|Street address||314 Bay Street|
The Hoito Restaurant (often referred to as “The Hoito” by locals) is a Finnish-Canadian restaurant in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada established in 1918 and housed in the bottom floor of the historic Finnish Labour Temple. The Hoito has operated continuously on 314 Bay Street, in the Finnish quarter, for 91 years and is perhaps the oldest co-operatively owned and operated restaurant in Canada. The restaurant currently employs approximately 60 full and part-time workers.
The name "Hoito" is Finnish for the word "care". The idea for the restaurant came about in a logging camp outside Nipigon, Ontario. IWW union organizer A.T. Hill had come to organize the camp into the union and promote the new Finnish-Canadian socialist newspaper Vapaus (Freedom). After winning some improvements in the camp, the workers expressed a concern that while being able to find cheap accommodation in the city of Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), they were unable to find reasonably priced, home-cooked meals. The request to open a co-operative restaurant was taken to the board of directors of the Finnish Labour Temple and approved. 59 people pooled their money together in the form of 5-dollar “comrade loans”. Union organizer A.T. Hill was chosen as the restaurant’s first manager.
For several decades, workers in the restaurant belonged to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union and later to the Canadan Teollisuusunionistinen Kannatusliitto (CTKL or Support League of Canadian Industrial Unionists), the Finnish section of the union, and not, as is often mistaken, to the Communist Party of Canada. The IWW was active in the bushcamps in Northwestern Ontario primarily among Finnish-Canadian bushworkers, and effectively operated as a radical alternative to their rivals in the communist-led unions. The Finnish Labour Temple itself was the Canadian administration for the IWW for a number of years.
When IWW organizer J. A. McDonald visited the Hoito and Finnish Labour Temple in 1926, "it was the activities of the women that he was most impressed by. According to McDonald all the waitresses were members of the IWW, and one of the cooks was a woman who had served a year in a Finnish prison for her activities on behalf of the Reds during the Finnish Revolution of 1918.".
The Hoito Restaurant is well known for its Finnish pancakes. These pancakes (lettu or lätty in Finnish, depending on what part of Finland one is from) are thin and the size of a large dinner plate. Other traditional Finnish foods served at the Hoito include viili, karjalanpiirakka, karjalanpaisti, lohiperunalaatikko, pulla, suolakala, riisipuuro, kalakeitto, hernekeitto and Finnish weiners. Rye bread, baked at the adjacent Kivela Bakery, is also often served with meals.
Since the restaurant began in 1918, it has operated as a consumer co-operative along Rochdale Principles. Customers can buy yearly membership cards that enable them to vote at the Finnish Labour Temple annual general membership meeting, where the board of directors is chosen for the year. Workers maintain a degree of workers' self-management and organize their own work schedules.
The Hoito is a very popular place with locals in Thunder Bay. There is normally a breakfast line-up of customers out on to the street on weekends. Clientele from all walks of life can be found at the Hoito, ranging from students and blue collar workers, all the way to celebrities and politicians who routinely stop in while passing through the city.
Until the 1970s, the dining room featured long communal tables, and customers were able to buy meal tickets. Today, the restaurant operates in a more conventional way, with individual tables and a coffee counter.