Wherever Finns settled, as their communities grew, they built halls so they could gather and pursue their cultural and social activities. Beaver Lake was no exception. The first Finnish immigrants settled in Beaver Lake in 1912…and the rest is history. Beaver Lake became well known for it’s theatre, musicians, sports and for being a ‘ Finn community’. Once the land had been cleared, homes, barns and saunas built, the next building erected during 1917 – 18 was ‘The Hall’. In 1924 a new addition was added. Hydro wasn’t connected until 1950. The Hall was lit with oil lamps, and a big wood-burning box stove stood in the corner. In the winter, the first to arrive lit the fire as it took a long time to heat the building! Many play practices and meetings were conducted huddled around the stove. Downstairs was the ‘ravintola’ (cafeteria) where the coffee pot was never empty, Otto Swan was the coffee ‘brewmaster’ and nisua was always in abundance! On ski race or Juhla (festival) days, one could enjoy suolakala sandwiches (salt fish) and mojakkaa (stew) – Finn staples! The Hall also served as the school from 1918 -1926. The ‘new’ school is now the Beaver Lake Sports and Cultural Centre. Theatre was always prominent in Beaver Lake. Before the Hall was built, plays were presented in ‘open air’ theatre. The backdrop was nature itself with props added to complete the scenes. They were performed in midsummer when the days were long. People attended even if they had to run home to do chores, then returned to enjoy the evening festivities often until the wee hours of the morning. Admission ranged from $.25 - $.35. The 30’s were active as children matured, a new generation of actors emerged performing alongside their peers and parents. The Hall was closed down from 1939 – 1944. During these years, social events were held at people’s homes to raise money for our troops and send the athletes and skiers to sporting events elsewhere. No plays were performed. When the Hall reopened in 1944 , the first performance was in February, ‘Martella’ directed by Mari Johnson. Over 60 performances were staged between 1918 – 1957., cast members numbered over 80. Numerous individuals assisted behind the scenes - the set designers and builders, the stage crew, costume seamstresses, make up artists and musicians. The prompters, Aune Saarela, Laura Krats and Onerva Manninen who come to mind, sat hidden in a sunken cubbyhole at the front of the stage, the lighting was a small oil lamp. It must have been hot in summer and cold in winter sitting there during the performance! My grandmother Mari Personen Johnson was a graduate of Suomi College in Hancock, MI and my grandfather Matti Johnson, was a musician (violin and keyboard), an avid reader, a ‘Jack of All Trades’. Together they introduced and encouraged their young children to embrace the theatre, music, books and to listen to the radio to broaden their horizons. Both had been active in theatre before moving to Beaver Lake so it was not a coincidence that the younger Johnson clan became ‘thespians’ performing in Beaver Lake and Sudbury. In one play titled ‘Marietta’, staged in 1949, 7 members of the Johnson clan were on stage and my grandfather was the stage manager. Mari Johnson began her directing career in 1944. Having been on stage since 1914 and under the guidance of distinguished directors, she learned and honed her skills. Having a musical background and a beautiful voice, she taught the vocals accompanied on accordion by Vaino Manninen and in later years by Leo Niemi. By popular demand, several plays were not only performed in Beaver Lake, the troupe traveled to Wanup, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie. The most reknown plays shown outside of Beaver Lake were Tukkijoilla, (Log Drive), ‘ Mustalais Manja’, (Manja the Gypsy Girl), and’ Marietta’. The Johnson children Laila (Rintamaki), and Bill were very young when they began acting – under very good direction wouldn’t you say! Both were vocalists starring in several musicals, often co-starring. Their youngest sibling Allan, who was much younger, and Laila’s daughter Hellen were also in several productions. In 1957, Katupeilin Takana (Around the Corner ) was the last play Mari Johnson directed. Under the mentorship of her mother Mari, Laila was handed the reins, directing her first play, ‘Helsingittaria Maalla’, in 1948. She continued to act and direct in Beaver Lake. During the mid 30’s and early 40’s, while Laila lived in Sudbury, she continued to act and holds the record for the most stage performances. During the late 40’s – 1957, she continued to act and direct. Moving back to Sudbury in the mid 80’s, she directed two plays. On October 11, 1958, the Hall burned mysteriously. Unfortunately, all the sports memorabilia, the props, costumes, furnishings - everything perished. A new Hall was erected on the same site and theatre continued on a smaller scale. As time passed, the young people either moved away or lost interest and the Finnish population dwindled as ‘new’ people moved to the area. The veterans could no longer carry on so the vibrant theatre scene of earlier years faded away, only pictures and memories of these productions remain. However, in the past few years, theatre has been resurrected by a new generation of Beaver Lakers and they perform at the Beaver Lake Club. Kudos…This group has written its own material, the performances have been a Beaver Lake ‘soap opera’! They are hilarious.!!! Don’t miss the next performance! Now, this was ‘My Beaver Lake’…. My parents Laila and Onni Rintamaki, ran the General Store and my dad drove the ‘milk truck’, he picked up and delivered the farmers’ milk cans to the dairies. He also picked up the ‘orders’ the locals wanted from Sudbury. Most purchases were from Kallios Hardward store of Cochranes. I often accompanied my dad…those were the ‘chocolate milk from 4 dairies treat days’ and then…a hamburger from Kresgees. But ‘store bought milk’ tasted awful!!!! I was accunstomed to ‘fresh from the farm’ milk! White bread….not as good as home-made rye bread. ‘City kid’ friends would say…’Oh you live in the sticks’, or asked, ‘What do you do there?’ What these people didn’t realize is, our lives were ‘rich’. Children in those days weren’t babysat, we went with our parents to whatever function was happening at the Hall or we went ‘visiting’ other families with our parents. For some of us, going to the Hall was often several times a week…..plays, rehearsals, variety nights, dances, meetings, gymnastics, weddings and even funerals. We youngsters learned to dance at an early age and when we tired, Vaino Manninen’s accordion music lulled us to sleep as we scrunched up on the props, couches and chairs behind the stage curtain.. As we grew older, Johnnie Passi Jr. was our dance partner. He was busy, all of us girls and only one boy who could/would dance! The next day after an event, Jackie Krats and I would go to the hall parking lot and find loose change that had fallen out of pockets…probably when the men had pulled out a ‘mickey’ in order to have a little ‘snort’. – the Hall was ‘dry’ in those days!!!! In the winter we were either skating on Beaver Lake or skiing, training for the next race. Many kids even skied to school. No one was driven to school, and there weren’t any school buses. Several Canadian X-country Champions and an Olympian hail from Beaver Lake. In summer months, the Kentta (Athletic Field) was the gathering place for the youth and serious athletes of the community. We practiced our sports techniques, coached by Niko Piispanen , preparing for the Kesa and Syys Juhlat (Summer and fall sports and song festivals). Saturday was the sports meet, a play was performed that evening followed by a dance and Sunday, the finals of the previous days events were completed. The Liito Juhlat was ‘Our Olympics’! (Federation Festival). To compete in this annual event, athletes from several sports clubs traveled to Northern Ontario communities or to Tarmola in Toronto, to compete against clubs within the Federation. We were proud members of Jehu. As avid young athletes as we were, as soon as Niko was out of sight, we played softball or if my Uncle Allan had the ‘Star’ (vehicle), a bunch of us would pile into the back and we’d go swimming to Swan’s Shore at Beaver Lake, under the watchful eye of Taito Swan. He’d sit on the rock, smoke his cigarette and laugh at our shenanigans. His father, Otto, often lit the sauna to warm us up before we headed home. Many of us kids spent evenings at play practice while our parents rehearsed. We played outside until dark and then came inside and watched rehearsals. By ‘show time’ we knew practically everyone’s roles! Shirley Ronka Benson and I seemed to be the regulars as our parents were in most of the plays. I recall one play, (Auto Tytto), my mom had to slap Walfred Ronka. This didn’t happen during rehearsals; however, on performance night mom did slap Walfred. Shirley was angry with me because my mom slapped her dad! But all was forgiven, we are still best of friends! The Variety Nights featured local talent. The programme consisted of skits, musical numbers, both vocal and instrumental, recitations, calisthenics, performances on the parallel bars, the high bars and tumbling acts. The evening was entertaining to say the least. Another ‘huge’ event was the School Children’s Christmas Concert. The Grade VIII boys would find the biggest and finest tree from John Luopa’s farm which took the Grade VIII girls days to decorate it. We rehearsed for weeks learning the roles for the short play which sometimes was translated into Finn by the senior students. I remember one play in particular when Sulo Salo was allowed to smoke on stage..WOW!!!! We performed skits, practiced our vocal and instrumental numbers, memorized Christmas carols, the girls perfected the ‘vaaka’ (gymnastics pose) and learned dance numbers under the leadership of Laila Rintamaki, Pirkko Salminen and Ellen Wirtanen. We were taught Kansalis Tanhuja (folk dances), but Finns can also do the Highland Fling! The Finale - Santa Claus was the Guest of Honour lugging a sackful of gifts. Then everyone went downstairs for the traditional coffee and bun. A teacher once asked us why we brought coffee in our thermos bottles, why not hot chocolate? We all looked at one another in bewilderment and replied…’Why? We like coffee’! I remember people coming to the Hall in a horse-drawn sleigh or wagon, some walked and others arrived in automobiles. In winter, the horses donned blankets, ate their hay and enjoyed sugar lumps we kids snuck from the ravintola. The hall was filled to capacity, it was exciting even for us youngsters. We dressed in our Sunday best and the community came together to ‘visit’ and get caught up on the latest news and do some bartering. The youngest and oldest residents attended most functions. At evening’s end, we’d see Jonas Kivi with his lantern flickering in the dark, walking all the way home to Lake Wabaghesik. We kids called him ‘Lyhty Jonas, ) (Jonas with the Lantern’). When we saw Vic Makinen get in his truck, we got out of his way – he spun his tires and gravel flew! Martti Piispanen, with a sugar lump clenched between his teeth, drank his coffee out of the saucer! When Kalle Honkanen performed on the high bars, we were certain his heels would hit the ceiling! Wilma Ronka often performed a comedic pantomime number, it was always a hit. Several ‘characters’ lived in Beaver Lake …they were unique and are, to this day, unforgettable. Thinking back to those times, I realize how lucky we were to have grown up at the Hall, at the Kentta, Beaver Lake in general We didn’t have all the bells and whistles kids have today, but our lives were full of activity, we had never heard of the word ‘bored’. In this tightly-knit community, we knew everyone, there were no strangers- and we were safe. We certainly didn’t miss anything, because--- we ‘had it all’! Nothing is more wonderful than happy memories of a childhood ‘well spent’. Ann Rintamaki Pomerleau Historical references: Better Known as Beaver Lake Sisu Stumps and Sugar Lumps.
Just wanted to share with you the recent improvements to the rest stop in Beaver Lake. They are late in installing these ,but, are still a welcome addition to this location. I will continue to press for future improvements understanding that these locations are often tourists first and last impressions of our city.Thank You to Ian Wood for helping make this request a reality and to Brenda Salo for not letting this request be forgotten.