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Alaskan Finnish Heritage

Anchorage Suomi Finland Club

The social and dance club for Finnish people was organized in the early 1920s, and is one of the oldest ethnic organizations in Alaska. The first Finn Hall opened in 1923, and the current Finlandia Hall was opened in 1987. It is the scene of monthly meetings, annual and special events, classes and other activities.

The Seppala House Project

A non-profit organization has been formed to preserve the Nome home lived in by Leonhard Seppala in the early 1900s. “Sepp” was born in Norway in September of 1877 to a Swedish father (with a Finnish name) and a Norwegian-Finnish mother.

Sepp traveled to Nome in 1900 to work in a gold mine.  He became a sled dog racer and introduced the Siberian Husky breed to long distance sled dog mushing. He was the owner of famous Huskies Togo, Balto and Fritz. His team was key to the success of the 1925 Serum Run, which saved lives from the Diptheria epidemic in Nome.

He moved to Seattle, where he died in 1967. He and his wife Christine are buried in Nome.

Sepp’s house has been moved to storage as fundraising efforts are underway to relocate and restore the home as a museum in honor of the miner, inventor, dog breeder and sled dog racer.

Matanuska Valley Colony

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal included a plan to relocate families to Alaska’s Matanuska Valley, about 45 miles northeast of Anchorage. There they would farm government-provided land and live in a home built by the government. In spring of 1935, 203 families from Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin traveled to Alaska to begin their new lives. 

Residents of those states were chosen because of their similarity to the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Valley. Many of the families were of Nordic heritage; an estimated 50 of them Finnish.

Results of the agricultural experiment were mixed. The land was difficult to farm, and facilities, services and amenities in the remote area were sparse. Many families gave up and either left the region or sought new work. In 1936, Edward Wineck, son of Finnish immigrant Aldrich Wiinikka, who’d come to Alaska during the gold rush, became a replacement colonist. He built a gambrel-style barn, and he and his wife Emma farmed there for more than 40 years. The Winecks donated the barn and had it moved to the Alaska State Fairgrounds, where it houses exhibits about the Colony. Their son Earl Wineck and his wife Rebecca, also of Finnish descent, have been active members of the Anchorage Suomi Finland Club.

Colony House Museum

The home of Oscar and Irene Beylund, one of five styles offered by the U.S. government to the colonists, is preserved to illustrate the rural lifestyle of those who participated in the agricultural program.

Sitka, Alaska

From 1733 to 1867 there were Russian settlements in what are now the states California, Hawaii and Alaska. People of Finland, which was than a Grand Duchy of Russia, helped in the development of the Russian America site of New Archangel, now known as Sitka, Alaska.

Finnish workers who were brought to the territory to work for the Russian American Company asked to build a Lutheran church for their assembly. The Finns founded the Sitka Lutheran Church in 1839-40, and in 1843 built the first Protestant church on the west coast of North America.

The 1844 organ built in Estonia, a chandelier, the pulpit and communion rail remain. The church is open to visitors, with guides for tours, from mid-May to mid-September.