Kannus (known in the 1860s as Ylikannus) is one of the sites that I always believed seemed likely to have a famine memorial. Having passed by the parish church on trips through Central Ostrobothnia (Kannus is a very short drive from many of the other places mentioned on this blog, such as Lohtaja, Kälviä, Toholampi, Ullava, and Sievi) I had stopped on several occasions to look in the graveyard for signs of a memorial stone.

Kannus Church dates from 1817 (the previous church on the site, from 1761, burned down and its location is marked by a memorial in the churchyard). My mistake, however, was in presuming that a famine memorial would be located in the immediate vicinity of the church. In fact, it turned out that Kannus does have an 1860s memorial, but it is situated in the nearby graveyard of St. Michael’s Chapel – a 5-10 minute walk from the main church. The graveyard was established in 1863 and I presume that it was used as a mass grave during the famine years. Turpeinen (1986) notes that Kannus, along with the neighbouring parishes in Central Ostrobothnia, was already suffering from a severe typhus epidemic in 1865, and was extremely vulnerable in 1867-8.

Births and deaths for Kannus parish, 1868. The extent of the crisis can be seen in the fact that the parish witnessed only 72 births compared with 398 deaths in the worst famine year. National Archives of Finland, Kannus (Ylikannus) Parish Archives, Population Tables (1868).

Interestingly, although the parish website highlights several other memorials in the graveyard, the famine memorial is not mentioned (July 2019).

I was able to revisit Kannus in July 2019, and finally got to take some photos of the memorial, which is fairly familiar in form: a simple stone with plaque indicating the dates of the famine, and a biblical quotation. As I find out more about the inauguration date and so on, I’ll update this page.

Location: St. Michael’s Chapel (Mikaelin Kappeli), Tapulikatu 23.

Parish: Kannus.

Modern Region: Central Ostrobothnia (Keski-Pohjanmaa).

Year of Memorial: TBC.

Inscription: “In memory of the dead residents of of Kannus from the Great Famine Years of 1867-1868. [placed on behalf of ] Ancestors. 1 Moses 47:13″.*

*1 Moses (Genesis) 47:13 reads: “There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine.”



Oiva Turpeinen, Nälkä vai tauti tappoi? Kauhunvuodet 1866-68 (Helsinki, 1986), pp. 50-1.




Karjalatar, 19 Mar. 1880.

The memorial to “Victims of the Years of Dearth” in Kontiolahti is an early work by the renowned glass designer and artist, Päivi Kekäläinen. I am very grateful to Päivi for giving me some information about the memorial, and extracts from Kontiolahti – Kirkon Kylä, and I visited the site at the old graveyard in person in July 2019.

The people of Kontiolahti have suffered many tribulations. In 1791 there was a harvest failure year, wars in 1808-09, and terrible years of dearth struck again in 1833 and 1868. The latter year of dearth was the worst of all – a seventh of the whole country’s population was lost. In Kontiolahti the death figures were three times greater than in previous years, and there were 736 victims.

Kontiolahti – kirkon kylä, p. 294.

The local parish and municipality raised some money for a memorial and the memorial itself was then designed by the Kontiolahti native and (at the time) Art & Design student, Päivi Kekäläinen. The memorial was inaugurated in the old graveyard on the 20th July, 1989. It is quite easily visible from the main entrance to the graveyard.


Location: Kontiolahti Old Graveyard.

Parish: Kontiolahti.

Modern Region: North Karelia (Pohjois-Karjala)

Date of Memorial: 1989.

Inscription: Katovuosien Uhreille [To the Victims of the Years of Dearth]



Ritva Ahvenainen, Osmo Karttunen, Helka Lempinen & Jussi Puhakka, Kontiolahti, Kirkon kylä (2013).

Karjalainen, 21 Jul. 1989.

Karjalatar, 19 Mar. 1880.


Pulkkila [Siikalatva]

The municipality of Siikalatva has at least three famine memorials (as it is was formed in 2009 from a collection of smaller towns): Rantsila, Piippola and Pulkkila. This part of Northern Ostrobothnia suffered terribly in the 1860s (the fourth town of Siikalatva, Kestilä, also featured regularly in harrowing newspaper reports). In 1866, it was reported from Pulkkila that it felt like war-time, as hunger and disease fought violently against the local population. [Oulun Wiikko-Sanomia, 30 Jun. 1866). In his speech to the Pulkkila Society’s “Museum Picnic” in July 2018, Matti Leiviskä described how over six hundred (of fewer than two thousand) people from the Pulkkila chapel parish died between 1866-68.


