Near the Northern border of Wisconsin lies the one and only historic Wisconsin township, Oulu. Home of the largest population of Finnish people in the Midwest, the quaint community continues to work hard to preserve its prided history, celebrate their traditions still today, and welcome visitors to take in the authentic Finnish culture. Read on to learn more about Oulu and how you can visit to join in on their cultural celebration.
Oulu’s preservation dates back to 1997 when Duane Lahti, president of the Oulu Heritage Center, noticed his heritage was disappearing as farm lands expanded. Throughout his childhood, Oulu was predominately a Finnish community and one of the three largest Finnish settlements in Wisconsin.
He was devoted to preserving ancient Finnish construction techniques, including the full dovetail notch that is hand-hewn. At the Oulu Heritage Center, there are 12 buildings constructed with such a technique. This property has been in Duane’s family for over 100 years.
Duane explained that in Finland, they practice primogeniture which means when the elders pass away, the oldest son inherits the property. In fact, in Finland, you couldn’t even own land unless you were the oldest son. Consequently, many Finnish people immigrated here to own their own property.
As immigrants came, they saw the opportunity to build widespread industries including both farming and logging, although logging was historically the biggest industry. Not only were industries built, but phrases from the Finnish language developed, including the phrase Sisu, which means determination; never giving up when things get tough.
Today, Oulu is home to the largest Finnish population in the Midwest! This township consists of about 400 people and has stayed determined and persistent in preserving their prided history. The Oulu Heritage Center keeps their Finnish roots alive and prospering with historical buildings on site, housing ancient artifacts and teaching traditions interwoven within their culture.
The Finnish population of which lives in Oulu are mostly in the education profession instead of the once booming industries of their ancestors. Oulu is near Duluth and Superior so locals are able to access a wide range of jobs and occupations while still living in their close-knit cultural community.
Education is at the core of the Oulu Heritage Center as they have a schoolhouse to teach the youth about their culture, traditions, and even cuisine to keep it alive in the future. They teach the youth about phrases such as Sisu and instill in them the same determination that is at the heart of their heritage.
During the summer, the Oulu Heritage Center offers Summer School to the youth who learn how to make such tasty, traditional Finnish dishes such as Mojakka, Kalamojakka, Pullu and Rieska. Mojakka is a Finnish-style beef stew and Kalamojakka is a Finnish fish stew, both equally delicious. Pulla is a type of cardamom bread and Rieska is a spin on rye bread. Each of these foods are freshly made and prepared ready to be enjoyed with every bite.
The township of Oulu is certainly worth the trip to the Northern border of Wisconsin, especially during the fall. In September, the Oulu Heritage Center holds a Fall Fest where the community gathers together in celebration of the Finnish culture. You can get a once in a lifetime opportunity to observe unique cultural traditions, tour the renovated buildings of the past and of course, taste the exquisite cuisine.
Visitors are also welcome to gather at the Oulu Heritage Center for Coffee and Conversation, recurring every Wednesday from 10 am to Noon. You will get the chance to meet the people of Oulu, partake in conversations and storytelling, all while enjoying a cup of coffee and maybe even a few Finnish treats!
During your visit any time of the year, you will fall in love with the town and the close-knit community. Oulu is open to and would love any volunteers who are interested in sharing their mission of preserving their cherished history and educating the future generations to come.
Oulu is truly a historic gem in Wisconsin history. The tight knit community has worked hard to preserve its prided history, keep the traditions alive today, and welcomes visitors from near and far to experience the unique and special Finnish culture. Visit Oulu and join in on the celebration of their heritage in the present and in the future beyond.
For more on Oulu, watch Discover Wisconsin’s original digital short ‘Oulu - Finding Your Finnish Sisu’ now and get an inside peek at Oulu Fest 2022:
*This article is brought to you with support from Enbridge.
Hailey Rose: Writer for Discover Mediaworks. A born & bred Wisconsinite with a love for fishing, hunting, and enjoying the great outdoors.
*Narration provided by WondervoxAI.
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