Ancient Salla

Salla was already settled in prehistoric times. It is likely that humans arrived in the current area of Salla soon after the last Ice Age ended and Salla ice lake breached its dam around 10,500 years ago. In the Stone Age, settlements concentrated on lakes and important waterways. The area of Salla National Park offered good connections to the west and east alike: through Haudanoja to the Tenniöjoki River and further to the Kemijoki River in the west, and from Onkamojärvi Lake to the south towards the Oulankajoki River and the old White Sea Karelia. The prehistoric settlements in the National Park area are located on the shores of the larger lakes, including Pyhäjärvi Lake and Onkamojärvi Lake. The oldest settlement in Kenttälampi, which was dated by a pottery find, is around 7,000 years old. 

While signs of prehistoric sites are not often visible on the ground surface, Stone Age settlements, for example, can usually be identified in the terrain by finds made when the ground surface is disturbed, for example on eroded paths or in collapsed shore embankments. The most typical site that can be observed in the terrain is a hunting pit, or a series of such pits, that were used to catch deer. Compared to the settlements, the pits are relatively easy to spot. Timing them is difficult, however, as these pits were used for deer hunting during a period stretching from the Stone Age until as late as the 19th century. In the National Park area, a prehistoric site consisting of a settlement and a hunting pit was found near Latvajärvi Lake.

Kuolajärvi Lapp village

The current area of Salla belonged to Kuolajärvi Lapp village, or siida, at least from the 16th century on. The residents of Kuolajärvi Lapp village were forest Sámi. The Lapp village system and the term forest Sámi go back to administrative documents and the tax regime of 16th-century Sweden. The Sámi were divided into two main groups, forest and fell Sámi. As the difference between the two groups was regarded their living areas as well as their livelihoods and the taxation based on them. The forest Sámi lived in their seasonal settlements and survived on hunting and fishing, whereas the fell Sámi travelled longer distances between the Arctic Ocean coast and the fells, following the annual cycles of reindeer husbandry, fishing and hunting. The Lapp village system remained in use until the 18th century.

The livelihoods of the forest Sámi were based on an annual cycle. It consisted of fishing in the summer and deer hunting in the autumn, after which the winter was spent in a village. During the winter, the forest Sámi hunted beavers. As a hard crust formed on the snow in later winter, deer hunting could begin once more. The forest Sámi only kept a few reindeer to pull their sleighs and to carry burdens, as well as for decoys in hunting. The winter villages served as central hubs in which court proceedings, markets, tax collection and church ceremonies took place. The winter village of Kuolajärvi was located in the area of old Salla in Peterinselkä, which is today behind the border in Russia. 

The first Finnish incomers started arriving in Kuolajärvi in the 17th century, bringing with them agriculture and livestock farming. As dictated by their livelihoods, the Finnish and Sámi populations lived partly separately and partly in the same areas. In places, their cultures also influenced each other. Farming life, and especially livestock farming, led to a less mobile lifestyle even though hunting and fishing still played a significant role. Farmers, too, travelled long distances around the area to visit meadows, set traps and fish.

Two old fishing huts have been found in the National Park in Kirilahti and Sotiniemi on the northern shores of Onkamojärvi Lake. The villagers of Aatsinki had historical fishing rights in the area, and the huts were used as bases for fishing trips. People from Kallunki village also had fishing huts on the nearby Kallunkisaari island. Pieces of copper plate found around the huts in Kirilahti and Sotiniemi indicate that the sites were in use at the latest in the 17th century, and possibly earlier. Pieces of copper plate are typical finds around settlements in northern Fennoscandia. Research has found that pieces of plate cut from copper dishes and similar were reused as decorations and a currency, most commonly from the 9th till the 16th century AD. Sotiniemi fishing hut fell into disuse after the Second World War, whereas Kirilahti hut was used until the last few decades. 

he image shows an old fishing hut site overgrown with birches.

In the second half of the 19th century, the beaver and forest reindeer were hunted to extinction. Reindeer husbandry, which became more common in this area around the same time, was another factor that reduced forest reindeer habitat and contributed to the disappearance of this species. The turn of the 20th century also saw an increase in forestry activities and the start of the exploitation of Eastern Lapland forests, which had previously been considered too remote. Thus logging sites came to Kuolajärvi. The logging sites also brought more people into the area, and the population of Kuolajärvi began to rise. 

