By Submitted Article on September 22, 2020.
GALT MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES
“Woman Exponent of Free Love Doctrine in Toils Here.” This was the headline of a brief article The Herald ran on Feb. 6, 1920. Who was this person of interest, arrested in Lethbridge by the Mounted Police? Her name was Sanna Kannasto and she was certainly way too progressive for the times. According to the article, she was in possession of “free love literature,” lived openly in a common-law relationship and professed that “marriage is a slavery.”
But could those radical views be grounds for arrest? Well, there is more to this story. Sanna Kannasto was a leader at the Finnish Organization of Canada, closely associated with the Social Democratic Party. She was considered one of the most dangerous agitators in Canada and the Mounties were tracking her. While the “free love” label helped leverage the public opinion, she was certainly detained for her political activism.
A follow-up newspaper article informed the readers that on her stop in Canmore, Kannasto was “preaching bolshevism.” Armed with this evidence, the Mounties intercepted the agitator in Lethbridge. Upon arrest, Kannasto was detained, most likely at the RCMP barracks – now the downtown block behind city hall, a.k.a. the Barrack Square – where the deportation hearing took place.
This arrest and imprisonment of Kannasto were vividly dramatized in a documentary “Under the Red Star” (2011), which is available online. In the film, dealing largely with the Finnish union movement, Kannasto appears as a charismatic and outspoken leader. At one point of the film, indignant about the requirement to be examined for communicable diseases, she said, “I’m a political agitator, not a prostitute!”
Kannasto was later released and continued her activism work throughout Canada. A suffragette, a political organizer, an early feminist, she appears to be a notable figure in Canadian history. Her Lethbridge adventure didn’t seem to dampen her spirit. “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” she could have said.
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