Three Suomi-Koti residents going strong in their 100th year!

Premier Wynne congratulates Aili Kukkonen.
Premier Wynne congratulates Aili Kukkonen. Photo by Gary Toporoski

Last month, Leaside Life reported on a visit by Premier Kathleen Wynne to three residents of Suomi-Koti, the Finnish-Canadian Seniors Centre on Eglinton, to celebrate their upcoming centenary birthdays. The Premier presented each woman with a framed certificate to mark this milestone, and took time to chat with them about their long and rewarding lives.


Aili turned 100 on March 10th. She was born in Finland and came to Canada in 1955 with her three children. Husband Erkki, who had two brothers living here already, immigrated a few months earlier to find a job and a place to live.

Aili enjoyed growing up on a farm, attending school in Mänttä and working as a lab assistant. In Canada, she worked as a cleaning lady and her husband as a skilled carpenter. One highlight for them was being able to purchase their first home.

Aili’s favourite vacation spot is Cuba, and she believes the recipe for a long life is having a healthy lifestyle, enjoying one’s home and having a wonderful family.

Aili moved to Suomi-Koti in 1996 and enjoys the combination of having her own apartment while taking part in the many activities, and savouring the Finnish environment there.


Rauha, who will celebrate her 100th birthday on December 16, came to Canada in 1951 with her four children, following her husband, who had arrived six months earlier. Upset about a large increase in taxes after building a home in Finland, they decided to move to Canada, known as a land of opportunity that welcomed immigrants. Many of their friends had moved here as well.

In Canada, Rauha worked as a cleaning lady in homes during the day, and in offices at night. In fact, she had such a close relationship with some of her clients that she continued working for them into her 70s.

In addition to caring for her four children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, Rauha has pursued two other passions: dancing and painting. She was part of a dance troupe that toured Finland and Estonia in her youth, and she met her husband in a dance hall.

She continued to go dancing even after her husband passed away, and she’s had several dance partners since then. She even did a couple of steps with the Premier. Rauha also has a talent for painting, and has filled hundreds of canvasses over the years.

Rauha’s youngest daughter, Ulla Campbell, reported that her mother’s recipe for living a long life is keeping active with lots of hard work and “maintaining a happy attitude towards life.” To that end, Rauha has travelled to Cuba 19 times, loves to sing, and has a great sense of humour, declaring that a drink of vodka and cranberry is “her medicine” for vitality.


Benita will turn 100 on December 29. Born in Estonia, she fled the Communist regime and travelled first to Sweden, where she met her husband, and then to Canada in 1952.

Here, Benita worked in a bakery owned by her brother, and her husband, John, was employed as a carpenter. They had two sons, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Another highlight of Benita’s life was that her childhood dream of becoming a teacher became a reality for a short time in Estonia, and again when she did some teaching at an Estonian school in Canada.

Benita moved into Suomi-Koti 12 years ago, and still lives independently in her own apartment. She told Elderly Persons Centre Coordinator Maarit Tuomikoski that there is no real secret to her long life other than simply being content with her life. She and the other Estonian tenants mix easily with those of Finnish background, and the residence is filled with a strong sense of community.

About Janis Fertuck 108 Articles
Janis Fertuck is a retired English teacher who spent the last 30 years of her career at Leaside High School. She enjoys writing about the vibrant Leaside community where she and her husband have lived for 22 years. Her other favourite pursuits include a part-time job at a boutique on Bayview and volunteering with the Bayview Pixies.