Barns and lumberjacks’ cabins

Once farming had been introduced into the area, livestock was an important source of livelihood in Kuolajärvi. In winter, the animals were fed with hay collected in natural meadows. To increase the productivity of the meadows, dams were used to flood them in spring. The meadows were mowed in the summer, and if they were located far from the village, the hay was stored in a haystack or a barn and transported to the settlements in winter. Old hay barns have been found in the National Park area along the Haudanjoki River and in Kulvakkojänkä in the eastern part of the park.

The logging sites rapidly increased the population in Kuolajärvi during the last few decades of the 19th century. The first fellings extended to Petservaara and Kiekerövaara to the north of the National Park. The timber was floated down the Aatsinginjoki River water system to Kemi. Most of the largest logging sites were found in the area of Tuntsa and Old Salla. In the early 20th century, the conditions in lumberjacks’ cabins were often substandard. The workers went on strikes for better working conditions and wages, however with little success. The first Cabin Act, which obligated the employer to build accommodation for the workers and stables for horses in good time before the work started, entered into force in 1928. The Act also laid down minimum requirements for the accommodation. The Cabin Act was later updated and amended in 1947 and 1967. Several old lumberjacks’ cabins have been found in the area of the National Park, especially in the direction of the Haudanjoki River, an important floating channel. The ruins of a lumberjacks’ cabin can also be seen on Kolmiloukkonen hiking trail. 

The image shows some logs remaining from a lumberjacks’ cabin which are partly covered by mosses. The logs lie in a pine forest with low shrubs.

The image shows the remains of a lumberjacks’ cabin partly covered by mosses in a pine forest. There is a small lake in the background.

The First World War reduced the number of fellings almost everywhere. After the war in the 1930s, Metsähallitus sold timber from Julmoiva in the National Park area. The trees were floated along the Haudanjoki River into the Aatsinkijoki River. The last logs were floated down the Haudanjoki River in 1943. Two old floating dams have been found in the Haudanjoki River, one to the north of Latvajärvi Lake and one in the middle of the river.

Until the 1990’s, Metsähallitus directed the use of forests by excluding so-called high areas from forestry activities. The height limit for upland forests was approximately 300 m. This rule, together with inaccessible terrain, prevented fellings from reaching very deep into the old-growth forests and thus also helped protect old forests in the National Park area.

Salla emerges from smoke

The first half of the 20th century was a turbulent time in Europe. While Kuolajärvi was not affected by the First World War, it played an important role in supplying weapons for the Russian army. Once the enemy had blocked the other maritime routes, the Empire's arms were transported by the White Sea to Kandalaksha and from there via Kuolajärvi and Kemijärvi to Rovaniemi, where they were loaded onto a train and transported to St. Petersburg. As Finland gained independence in 1917, the eastern border was closed, cutting off an important ancient trade route to the While Sea. This brought hard times and even famine to Kuolajärvi. While the situation in Kuolajärvi was very tense during the Civil War of 1918, it was spared from actual fighting. In 1936, the municipality of Kuolajärvi was renamed Salla.

The threat of war was once again obvious in autumn 1939. Because of the long distances and poor roads, Finland did not believe that the Soviet forces would attack with great force in the north. This is why the border in Salla was only guarded by a reinforced field patrol when the Soviet Union attacked on 30 November 1939. Finland managed to stop the attack in Kemijärvi, and the Soviet forces were pushed back to the Salla side. The front line stayed in Paikanselkä to the west of the current Salla village centre until the end of the war. During the Winter War, Finns use guerrilla tactics to hamper the operations of the Soviet forces in the north. The Finns had a base around Kolmiloukkonen in the current National Park, and a large number of field fortifications have been found in this area. Battles took place at least in the terrain between Iso Pyhätunturi and Pieni Pyhätunturi fells as well as in Aatsinginhauta area, where Finnish troops were positioned in old lumberjacks’ cabins along the river.

During the Interim Peace period, cooperation between Germany and Finland intensified in spring 1941. Germany attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, and three days later Finland joined the war as its ally. On the Salla front, the attack progressed across the old border as far as the Vermajoki River, after which it stalled and continued as trench war until the end of the Continuation War. During the Continuation War, Soviet partisans committed a total of 45 attacks against civilians. In Salla area, these attacks took place in Hautajärvi and Niemelä and later in Saija. 

