Nelma Sillanpaa

Nelma Wellamo Sillanpaa 1917-2018

Long-time Elliot Lake resident, Nelma Wellamo Sillanpaa, passed away peacefully at the St. Joseph General Hospital on April 13, 2018, in her 101st year. Born on October 31, 1917 in Warren, Ohio, of Finnish immigrant parents, (father: Leonard Johnson and mother: Matilda (Saari), she moved with her parents to the Algoma District when she was four years old. Her parents worked in the lumber camps of northeastern Ontario during the 1920s. Nelma attended Timmins High and Vocation School before finding work in the co-operative stores established by the many Finnish immigrants who had settled in the gold mining area of Timmins. During these years, she became an accomplished gym instructor organizing many gymnastic and folk dancing groups of young Finns that competed with Finnish groups in other regions of Canada.

During the war, Nelma was one of thousands of young women who found work in Canada’s thriving war industry, working for a parachute factory in Hamilton. When the war ended, her boyfriend Paul Sillanpaa returned from five and a half years overseas and the two married soon after.

Many of these events are recounted in Nelma’s autobiography, Under the Northern Lights. My Memories of Life in the Finnish Community of Northern Ontario, which was published by the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1995.

The couple settled in Timmins where Paul found work in the Post Office. A promotion brought Paul to Elliot Lake I 1959. By the time his family joined him in 1960, Elliot Lake had experienced a huge downturn in the uranium market. The family remained in Elliot Lake where Nelma was active in volunteer and church work, as well as a year as a phys-ed teacher at ELSS.

Nelma’s greatest accomplishment took place after Paul died in 1975 of a kidney-related disease. That same year, Nelma established the Elliot Lake chapter of the Kidney Foundation of Canada which undertook a number of activities to raise funds. Eventually a dialysis unit came to be established at St. Joseph’s General Hospital –a unit that has come to serve kidney patients over a wide area surrounding Elliot Lake. For this the City of Elliot Lake awarded her its Civic Award in 1995.

Nelma recently moved into Huron Lodge where she celebrated her 100th Birthday. The family would like to thank personnel at both Huron Lodge and St. Joseph’s General Hospital for their care.

Nelma is survived by her two sons, Lennard (Leena) of Ottawa and Daryl of Thunder Bay, and two grandchildren: Paul (Liz) and Helena. All of us have warm memories of her love and compassion and good conversation.

The family will receive friends at the Elliot Lake Funeral Chapel and Cremation Centre, 36 Ontario Avenue, on Friday, April 27, 2018 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

A service will be held on Saturday, April 28 at 11:00 a.m. at the Faith Lutheran Church on Bouck Road.
Internment at Woodlands Cemetery, Elliot Lake, will take place at a later date. Memorial contributions to the Kidney Foundation would be appreciated.

Condolences left by others

Twila Niemi

Oct. 27 and I have just learned while attempting to send Nelma my usual birthday bouquet that she passed away! Nelma has been a life-long fixture in my life, in fact an honorary täti. Four wonderful 8x10 pictures of Nelma, my Aunt Elsa, Velma Hatton, and my mother Ada, (who were known back in the late 30's and early 40's as the 4 Bims) hang on my 'family portrait' wall today. There are references and photos of some of my family in her memoir "Under the Northern Lights", a signed copy of which she sent me. I will continue to treasure our correspondence over the last years as I have kept her letters to me.