Adam (Aatami) and Hilma Louhela and family

Aino, Hilma, Eva, Sulo, Helmi, Adam, Laura Louhela, 1932
Written by Canmore Museum

Early in 1913, Aatami Louhelainen and his young wife, Hilma, pondered their future in Karelia, Finland and decided that Canada held more promise for them. Aatamis’ sister, Anna Liisa, and her husband, Olli Turunen, had emigrated to Canmore in 1905. She had written to encourage  her younger brothers, Aatami and Alarik, to emigrate.

In the spring of 1913, Aatami proceeded across the Atlantic Ocean to check out the truth of the glowing snippets of news about Canada, leaving behind his pregnant young wife and three year old son, Sulo. Crossing the vast and underdeveloped land, Aatami, now Adam, dreamed of future opportunities for his young family. He quickly arranged to have Hilma and Sulo follow him to Canada.

Imagine for a moment the feelings of a pregnant mother with an energetic three year old in tow, leaving behind all her family, friends, and homeland. She boarded a ship in Helsinki, just a year after the sinking of the Titanic. It took a week to cross the same Atlantic Ocean and another week on the train from Halifax, heading for the small mining town of Canmore in the distant Rockies. All this with absolutely no knowledge of any of the languages encountered enroute.

Hilma and Sulo arrived safely after the never-to-be-forgotten voyage, and were happily reunited with Adam. They soon realized that the promises of a glowing future needed much effort, courage and determination on their part. They had a Finnish English dictionary and a grammar book which they studied at home. Hilma practised the English words before venturing to the “Mine Company” store to buy her groceries. They were determined to become Canadian citizens and to prepare their children for the challenges of their adopted country. The often overwhelming homesickness was relieved in the traditional saunas, rug making bees, coffee parties, sports days and concerts, plays and dances at the Finn Hall. There was a very active temperance group and their meetings were held at the hall. 

The Finns were great visitors. They were also great hosts. Often after a busy summer Hilma would invite all the out-of-town visitors. She was always pleased that friends wanted to visit. The family thought nothing of sleeping on the floor so that guests would have a bed. 

Hilma, with her strong Lutheran background, found joy as well as a musical way to improve her English in her attendance and active participation in the life of the Canmore Presbyterian, and later, United Church. 

Hilma humorously recalled her first experience with Halloween shortly after her arrival in Canada. She noted that the little visitors had gathered apples in their pillow cases. She didn’t have any apples, but she could not send them away empty handed, so she gave them potatoes! After that first experience, she was always prepared for Halloween and enjoyed distributing apples. 

Canadian customs and language presented many humorous situations for new immigrants. An incident Hilma delighted in retelling involved a farmer who came to her door selling geese. Hilma heard him say “skis” for there are no consonant combinations in the Finnish language. The poor farmer stood perplexed as Hilma explained that, as a  girl in Finland, she would step on to her “kees” at the door and be off down the hills but she no longer (skied) keed in Canmore. He turned away scratching his head, and no sale! Only later, Hilma learned from a neighbor that the farmer was selling geese. 

Adam, shoulder to shoulder with other miners of a multitude of ethnic backgrounds, probed, blasted and mined the depths of the Rockies for the then prime source of energy – coal. 

The family, for whom they planned and sacrificed, increased and responded to the promises and opportunities. The “Great Depression” dimmed some of their hopes, but the children were always encouraged in their studies. Door to door salesmen selling books always had a sale if they said, “These will help your children with their school work,” and so the family acquired a set of encyclopedia.

Adam was always proud that his family was never “on relief”. He had many skills with which he used to barter. He sharpened saws and made frames for saws in exchange for haircut or a shoe repair. 

Hilma recycled flour and sugar sacks into sheets and pillow cases, embellished with embroidery or applique. She saved “store” string, which she crocheted into dish rags, or combined the string with other yarns to make rugs. Some of her rugs are still in use. She sewed and knitted for a little extra cash. Her knit socks were in big demand by bachelor miners.