As with other sites in Northern Ostrobothnia, the Kirjastovirma website was my original source of information. In the entry for Pulkkila Church, it notes that in  spinney behind the church is a white wooden cross, which was the graveyard of those who fell in the Battle of Pulkkila (in May 1808, during the Finnish War between Sweden and Russia), as well as those who perished in the Great Hunger Years (1866-68).


Oulun Wiikko-Sanomia, 30 Jun. 1866

Elimäki (Koria) [Kouvola]

The stone at Koria (formerly a part of Elimäki, but officially Kouvola since 2009), is another one of the memorial sites strung out along the route of the Riihimäki to St. Petersburg railway (for a map, see the entry for Hikiä).

The Kymi River at Koria. May 2016.

In the vicinity of Kallioniemi Dancing Hall (60°51’07.2″N 26°36’60.0″E). A granite stone memorial, dated 19 August 1869, formerly situated (as per picture below) to the right of a wooden terrace with picnic table. The memorial features the initials of six people, and is said to be carved by the railway workers themselves in memory of their dead colleagues. I first visited the stone in May 2016, when I saw it mentioned in local press reports (as part of a discussion about the most appropriate site for the memorial).

The stone in its former location, May 2016.


The stone with inscriptions (old location).

By May 2016, there was discussion of the stone being moved to a more prominent location [Haimi, 2016]. I was glad to read during Spring of 2018 (in one of my favourite blogs – Willimiehenjaljillä) that the stone had now been relocated. In late May 2016, part of the 110th anniversary celebrations of the local sports and recreation organisation, Korian Ponsi, the stone was moved and contextualised by a comprehensive interpretive board (including the history of the railway and the bridges, as well as the dance hall), and again this can be seen on the Willimiehenjäljillä blog post.

I revisited the site in April 2019 and add pictures below of the new location.


The stone now sits below the interpretive board, along with a second memorial (to a young boy, Cajus Marius Lagerborg).



Location: Koria, Korian Ponssi Dancehall.

Municipality: Kouvola

Current Region: Kymenlaakso

Year of Memorial: 1869  (located in its new position 28 May 2016, in honour of the 110th anniversary of Korian Ponsi).

Inscription: OB.JB // LF.LS // VA.CA // AR // 19 – 1869 – 8.



Annamari Haimi, “Arkistosta: Haussa vanha hautakivi”, Kouvolan Sanomat (Online), 18 May 2016.

“Willimies”, “Kouvola / Radanrakentajien ja pikku pojan muistokivet“, 5 May 2018.



Palomäki (Widgren Family)*

This memorial is peculiar in that is erected in memory of members of a particular family who passed away during the Great Hunger Years. I have passed close by on a couple of occasions (e.g. when visiting Sonkajärvi, or when I stayed on a farm in Vieremä when my son was racing in Iisalmi and all the hotels in the town were booked) but have not visited, partly because I’m not sure of whether the stone itself is on private land. However, for the sake of completeness, and because it is already publicly accessible information, I include it here.

The Widgren family meeting in 2012 concluded with a talk about the history of the memorial (by Kalevi Vidgren), and a short moment of prayer and reflection, led by Pastor Juhani Vidgren. A photo of the memorial can be seen by scrolling down the blog entry about the 2012 meeting  at Vieremä, as well as on the 2009 blog entry.

In 2017’s Sesquicentennial Report, I gave the location as being “approx. 20 km WNW of Sonkajärvi”, and I won’t refine that until such time as I actually visit the site.




The Paltaniemi church belltower (centre) — the memorial and Ronan on the right. Feb. 2017.

This one of the sites I visited during the Helsinki “Ski-ing Holidays” in February 2017. On the first day, I’d driven over 700km via Kivijärvi, Kiuruvesi and Nurmes in fairly terrible weather, but conditions were far brighter as I pushed northwards. The sun shone brightly as I arrived at the “Kuvakirkko” (Paltamo Old Church, built 1726) in Paltaniemi, presenting a scene of great tranquility, and several deer darted in and out of the trees as I approached the main church building.

The graveyard at Paltaniemi, February 2017.

The famine memorial here is one of those that was inaugurated during the centenary commemoration years – 1967 in this case – and also one of several memorials that features the rye stems motif. I first encountered it through the Kajaani town website’s list of public sculptures.


