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| VOLUME 30, NUMBER 20 | WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2000 | ISSN 1199-5246 |

Sheila Embleton

Embleton receives prestigious White Rose of Finland medal

By Cathy Carlyle

Sheila Embleton

White roses was the theme at a ceremony in January at York when a White Rose of Finland medal was presented to Associate Dean of Arts Sheila Embleton by Ambassador of Finland Veijo K. Sampovaara. The award, though having no direct connection with the University, provides York with reflected honour because Embleton is only the second woman in Canada to be given the medal. The first female recipient, Varpu Lindström, is also a faculty member at the University.

The full name of the prestigious award is a mouthful: Knight, First Class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland. Bestowed upon those in the academic and artistic communities in recognition of their outstanding service to Finland, it is seldom awarded to a non-Finn. It is due to Embleton's work toward bringing that little-talked-about country to the foreground and in promoting relations between Finland and Canada, arising from her interest in and devotion to things Finnish, that she was nominated for the honour.

"Until a few years ago, I had never heard of the White Rose in this context," said Embleton in her acceptance speech. "The symbol and name first came to my attention when I was three years old, and it was the name of a gas station near home. Then I discovered White Rose garden stores, named by the founder who owed his life to the German Resistance, whose symbol was the white rose. Later I learned about the Wars of the Roses.... And when I first came to York in 1980 I discovered that the white rose was also the symbol of York."

"The main reason I wanted this reception here at York was to highlight the links between this University and Finland, of which I am only one relatively small part," she said. "We may not teach courses in Finnish language or literature or culture, but we do have more links to Finland that any other university in Canada. For instance, we have our exchange programs, involving faculty members and students, with the universities of Helsinki, Tampere and Joensuu. We also have strong links with other universities in Finland."

Far left: Ambassador of Finland Veijo K. Sampovaara toasts Sheila Embleton, Associate Dean of Arts and recipient of the Knight, First Class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland.

In answer to the often-asked question about how her life became so tangled with the Scandinavian country, Embleton said, "I don't have a Finnish name. I don't have Finnish relatives. I don't have a Finnish background at all. But when I was a child I always wanted to go there." She first went there on a holiday in the 1970s. The island she landed on, though belonging to Finland on paper, was actually more Swedish than anything.

However, persisting in her quest to discover her dream country, she returned one November during the mid 1980s, and went back to take a language course the following summer. "That's when I really found the Finland I'd always wanted to find," she said. "It was wonderful. I travelled all over, and, although obviously I found the language and history of the country different from Ontario, I found some incredible similarities-- in the landscape, the flora and fauna, and the respect for the environment. I like the solitude and tranquility, the welfare state as opposed to a cutthroat government, and the subtle, understated quietness of the people. The people have an immense loyalty toward family, friends and community, and a great honesty."

Her feelings for the country and her dedication to it run deep. For over a decade, she has pursued her interest through research into its language - all part of her love of onomastics (name studies) and historical linguistics (language change). More precisely, her work has taken her into the socio-political history of names. "By looking at place names and their changes, you can tell a lot about a settlement," she said.

Her research at present is taking the Finnish dialect atlas from 1940, which exists only in map form, and putting the data into a computer. The idea is to turn the information into a CD, so that there will be a searchable database for all to use. The maps are detailed, and the task is daunting, but Embleton is valiantly charging ahead. "The Finns, who are among the heaviest users and producers of technological advances - cell phones and the Internet for example - haven't even computerized their own dialect atlas yet," said Embleton. "They are fascinated that an outsider would be so intrigued with Finnish as to actually take the time to do it. They're glad of the academic contributions to their country, too.

"This computerization has already turned up a number of interesting things. We noticed that one parish had been entirely overlooked in the collecting of data. Because of the minute details on each map, no one had noticed that the information from this parish was missing. Generally, though, we can already see the overall dialect patterns by reading the maps."

Her findings from previous Finnish-related projects are published in various Canadian and American journals. Embleton said the Finns are grateful that information about their country is being taken to the outside world. They are pleased, too, about her involvement with the exchange program between York University and their universities. She has done much of the brokering with the programs, starting in the early 1990s. "The Finns are happy because they'd been wanting more North American destinations for students and faculty," she said. "Now we're finding that we have traffic in both directions."

Embleton has been vice-president and is now president of the Canadian Friends of Finland Education Foundation. As president since 1995, she is continuing the task of finding ways to help raise the necessary $2 million for a Chair in Finnish Studies at the University of Toronto. She's the one negotiating the agreement between the University of Toronto, the foundation and the Finnish Ministry of Education. With the core Friends of Finland group, she organizes cultural events not to raise money but to promote things Finnish in this part of the world.

"My relationship with Finland will continue," she said. "I started as a student to learn Finnish words and phrases. Then I began doing research in the country, meeting the who's who of the linguistics world there, and collaborating on projects. I have links with Finland that keep on growing."

Lindström other York recipient of medal

Varpu Lindström, professor of history at Atkinson College and Chair of the School of Women's Studies, received the Knight, First Class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland award in 1992. She is the first woman in Canada to be awarded and is among a mere handful of people in this country who have ever been given the medal. Lindström said that this high-ranking award with its Knight, First Class, distinction is for mainly those in the academic and artistic fields, for outstanding service to Finland or Finnish Canadians. The basic award, without the "first class" title, is less rare. The medal was first presented in 1919, two years after Finland gained its independence from Russia.



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