Hilma and Adam had a strong work ethic. No work was too menial; they gave their best effort to every task.

Hilma, in the best Karelian tradition, carefully prepared each of her children for school by teaching them to read and write. The Louhela children did not disappoint their eager and proud parents. They attained excellent scholastic standings and were recipients of the R.B. Bennett awards.

Sulo born in Finland, October 14, 1910.

Despite Sulo’s excellent standing and great promise, he could not be persuaded to continue with his schooling. He left school at age fourteen to work in the mine to augment the family income. His mathematical prowess, his voracious appetite for books, and his abiding interest in mining, combined to earn him respect as a prospector and qualification and competence as a hard rock coal miner and pit boss. Adam, even as a victim of black lung (silicosis), causing his early death Sept. 8, 1938, would have been proud of Sulo’s attainments.

Sulo married Florence Balla in 1936. They had two children, Gary, born in 1937 and Gayle, in 1942.

Gary attended S.A.I.T. where he studied mechanics. He worked for Loders’ Lime for a brief period, and then for Canmore Mines until the mine closed in 1979. From 1979 to 1983 Gary worked for Parks Canada until he became too ill to work. He died of cancer in February, 1986.

Gary married Barbara Crosbie of Exshaw in 1958. They had three daughters: Lori, Terryl and Kathie. Lori is a parole officer in Edmonton. Terryl is a respiratory therapist in Calgary. Kathie was a nutritional advisor at Michener Centre in Red Deer. Presently she is pursuing a degree in business at Red Deer College.

Gayle, with her father’s mathematical prowess, worked at C.I.B.C. in Banff and for the Dept. of Public Works. She married Dan MacDonald in 1962. After moving to Calgary, Gayle continued her banking career at Canada Trust for nineteen years. Dan and Gayle have two sons, Brett and Grant, and two grandchildren. Brett works in maintenance and Grant is a civil engineer.

Eva born in Canmore, Dec. 29, 1913

Eva went to Normal School in Calgary and pursued a successful career as a teacher, with twenty-two years of dedicated service in the Canmore School. After the death of her mother, Hilma, on October 31, 1956, she taught for two years in Calgary. She married Angelo Sasso in 1958 and moved to Exshaw where she taught another ten years until her retirement. Eva enjoyed travelling. She made new friends everywhere she went. She corresponded with them for many years. She died on September 8, 1978.

Aino born in Canmore, January 25, 1917.

Aino attended a vocational school in Calgary where she learned cookery and homemaking. She worked in Trochu, Pincher Creek, Banff and Canmore. She married Alec McKinley in 1941. Alec was posted overseas with the Canadian Army so Aino returned to Canmore, where her daughter, Alexandra, was born. Alec was severely injured in Europe and spent many months in military hospitals. He did not recover fully, but was able to do light work at the Canmore Legion. He continued to suffer from complications resulting from his serious wounds for ten years and was in and out of Colonel Belcher Hospital in Calgary. He died in 1955. Aino moved to Calgary with her daughter, Sandra, in 1956. She gave many years of dedicated service at the Colonel Belcher Hospital. She died in 1980.

Sandra, after studying nursing for a year, decided she was better suited to pursue secretarial training. Currently she and her husband Ron Lang are guards at Drumheller Penitentiary. She raised four children: Ian, an electrician with two children; Kari, who died of cancer at age sixteen; Kevin, who followed grandfather Alec’s example and serves in the Canadian Navy; and Richard, a landscaper, with one daughter.

Helmi born June 25,1920 in Canmore.

Helmi took her R.N. training at the General Hospital in Edmonton. She worked in various fields of responsibility as a nurse, including surgery and emergency care. Helmi married Keith Meiklejohn in 1943. They had two daughters, Bonnie, in 1956, and Corey, in 1958. Bonnie is a court reporter and now lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband and two children. Corey works in maintenance in Edmonton. Helmi had a change in career when her children began school. She was a teachers’ aide in Edmonton schools, where her artistic talents were put to use.

