Rosvall And Voutilainen Are Dead: The Death Of 2 Canadian Union Men - Part 2

Historical Plaque dedicated to Vilijo (Victor) Rosvall and John (Janne) Voutilainen
Historical Plaque dedicated to Vilijo (Victor) Rosvall and John (Janne) Voutilainen
Tombstone erected in 1993
Tombstone erected in 1993

Part Two Rosvall and Voutilainen: The Search Begins

The Union reps were not satisfied. They now truly feared foul play. They reported the missing men to the Ontario Provincial Police with little faith in their actions. Rumours spread that Rosvall and Voutilainen had actually fled the country with union funds. The union refused to believe anything but the worse of the company and its hired hands. They put together a permanent search party who spent the winter searching for the two missing organizers.

Rosvall and Voutilainen Are Found

The Winter of 1929 melted into the Spring of 1930. On 19 April, when two trappers, “Wallenins and Syriata”, were making their way around Onion Lake, they ran across the body of John Voutilainen. Its exact position remains a source of conflicting reports. The reports place him either:

  • Found in a creek halfway up Onion Lake on its western bank
  • “lying face down in a creek, at the South end of the lake” at the edge of the Onion Lake dam
  • At the north End of Onion Lake in “two feet of water,” around five feet from the shore. Voutilainen still had his packsack on his shoulder. His watch was stopped at 2:40 p.m.

The body of Rosvall was located not too far away. He was found some four days later. Both bodies were removed from there to the Everest Funeral Home in Port Arthur.

The Inquest

The autopsies of the men were unusual. three doctors, Coroner Dr. C.N. Laurie, Dr. J.A. Crozier, and Dr. G.E. Aikens, (representing the union) attended. On April 23, the verdict came back "accidental drowning." Although some denied any marks on the body, some locals who had seen the body thought they had noticed a bullet hole and Rosvall’s arm appeared to be broken. Crozier, however, claimed any marks – and he did remark that the body of Voutilainen featured several abrasion on the chin’s left side, could be explained away by the actions of the ice during the period he was submerged.

The inquest for Rosvall was held later. The LWIUC brought in a lawyer to question the findings at the inquest for Rosvall on May 5. However, after two hours of testimony and cross-examination, the result as posted in the News-Chronicle was reached in “but eight minutes.” The verdict was also “accidental drowning.” The union and many of the occupants in and around Port Arthur refused to believe this. The OPP had failed to explore any other potential explanation – including the beating of the men by union opponents before disposing of them under the ice.

The Funerals

The tragic end of Victor Rosvall and John Voutilainen did not spark violence from the union or its members. The strike had limped to a close in December of 1929. The only plan was to now bury – but never forget, the dead. The newspapers of the time record how Port Arthur hosted the largest funeral cortege in its city on a sunny day in April. Estimates range the number of attendees from between 2000 to 5000.

The procession left 299 Arthur Street and proceeded to Riverside cemetery. Vouiitainen's body was borne in a large casket carried by six bearers – each of them, according to The Worker, taller than 6 feet. Honorary pallbearers – approximately 16 of them, carried ever-green wreaths, tied with red ribbon.” The group of mourners were proceeded by “a brass band playing funeral dirges.” This was the Finnish Organization brass band playing various funeral dirges as well as “The International.” The union cards of both Rosvall and Voutilainen also made an appearance. “Two sturdy woodsmen” carried them attached to a broad red sash that was strung between them.

The procession went on for several hours, blocking the streets and making the carrying on of normal affairs difficult. The manmade spectacle, however, was not outdone but amplified by a natural occurrence. The funeral took place under an eclipse of the sun. The world turned entirely dark by the time the cortege reached the halfway mark. For some, this was a sign from God that the world was about to end. Yet, as one participant, Reino Keto, said: “I was terrified, but kept marching on. When we reached the cemetery, the sun was shining again."

Aftermath

The Dirty Thirties wreaked havoc on unions and their ability to resist company dictates. Yet, while many of the traditional unions worked to maintain the status quo, coping and nothing more, those lead by the Communist and Socialist groups continued to fight. As for Victor Rosvall and John Voutilainen - in 1992, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) honoured them by inducting them into the CLC Hall of Fame. Headstones also currently mark their previously unmarked graves.

Sources

Gambone, Larry and Alperovitz, DJ. They Died for You. CANROC(2012).

The Lakehead Finns: The Working Class 1867-1962. Hard Work Conquers All. http://lakeheadfinns.com/en/

Raffo, Peter. “Oral Witness versus Documentary Evidence: The Case of Rosvall and Voutilainen.” Thunder Bay Historical Museum SocietyPapers and Records 29 (2001): 3-34.

Repo, Satu. “Rosvall and Voutilainen: Two Union Men Who Never Died.” Labour/Le Travail 8/9 (Autumn/Spring 1981/82): 79-102.

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