I have read many books on Finnish immigration to Canada. The highest concentration of Finnish Canadians is in northern Ontario from Sudbury to Thunder Bay. One place that often appears in the books I have read is the Hoito restaurant. Founded by Finns in 1918, the Hoito is still in operation as one of Thunder Bay’s busiest restaurants. Thus I was quite surprised to see the name of the restaurant pop out at me while browsing through a library book sale. Breakfast at the Hoito and Other Adventures in the Boreal Heartland by Charles Wilkins is a compilation of his essays and magazine articles centring on Thunder Bay and the surrounding area north of Lake Superior.
The first article is about the Hoito restaurant. I was drawn into the restaurant on an empty stomach, and now I want to go there. Wilkins describes the early start in the middle of the night and the enormous preparation required to get the Hoito ready for the breakfast crowd. Of the 57 employees, almost all of whom are women, all but two speak Finnish. The mother tongue has been carried down for almost one hundred years after the restaurant first opened its doors. The Hoito remains one of the main gathering places in Thunder Bay for Finnish Canadians, from breakfast to dinnertime.
Wilkins also writes stories about Schreiber, Ontario, a small community in which half the population stems from the same Italian town; his own inept ability to catch anything with a fishing rod; his experiences climbing frozen waterfalls; and Ouimet Canyon. In all there are thirteen articles, all of which left a smile and a tinge of regret when I finished the last one.
The only time I was in Thunder Bay was during a brief stop on the train ride from Toronto to Winnipeg thirty years ago. Since there is a Scrabble Club in Thunder Bay and an occasional tournament there, I have thought about travelling to the Lakehead to see the city and to play my favourite game. The stories in Breakfast at the Hoito have whet my appetite for Finnish cuisine and northern scenery. I want to go there for a tournament now all the more.