Laura born June 13, 1929 in Canmore.

Laura followed in Eva’s footsteps, taking teacher training at the University of Alberta. She taught in rural and urban schools.

She married John Bracco in 1952. They both taught at Strathmore, then moved to Edmonton. Laura continued teaching while John returned to U. of A. to study law. He was in law practice for eighteen years until his appointment as a judge to the bench in 1975.

While raising her own family, Laura resumed and completed her education degree. She returned to teaching as a primary teacher and librarian. After living in Edmonton for thirty-two years, Laura and John finally moved to Harvie Heights in 1984, having purchased their property in 1967. 

Children: Helmi Louise born June 12,1958 in Edmonton. After completing high school in Edmonton, Helmi attended McGill University in Montreal and Grenoble, France and later U. of A., graduating with B.A. and B.Ed. degrees. She taught in Salluit, Arctic Quebec, where she met Brian Callaghan. They married in Canmore in 1982. They have been involved in education in Peace River, and now Canmore. 

Their twins, Annaliisa and Laura, born in 1983 in Montreal, are currently attending Canmore Collegiate and are very involved in the Biathlon program at the Nordic Centre.

Alexandre was born in 1987 in Canmore and is a student at Lawrence Grassi school. Benjamin, born 1988 in Peace River, also attends Lawrence Grassi school.

Carole Anne born August 25,1961 in Edmonton.

After high school, Carole attended McGill University and U. of A., graduating with a B.A. degree. She also completed a master’s degree in French Literature at the U. of A. She currently lives in Cranbrook where she and her husband, Larry Farmer, are both employed by College of the Rockies. Carole teaches French and Spanish and is currently pursuing a PhD. in language studies at U. of Toronto. 

Katrysha Laura born August 22,1964 in Edmonton

After completing high school, Katrysha attended U. of A., then McGill University, graduating with a B.A. degree. She studied Law at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and graduated with a LL.B. She married Andrea Gambette in 1989. Their daughter, Lucia, was born in Kingston in 1990. Katrysha was articled to a law firm in Edmonton and was close to completing her masters’ thesis in law when she died in 1994. 

Darryl Gregory born 1958.

Darryl was adopted in 1962. He completed his high school in Edmonton and has his boiler maker certificate and worked for the E.P.S. Board. He and his wife, Peggy, have two children, Ramey (1983) and Curtis, (1984) and live in Edmonton where Darryl works at a steel factory.

The strong conviction of both Adam and Hilma that education and training would provide the best opportunities in life was deeply inculcated in their children, who in turn, encouraged their own children to pursue these goals. Proof that the importance of higher education was accepted by Adam and Hilma’s children lies in the fact that the older children helped, both financially and with encouragement, their younger siblings to pursue post secondary education.

It is not surprising that virtually all of Adam’s and Hilma’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren have pursued studies and training beyond high school and filled responsible positions in a wide variety of callings. 

Adam and Hilma were always happy that they chose Canada as their new home. Their spirit of adventure and foresight continues afresh in each of the succeeding generations.


  • Aatami Louhelainen born June 12, 1881, Juuka, Finland
  • Hilma Kakkinen born August 1, 1889, Parikkala, Finland
  • Adam and Hilma wed June 30, 1907, Parikkala, Finland 
  • Sulo Armas born October 14, 1910, Parikkala
  • Eeva Eesteri-Eva Esther-born December 27, 1913, Canmore, Alberta
  • Aino Sylvi born January 25, 1917, Canmore, Alberta
  • Helmi Marja born June 25, 1920, Canmore, Alberta
  • Laura Minerva born June 13, 1929, Canmore, Alberta


Aino, Hilma, Eva, Sulo, Helmi, Adam, Laura Louhela, 1932


Louhela- Turunen family 1929


In Canmore Seniors at the Summit, ed. Canmore Seniors Association, 2000, p.164-168.

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