Introduction

A Traditional Finnish Juhannus at the Hart House Farm

A Traditional Finnish Juhannus at the Hart House Farm

This blog post is about Finland, the Hart House Farm, life and love. Now, you’re probably wondering what these things have in common, so I’ll explain. I’ve mentioned the Hart House Finnish Exchange in a previous post, but for those of you who aren’t keeping up with the “Emily-The-Summer-Blogger Canon”, I’ll elaborate. The Hart House Finnish Exchange is a unique exchange program that has been running for 60 years. (Actually we’re celebrating our 60th Anniversary on July 16th!) It’s the oldest established cultural exchange program in Canada. It runs on a cycle of two years, so two summers ago, I bid Toronto adieu for to explore Helsinki with in the company of seven other University of Toronto students.

Part One: Finland

This year, eight Finnish students have invaded Canada. And I could write tomes about the many amazing parts of the exchange. (The unique community that is created by having previous exchangers organize programming, the self-discovery that goes along with living abroad, the interesting and global view that you gain from exposing yourself to another culture, another language, and another way of life…) And hey, maybe I will write those tomes one day. But I won’t right now, because my sickly-sweet gushings and going-ons would give all of you lovely people cavities. So here’s the breakdown:

  • Eight Finnish students are currently in Toronto, sponsored and hosted by Hart House and my exchange group.
  • In Finland, Juhannus is the holiday that marks mid-summer. It’s celebrated the second weekend in June. Helsinki literally clears out for the weekend, as everyone heads to a cottage with a sauna and a lake.
  • Oh right, the sauna. What does that have to do with Finland? Fun fact to impress your friends with: “sauna” is actually the only word in English that derives from Finnish. A traditional Finnish sauna is kind of like a steam room, except for if it’s really traditional, it’s a wood-burning sauna. Basically, you sit in a sauna and throw water on heated stones and relax in the heat. And if you’re really doing it right, you go straight from the sauna to jump into a lake.

So blah, blah, blah, that’s all great for you, Emily, but what does this have to do with us, the poor students who weren’t lucky enough to go on the Hart House Finnish Exchange? (Although I should mention that more students from U of T will be off to Finland in the summer of 2014, which means that the application period will be in the fall of 2013.)

Part Two: The Hart House Farm

Well, I got a much-needed taste of Finland upon visiting The Hart House Farm this past weekend, and celebrating Juhannus with my favourite Finnish exchange students. We sang Finnish songs, we explored the forest, we made a huge meal on the outdoor barbecues, and we went to the sauna and jumped fearlessly into the pond, despite the rain. (Seriously, it only costs $20 a night to crash at the HH Farm, and ANY Hart House member can book the space by calling 416.971.2343 or emailing farm.harthouse@utoronto.ca.) The Hart House Farm Committee also organizes events at the farm sporadically throughout the year.

This Finnish, wood-burning Sauna is on the farm's property, and was built by Finnish exchangers!
This traditional Finnish wood-burning Sauna is on the farm's property, and was built by Finnish exchangers! (Photo courtesy of Hart House.)

Driving into the Hart House Farm after months and months spend in the urban jungle of Toronto gave me a sensation of culture shock. It’s a real farm, after all, something a shameless urbanite like me doesn’t see very often.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Chow.
Pictured: The main house, and the barbecue area. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Chow.)

The living quarters are pretty standard: bunk beds, and extra mattresses that can be thrown on the floor. Our group actually slept in a big dance hall, on mattresses on the floor. The main cabin has a fully-outfitted kitchen, stocked with basic spices, cutlery and dishes.

One of the idyllic swimming ponds. Photo courtesy of Hart House.
One of the idyllic swimming ponds. (Photo courtesy of Hart House.)

The place is actually incredibly reminiscent of the locations of my crazy weekends spent revelling in the 20 hours of sunlight a day in Helsinki, so the farm instantaneously ingratiated itself into my heart. And if you aren’t convinced of its charms, I am convinced that you have no sense of “beauty” or “adventure.” And since all of my readers are surely adventurous and beautiful, and are sure to visit the farm, I’ve compiled a handy list of:

The Do’s and Don’ts of Hart House Farm

Do: Bring plenty of food and drink! If you’re doing it right, you should be working up a voracious appetite by hiking, swimming, exploring and playing games.

Don’t: Waste! The farm is committed to sustainability, and you’ll be charged for every bag of trash you leave behind.

Do: Shower before you take off! The mud you accumulate will be there all weekend… There aren’t any shower facilities available.

Don’t: Bring designer jeans, heels of any kind, your sneakers that you’re trying to keep the perfect shade of white…. (I promise, it won’t work out well.)

Do: Bring bug spray, sun-screen and a towel!

Don’t: Expect to make it home without at least one bug bite.

Do: Bring games, Frisbee, soccer balls, decks of cards, and anything else that you and your friends like to do.

Don’t: Expect anyone to entertain you.

Do: Pay a visit to the traditional Finnish Sauna! (You’ll have to bring down wood, as well, which is in a wood shack next to the main cabin.)

Don’t: Try to walk there after dark. It’s not the smoothest path. (Believe me, I have the bruises to prove it.)

Do: Prepare yourself to be cut off from Facebook.

Don’t: Bring your laptop.

Do: Bring sleeping bags and pillows for the bunk beds and for the floor.

Don’t: Expect anyone to clean up after you! It’s a farm. There’s no maid service.

All right guys, I’ve given you all the advice I can. Oh, and if you’re wondering about how this post ended up being about life and love. Well, I mean, make your life better, and fall in love with The Hart House Farm. Just like I did.

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