The Hart House Finnish Exchange began in the autumn of 1950, when the choir of the Polytech Institute of Helsinki was on a tour of North America. After performing at Hart House, the members of the choir suggested that they would in turn welcome a visit from students at the University of Toronto. They spoke of their plans for “Tech Village” and stated that Canadian students could help them to build it. Subsequently they sent a formal invitation, and Hart House prepared to organize a group.
The Warden of Hart House (Nicholas Ignatieff), his wife, and eight students arrived in Helsinki in early June 1951, and were at once warmly welcomed and entertained. After two weeks of parties and trips, they asked when they were to start work. They were then housed in university residences and put to work digging the foundations for a sauna. Thus began the tradition of an “orientation” followed by a work placement, which remains the basis of the exchange.
Nicholas Ignatieff died in the spring of 1952, but his leadership in launching the exchange ensured its continuance. That same summer, the Duke of Edinburgh, when visiting the Olympic Games in Helsinki, unveiled a plaque in memory of Nicholas Ignatieff, placed on the sauna that he had helped to build.
In 1954, ten students came from Helsinki to Hart House. They spent the first two weeks meeting Canadian students and seeing some of the country, and then went to summer jobs in different places. At the end of their work placements, they met again at Hart House Farm, located just outside Toronto. There they spent ten days building a sauna on the bank of a small pond in the woods.
The pattern of reciprocal exchange has continued to the present day, and both countries have recognized the importance of these enduring bilateral links. The government of Finland has honoured Joseph McCulley (fourth Warden of Hart House) for his contributions to international understanding, and has conferred knighthoods to former Exchange Chairs Audrey Hozack and Linda MacRae.
The exchange is also supported through the interest and work of the alumni, who have found it to be such a valuable experience that they want to ensure its continuance. The exchange provides an intensely personal experience for each member, and at the same time makes an informal but important contribution to the growth of international co-operation. Both U of T and Finnish students have gained from it, and its past accomplishments augur well for its future influence on students of both countries.