Screen Shot 2018-09-21 at 22.52.31
Nälkämaan Laulu ‘The “Land of Hunger” gets its own anthem…’ – report from Karjala, 15 Sep. 1911 about Oskar Merikanto putting the words of Ilmari Kianto‘s poem to music. It’s always important to remember Asmund Vinje’s warning that “it is a dangerous undertaking to write about foreign countries – for this reason, there is much in them that we do not understand” but from a west of Ireland perspective (also a land of hunger and “dismal swamps” (surkeat suot), it’s easy to understand why such an apparently pessimistic song title becomes a strong statement of regional identity (and defiance) – and it’s no surprise that it’s been covered in various forms right up to the present day.


Paltaniemi Kuvakirkko, February 2017.

The famine monument is a relief named “Anovat Kädet” (“Pleading Hands”), featuring six hands reaching for rye stems, designed by Une Pihlman. It even featured in Part 8 of YLE’s Finnish-language radio series, “Kainuulaiset Patsaat” (2014).


Location: Paltaniemi Old Church [“Church of Paintings” / kuvakirkko], Paltaniementie 851.

Parish: Paltamo.

Modern Region: Kainuu.

Date of Memorial: 1967.

Inscription: “In memory of those who died of hunger, 1866-1868”



Karjala, 15 Sep. 1911.

Suomen Muistomerkit: Osa 4 (Nousiainen, 1996), p. 25.

Kainuulaiset Patsaat – YLE radio, 2014, accessible via <http://areena.yle.fi/1-2202143>

Varpaisjärvi [Lapinlahti]

The evocative memorial site at Koiraharju, Varpaisjärvi (Lapinlahti*), is a mass-grave created out of expediency when the severe weather prevented the transportation of around sixty dead bodies to their “proper” burial place at Nilsiä, over 40 km distant. It exemplifies how memories transmitted over time at a particular site. Wooden crosses were originally in place, and these were replaced in 1951 by a small, engraved stone. Eventually the graves became permanent. The wooden crosses were removed, but two wooden plaques bearing the names of the dead were relocated to Mikkeli maakuntamuseo in the 1950s.

Summer 2017. The signpost indicates “Koiraharju Cemetery”.

In 1951, Varpaisjärvi Parish put a memorial in place, which was supplemented by a gravestone organised by the local Lions Club in 1981. In 2012, this stone was itself supplemented (not replaced) by a new, larger memorial, with a slightly extended text. There is also now a wooden signpost directing visitors to “Koiraharjun Hautausmaa”


The burial mound at Koiraharju, Varpaisjärvi. Both stones can be seen (the newer, larger stone in the centre of the picture, the older one to the left), and the signpost can also be seen in the background.


Location: Tuovilanniementie 8, Lapinlahti. Site between Varpaisjärvi and Kangaslahti, off Road 582 (Rautavaarantie) at the settlement of Korpinen.

Municipality: Lapinlahti (from 2011)*.

Modern Region: Northern Savonia (Pohjois-Savo).

Dates of memorials: 1981, 2012.

Inscriptions: [New memorial] “Buried here are approximately 60 people, who died during the Great Hunger Years 1867-1868”. Accompanied by a Biblical text (Exodus 3:5 – “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground”).  // [Old Memorial] Here are buried c. 60 bodies from the Hunger Yrs. 1867-68. Exodus 3:5. Note: Exodus is known in Finnish as the Second Book of Moses.



*Municipality note: Varpaisjärvi was merged with Lapinlahti in 2011. 



Matti ja Liisa-lehti “Kesä 2015 – Lapinlahti Varpaisjärvi” supplemement (2015), p. 20.

Kortesjärvi (Kauhava / Järviseutu)

The stone at Kortesjärvi’s late-eighteenth-century wooden church is one of a small number of Finnish famine memorials that were inaugurated during the general “sesquicentennial” commemoration period. The stone itself is a simple dark grannite gravestone, with the common motif of drooping rye stems, and an inscription which does not includes dates, but simply remembers those who died of hunger.

Kortesjärvi Church

Acknowledgements: I am very grateful to Dr. Eliza Kraatari for sending me these images for the new memorial at Kortesjärvi, and for allowing me to use them on this blog. Please  do not reproduce them without express permission. 


Location: Kortesjärvi Church, Jääkärintie 65.

Parish: Kauhava.

Modern Region: Southern Ostrobothnia

Date of Memorial: 2017.

Inscription: In memory of those who died from hunger.


References: Komiat, 8 Nov. 2017.



