped me round up oodles of information. But for the rest of my family in Canada even nowadays, it has always been a source of speculation as to how and why Eli left Finland when he did. Now I can tell them with fair certainty that he went to Canada to save his life!

He died in 1980, long before I ever had a chance to know him, but Vapaa Sana put it best when they published his obituary. I kid you not; he was one of the most famous hunters in all of northeastern Ontario. This is a rough translation from a book (re)compiled in 2004 by Jorma Rantala about the Lypsiinmaa family, evidently of which I am member – somewhere along the line!

"Many people from the Lypsiinmaa family have moved to America over the times; either to the United States or Canada. Many times knowledge of their whereabouts ends with the move from Finland. But there was one person about whom there was more than information, Eeli Konstanpoika (Konsta’s son) Kiviaho. He was the superman of his age and the following was written about him:

He moved to Canada in 1910 and worked in Creighton’s mines for 52 years without any problems from stone dust. Most of the time, he worked as a mechanic. On top of that he had quite a big farm to run with his family and he hunted fur animals with guns and traps. Eeli was one of those Finnish men who we can respectfully call “pitchy stump”. His hobbies included cross-country skiing and he was good at it. For practice he skied down wolves with his heavy 4-inch skies. Just before six hours were up the wolf normally sweltered. He also used to run from the mine to home, 10 miles in 1.5 hours, and then started working on the farm. One time when he was skiing, his pole got stuck in the ground and he could not get it out of the hole. He started to dig it out and noticed that he was face to face with a bear. He was on top of the bear’s den and the bear had taken a grip on his ski pole. He shot the bear on the spot. He went back to a hunting camp close by to get help to carry the bear. When he got back with his friends they heard sounds from the nest. There were two more bears and both were shot. (This is a shortened story from Vapaa Sana magazine from Canada in 1980. The final comment in the magazine was: This is how the story was told and Eeli never denied it.)"

The Finnish Institute of Migration has done phenomenal work in the last few years to get records of Finnish emigrants on-line. If you have family history in Finland, you might want to check it out at:

Picture: Eli in the 1950’s when he saw his brother Vihtori in Pohjanmaa for the first time in almost 40 years. (Taken by Alpo Kiviaho)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Diana permalink
    November 12, 2005 1:35 am

    my relatives, too, came to Canada for the same reason – many of them changed/altered their last names as they were afraid that they would get sent back and some of them were illiterate and the Canadian government’s version of their names was less than accurate. Through my geneaological work, I have discovered that Finns are really interested in their own histories and have accurate and excellent records. Also try the Mormon Church records – really good! I think you have to go to the Church of Latter Day Saints – everything is in their database now.good story you have of Eeli! worth a movie somewhere in there!


  1. So why Finland? II (travel log entries continued) | Life in Finland (and beyond)

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