The Winter War and the Continuation War took a heavy toll on Salla. Many buildings were destroyed twice, first in the Winter War as the Finnish troops retreated, and again in the Lapland War by retreating Germans. As territories were ceded after the war, Salla lost almost one half of its surface area to the Soviet Union; nine villages were left behind the border, along with the village centre at the foot of the old Sallatunturi. Salla had been the third largest municipality in Finland until now, but in the aftermath of the war, breaking it up and merging the remaining area with the surrounding municipalities was considered. This idea was dropped, however, the municipality was preserved, and the village of Märkäjärvi became the new village centre of Salla. 

The image shows the remains of a Second World War dugout shelter in the ground. They consist of moss-covered logs and a pit excavated in the forest.

Significance of the reindeer

The forest reindeer, and later the reindeer, have played an essential role in the history of Salla and the local residents. Hunting the forest reindeer was an important part of the population's livelihood from the Stone Age until the late 19th century, at which time the species was hunted to extinction. Its domesticated relative, the reindeer, was part of life in Salla already before today's large-scale reindeer husbandry began. In Salla, each family only kept a few reindeer. They were mainly used to carry and pull loads and as decoys for deer hunting.

Large-scale reindeer husbandry arrived in Salla relatively late; in Kuusamo area further south, for example, this industry had been introduced much earlier. Before Finland gained independence, reindeer were herded to the Russian side of the border to graze. When the border was closed, the pastures were reduced in size, and reindeer husbandry concentrated in the northern parts of the municipality in Tuntsa. 

The reindeer is a useful animal, and it has also played a role in various conflicts. During the First World War, reindeer were used to transport weapons between Kantalahti and Rovaniemi. They were less suitable for logging sites, as they cannot pull equally heavy loads as a horse. The reindeer population in Salla was hard hit during the Winter War, and when it had finally recovered, a great forest fire consumed Tuntsa. It is likely that the forest fire of summer 1960 started with a flash of lighting. The fire destroyed 20,000 hectares of forest and open fell areas on the Finnish side of the border. On the Russian side, the damage was even greater at 100,000 hectares. Traces of the fire can still be seen in Tuntsa. The fire of Tuntsa destroyed the most important winter pastures in Salla area and made the prospects for reindeer and reindeer herders uncertain again for decades.

Despite these difficulties, reindeer husbandry has remained an important business in Salla until these days. In recent years, the forest reindeer has also returned to Eastern Finland. Different types of obstacles, including fences, are used in an effort to protect the forest reindeer population. The idea is to prevent the hybridisation of the reindeer and forest reindeer populations.

Research literature: 

Elo, T. & Seppälä, S.-L. 2012. Raivaajien ja rakentajien Salla. Sallan kulttuuriympäristöohjelma. Ympäristöministeriö, Helsinki.

Haataja, V. 1993. Tuntsan palo ja suuri nokisavotta. Koillismaan Kirjapaino Oy, Kuusamo.

Heinänen, H. 1993. Sallan historia. Sallan kunta ja seurakunta. Jyväskylä.

Henriksen, J. E. 2019. Trade, Manufacture, Dismantling and Reassembling? Metal Processing and Eastern Ornaments at Brodtkorbneset and Steintjørna. Teoksessa; Iskos Vol. 22 (2019): In Search of Hearths. A Book in Memory of Sven-Donald Hedman. Toim. Halinen, P.& Olsen, B. Suomen muinaismuistoyhdistys.

Kellokumpu, K. 1999. Atimoja. Kelloselän ja Aatsingin kyläkirja. Koillismaan Kirjapaino Oy, Kuusamo.

Uutela T. 2003. Rajavartiointia Koillis-Kairassa vuodesta 1918 2000-luvulle. Sallan rajavartioalueen historiikki. Lapin painotuote Oy, Kemijärvi.

Vauramo, A. 1995. Kämpiltä kelokyliin - Metsähallituksen suojellut rakennukset. Metsähallituksen luonnonsuojelujulkaisuja. Sarja A, No 44. Metsähallitus, Vantaa.

Salla National Park

  • Established 2022
  • Area 100 km2

The emblem of Salla National Park is Capercaillie