With its long coast and thousands of lakes and islands, sailing and boating have always been very important in Finland and very much so also in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Helsinki was a small coastal and garrison town up until 1812, when the Russian czar decided to move the capital of the Finnish Grand Duchy from Turku to Helsinki (Finland became a part of Russia in 1809). This started the growth and development of the city which by 1910 had reached 100’000 inhabitants.
Traditional small craft were common among the city dwellers and boats filled the city shores. Helsinki was also an important port for people living along the southern coast and on the islands: fish, firewood and many other products were shipped to Helsinki on mostly wooden sailing boats. The city was also an industrial center with a growing commercial harbor and many boatyards.
Sailing as a sport was introduced in Finland in the mid-19th century and Helsinki got its first yacht club, Nyländska Jaktklubben (NJK) in 1861. Yachting and yacht racing soon became very popular with the Helsinki bourgeoisie and co-operation with in particular Sweden was intense.
As a result, in the late 19th and early 20th century, Helsinki provided an interesting blend of all types of boating and sailing. Photographs from this time illustrate just how connected to the sea the city was.
Now you have a unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of boats and boating in Helsinki from around the turn of the 20th century. Retired Finnish diplomat Frank Hellsten, now living in Sweden, has done a fantastic job in first selecting boating related old photos from the Helsinki City Museum open photo archives and then bringing them to life by carefully colorizing them. Thanks to Frank’s work you can admire old boats, ships and shores of Helsinki in full color like never before. Click on the images for a bigger version.
Picture from the harbor north of the city center from 1891. In the same spot today, the Halkolaituri (“firewood jetty”) is still the home of the traditional sailing vessel fleet in Helsinki. In the background you can see the very easily recognizable shape of the Uspenski Cathedral on Katajanokka. Photographer Harry Hintze. (N6281)
Boats tied up on Blekholmen (Valkosaari in Finnish), the home harbor of the NJK yacht club and still in active use by the club. This is the same location as the yellow building in the picture above. In the background you can seen the island Klippan with its pavilion restaurant, still in use and open every summer. Photo from the 1910’s by K.O. Broström. (N202129)
A small fishing boat arriving to the Helsinki South Harbor (by the Market Square). Photo by the Russian photographer Ivan Timiriasew from the 1910’s. (N1995)
A sailing yacht in front of the Vallisaari fortifications to the south east of the city center. Note the very interesting hull design! Photo again by Ivan Timiriasew, 1910’s or early 1920’s. (N1994)
The Russian imperial yacht Standart, captured by the bolsheviks, leaves the Helsinki South Harbor before the arrival of the German troops in April 1918. Photo taken by Gunnar Lönnqvist. (N48847)
The sand barge Vellamo from Borgå/Porvoo in the Taivallahti bay in Helsinki in the 1920’s. Sand was a very important material for building the growing city and was transported to Helsinki mainly by boat. Photo by Kalle Havas. (N19362)
Eugen Eichholz and Constantin Grünberg (right) photographed on-board Eichholz’s yacht Tammetar sometime in the 1930’s. The photographer is listed as Grünberg and as he was a renowned photographer, one can assume that he was somehow involved in taking the picture. Perhaps an early boating selfie? (G38813)
A sailing ship passes the Uunisaari Island (in the background) in the winter. Ships like this one were used still long after WW2 as cargo vessels all along the Finnish coast. Photo from the 1920’s by Bruno Tallgren. (N256716)
A regatta by the Harmaja Lighthouse south of Helsinki. The number and size of the participating yachts is actually quite amazing considering that Finland in the 1930’s still was a rather poor country. The passenger ship is one of Finland’s most famous steamers, the s/s Ariadne. Photo by Foto Roos. (N121359)
If you liked these pictures, you can find more on Facebook. Frank regularly publishes new pictures in the Swedish Facebook group “Vi som älskar tråbåtar” so do head over there and check out more of his awesome work! There is also a short interview with Frank on Sail in Finland.