As with some of the other sites in Kainuu, I had planned to visit the famine memorial in Kuhmo during the Midsummer weekend in 2018, but I ended up being in Ireland and then could not find a decent space for the trip before winter set in.  I should also note that, when my work was highlighted on the TV news back in 2017, a kind correspondent from Kuhmo sent me a photo of the memorial there, but unfortunately I have lost their name and email address so I won’t use the photo here without being able to give a proper acknowledgement. There is also a photo of the memorial in Kuhmolainen, 23 Sep. 2016. It consists of two parallel stones and is very distinctive in terms of the other memorials I have seen in Finland. I included the memorial in the Sesquicentennial Report, and included information there from the Suomen Muistomerkit series, which attibuted the design to gardener Jarmo Aalto, and execution by Mauno Hyvärinen.* 


I finally got to visit the site in July 2019, as part of a wider tour of Kainuu and North Karelia. It is easy to spot the memorial from the parking spaces of the Old Graveyard at Hankaniemi. The right-hand pillar also has a plaque affixed, which gives details of mortality and the date of the memorial’s inauguration.

Location: Hankaniemi Old Graveyard, Kainuuntie 64, 88900 Kuhmo.

Parish: Kuhmo.

Modern Region: Kainuu.

Date of Memorial: 2 Jun. 1991.

Inscription: Hunger Years 1866-1868 — Blessed Is The One Who Will Eat At The Feast In The Kingdom Of God. Luke 14:15. [PLAQUE: During these years around 750 Kuhmo people died as a result of hunger and related diseases. Memorial erected 2.6.1991. Kuhmo Parish.]   



“Historia: Kuhmo nälänhädän ja kulkutautien armoilla”, Kuhmolainen, 23 Sep. 2016. Online via Kainuun Sanomat.


*Apologies required here. In Sesquicentennial Report I managed to identify the site as the old graveyard (Hankaniemi), but for some reason gave the address of Kuhmo’s new graveyard. Having visited the site in person I can confirm the map locations given on this page are now correct.


The winter of 1866-67 was exceptionally snowy and the cold continued long into the spring. Harsh snowstorms were still experienced in May as far south as Helsinki, and the result of all this was that at the normal sowing time the fields were covered with a layer of hard snow. In Kuhmo, Lentiira (lake) and Ontojärvi were still covered with thick ice at Midsummer, so that boats couldn’t get to church. Summer had hardly arrived when a second premature winter came. Even before that, the autumn frosts had time to destroy what few seeds had been sown. The lost harvest precipitated a terrible famine, which killed huge groups of people.

“Mitä on nälänhätä”, Rajamme Vartija, Mar. 1941, pp. 100-102.

The old graveyard at Lentiira is another location that seems somewhat isolated in the twenty-first century, but which lies close to the shoreline of Sutelanniemi and was therefore very accessible by boat. I first noticed the memorial on the local parish website  – but it took until Summer 2019 to visit in person. Access is via the memorial to the “kirveskansa” church (translated as “Axe-people’s church” on the interpretive boards), and then a picturesque 300 metre walk along to the old graveyard.

The graveyard itself is fenced and has a small hand-written notice at the entrance, which explains that the site contains the mass graves of the victims of the Great Hunger Years (and that the cemetery is still in use).


The famine memorial is eaily seen from the entrance to the graveyard, and is a large stone with an iron cross and a plaque with a quotation from the Book of Revelation (7:16 – “Never again will they hunger”). The stone was designed by Jukka Pirttijoki, the border-region pastor (rajaseutupastori), at the instigation of the local Men’s Circle (miestenpiiri), and inaugurated in 1980.

As a postscript to this entry, I should add that one of the most appalling photographs of hunger that I have seen relating to famine in Finland was of a young boy from Lentiira. This was during the later famine of 1902-03, and as the emaciated (but living) 12-year-old boy is named, I have decided against using the image in lectures or on this website. The reference is Uuden ajan kynyksellä – Suomen työväen alpumi (1903), page 113.

I notice that the wikipedia site listing public art and memorials in Kuhmo queries the local tourist guide‘s assertion that there are separate memorials for the Great Hunger Years in both Kuhmo and Lentiira. There are indeed – I will add an entry for Kuhmo in the next day or so.  


Location: Lentiira Old Graveyard, Sutelantie, Kuhmo (Lentiira).

Parish: Kuhmo.

Modern Region: Kainuu.

Year of Memorial: 1980.

Inscription: “Never Again Will They Hunger. Rev. 7:16. 1867-1868”.