Photo: A group of men on the Sointula dock in the 1930s. Left to right: John Fredrickson, Teodor Tanner, John Malm, Uno Salmi, Gusti Savola, John Tynjala, Willie Ahola. Sointula Museum Collection, photo #68.

August Oberg was an original member of the Kalevan Kansa, a staunch supporter of Matti Kurikka and his utopian vision. As the treasurer and labour organizer for the colony he was a key member of the Board of Directors.

Kalervo was born in January, 1901 when the family lived in Nanaimo so would have arrived in Sointula as a toddler in early 1902. Tragedy struck in January 1903 when the communal building caught fire. The two Oberg daughters, Kalervo’s sisters, were among the eleven who died in the flames. The Oberg family’s plight is described in Paula Wild’s book, Sointula, Island Utopia:

Mrs. Oberg was in one of the sleeping rooms on the ground floor when the fire broke out. She carried her two young sons outside, then found it impossible to return for her daughters. When her husband escaped from the third floor and heard that the girls were still inside, he plunged back into the flames. Finding the little girls huddled in bed, he picked them up and started for the door. Halfway there the floor collapsed. Oberg fell, Elma and Hilma slipping from his arms. With his clothes, face and hands on fire, Oberg struggled to the door where he was pulled out by several men. The bodies of the girls were later found a few steps from the door.

Respected Anthropologist

When the community broke apart and Kurikka left in late 1904, it is very likely that August Oberg and his family departed with him. The treasurer of an organization approaching bankruptcy might not have felt very welcome. The Museum has no evidence as to where the family moved but Kalervo attended the University of British Columbia, earning a degree in Economics in 1928. The Sointula Museum has just acquired a copy of his graduating essay titled: Sointula, A Communistic Society in British Columbia. In the essay he states his admiration for Kurikka and his ideals, even going as far as to suggest that Kurikka should be considered a hero of the Finnish nation.

Kalervo continued his education at American universities and became a highly respected anthropologist and international representative for the US. In a 1954 speech in Rio de Janeiro he introduced his model for Culture Shock, a four step process newcomers go through when they encounter a new culture. It is still used by companies when they are preparing transferred employees for new jobs in foreign countries and by schools and universities when orienting international students.

Historian, Dr. Edward Dutton, who will be publishing a paper in the fall edition of UBC’s BC Quarterly is currently researching Kalervo Oberg’s concept of Culture Shock.

Dr. Dutton’s research paper can be downloaded as a pdf file from UBC at the following address: https://ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/bcstudies/article/download/1987/2277/10602

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Photo: Salmon Days, mid 1980s. In their regional Finnish costumes are, left to right, Annie (Anna) Tynjälä, Irma Järvinen, Helmi Pakkalen and Eeva Syrjälä. All arrived in Canada in the 1950s.