John Kyro, an uncle of William Kyro, was the owner of a bar and restaurant in Iron Belt, Wisconsin. It is assumed that Uncle John sponsored William from Finland into Canada or the United States.
When William crossed the ocean to the new land (approximately 1906), there were still many wooden sailing ships in service, but steamships made of steel dominated ocean travel. Radio was still in its infancy. Spark transmitters were standard equipment. Range was limited to a few hundred miles at best. Most ships did not yet have radio. The bigger ones that did have radio used it mainly to send and receive telegrams for the first class passengers. We are not sure what sort of ship William used for his trip, but it was probably a steel steamship of moderate size.
After arriving in the United States, William completed one year of studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. (In 2004 John Dixon obtained a list of students from the college. The name Vilko Orvi Kyro, from Kestila, Finland, appears as a student in the 1906-1907 school year) At the time most young people left school after 8th grade to begin working. Attending college was an unusual distinction. William then went to seek his fortune in Port Arthur, Canada. Many Finnish immigrants settled in Port Arthur because the climate was similar to that of Finland.
Port Arthur and Fort William were sister cities located on Thunder Bay, the best harbor on the north shore of Lake Superior. The two cities constituted a transportation center known as the Lakehead, the point where freight and cargo were transferred from train to ship and vice versa. Here the Canadian National Railroad and the Canadian Pacific Railroad brought trainloads of wheat and other products from the vast plains of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan to the docks. (In 1970, Port Arthur and Fort William merged to form the city of Thunder Bay, one of the largest grain ports in the world.)
Lake Superior is the largest fresh water lake in the world. It is the deepest and the westernmost of the Great Lakes. It is also the highest above sea level. Water flows from Lake Superior through St. Mary's river into Lake Huron and then to all the other Great Lakes, and finally into the sea via the St. Lawrence river. Ships that carry grain, pulpwood, and ore and ply the Great Lakes are called "Lakers." Most lakers are about the same size, 630 feet long by 60 feet beam (width) and 35 foot draft. This is the largest size ship that can fit in the locks of the canal around the rapids in the St. Mary's river at Sault St. Marie, commonly know as the “Soo Locks”.
At the Lakehead, pulpwood, grain and other cargo are loaded onto ships bound for Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Toronto, and other ports on the Great Lakes. (The original Welland Canal opened in 1833, bypassing Niagara Falls to connect Lake Ontario with the other Great Lakes). The twin cities of Port Arthur and Fort William contained railroad yards, docks, and shipyards.
When William Kyro arrived in Port Arthur in 1907 there were two important organizations of Finnish immigrants; the New Attempt Temperance Society and the Finnish-American Workers League. William became active in both.
Each group had a meeting place, but these had become too small as more Finns arrived in town. It was suggested that the two groups cooperate in constructing a larger building for meetings, dances and other events. By the end of 1908 the plans were ready but a problem arose. Both groups were unincorporated associations and as such they could not legally raise funds nor could they hold legal title to the land and the new building. A corporation was needed.
Early in 1909 William Kyro was appointed to a committee, along with Moses Hahl and J. W. Kannasto, to look into the matter and recommend how to form a suitable corporation. On March 16, 1909 the proposal was read to an executive meeting of the Workers League:
1. The Corporation will be called “The Finnish Building Company”.
2. The purpose of the company is to build and maintain a business and theater building, which is to be rented to businessmen, organizations and theater societies.
3. Capital will be raised by selling 8000 shares at $5 each.
4. The company’s executive committee will consist of five people: president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer and secretary-treasurer
The proposal was accepted. William was only 20 years old at this time. It seems surprising that one so young should be given so much responsibility. But William had an education that was far above average for the time.
The two societies had long considered themselves rivals. But April 29, 1909 was a fateful day. On that day, just a few days after his 21st birthday, William Kyro proposed that two societies should merge. The proposal was accepted immediately by the Workers League. On May 1 the Temperance Society agreed. And on July 1, 1909 all Temperance Society members became members of the Finnish -American Workers League.
On July 8, 1909 the Finnish Building Company Limited became a registered corporation under Canadian law. Construction of the building began with the limited funds on hand. A committee of William Kyro and two other men were asked to negotiate a loan from the Canada Permanent Mortgage Corporation. In November of 1909 a loan of $20,000 at 8% for 10 years was obtained.
Construction continued and opening day ceremonies were held on March 18 1910. The finished structure was a stylish 4 story brick building with a high and imposing cupola at 314 Bay Street in Port Arthur. The official name was the Finnish Labor Temple. It was known informally as the “Big Finnish Hall.” The building became home to a host of Finnish newspapers, theatrical productions, concerts, motion pictures, sporting events, and festivals. While much has changed over the years, the "Big Finn Hall" still functions much as it had when it was built. It is still in use in 2006 and will soon be 100 years old. The old building continues to serve as a Finnish cultural center for the Finlandia Club of Port Arthur and all its member societies and is home to the internationally renowned "HOITO" restaurant.
After construction of the Finnish Labor Temple, the Workers League became interested in establishing a cooperative store. William Kyro offered to sell them a building called “The Finnish Store Company” owned by Kyro and Hellberg and located at 135 Albert Street (now Machar Ave.). The Finnish Trading Company accepted the offer sometime in 1910. But by 1911 they had moved to a new building on Bay street at the corner of Secord. The story of William’s involvement in the Finnish Labor Temple and the Finnish Trading Company is related in the book “Project Bay Street: Activities of Finnish-Canadians in Thunder Bay before 1915,” by Marc Metsaranta.
William was fluent in both Finnish and English and had a gift for oratory and persuasion. He was the young man with the silver tongue. Communist agitators had stirred up the Finnish workers in the Port Arthur shipyard, busy with W.W.I defense contracts, and fomented a strike. Many of the workers spoke only Finnish, so it was difficult for the shipyard management to present their case to the workers. The owner of the shipyard, a Mr. Whelan, having heard of William's abilities and command of the languages turned to William for help.
William addressed the workers in both Finnish and English and presented the shipyard management's and Mr. Whelan's points of view. His talks were successful and the strike was
ended in a friendly way.
Mr. Whelan was grateful to William and, recognizing a talent, he offered to provide capital for William to start his own business. William opened a grocery and general store in partnership with a Mr. Hellberg at 282 Bay Street in Port Arthur (only half a block from the Finnish Labor Temple). The store sold on a retail and wholesale level. Part of the sales were delivered by rail to isolated communities along the Canadian Pacific R.R. and the Canadian National R.R. tracks. Business was excellent and William Kyro quickly became a prosperous and influential citizen of the Lakehead.PREVIOUS CHAPTER ............. HOME............. NEXT CHAPTER