Letters From Karelia

Taimi Pitkanen last saw her brother Aate (AH-tay) in a Leningrad railway station in 1931. Taimi was returning to Canada from Moscow; Aate was headed for Soviet Karelia, on the border with Finland, where his skills in electricity and languages – both English and Finnish – were badly needed.

Aate never came back. Even when the dream went sour, Aate held on, writing home until, in 1941, Hitler attacked the USSR. After that, no one in Canada heard anything more of Aate Pitkanen.

Sixty years later, the discovery of his last letters – written but never mailed from a Finnish prisoner-of-war camp – reveals his fate and brings together Taimi and Alfred, the son Aate never met.
Visiting Taimi in Canada, Alfred Pitkanen learns the dramatic story of his father’s Canadian family and of “Karelia Fever,” the enthusiasm that gripped so many Finnish Canadians in the 1930s. Almost forgotten now, it lured thousands to a tragic fate in the Soviet Union.
Alfred Pitkanen follows his father’s journey from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Karelia, from a young communist pioneer to a ski champion in the USSR to Soviet spy in World War Two. With him we learn Aate’s fate and the story of one of the great dreams of the Twentieth Century.


“Maybe it’s because of my own Finnish background and because of the turbulent, polarized political situation today, but I found Letters from Karelia to the most dramatic documentary film I’ve ever seen”
Oren Tikkanen, New World Finn, Spring 2005.

Order the Film Go to Associated Publication

Screenings and Festivals

ScreeningsCinefest Sudbury, Ontario September 26 2004
International Film Festival Calgary, Alberta September 29 2004
Waverley Resource Library Thunder Bay, Ontario February 22 2005
Shadows of the Mind Film festival Sault Ste Marie, Ontario February 23-27 2005
Kingston Graduate Students Conference Kingston, Ontario March 19-26 2005
RiverRun International Film Festival Winston-Salem, North Carolina April 21-24 2005


Director: Kelly Saxberg
Producer: Joseph MacDonald
Narrator: Liisa Repo Martell
Cast: Ville Haapasalo
Alfred Pitkanen
Taimi Davis
Historical Consultant and Researcher: Varpu Lindstrom
Writer: Robert Lower
Cinematographer: Richard Stringer
Original Music/Composer: Ari Ladhekorpi
Picture Editor: Kelly Saxberg
Sound Editor: Danny Johnson


National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
Ville Haapasalo (actor)
InCamera – October 2003: A voice from the past: Letters from Karelia
From Russia With Film (by Richard Stringer C.S.C.)
Canadian Film Insititute
York University’s YFile
Ari Lahdekorpi (musician)


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