By Sheila Mason Gale
In the 1920's Canterbury had an established Finnish community and Jack and Ida Hakkila moved here from Brooklyn, New York to be with their friends and have their own farm.
They bought land on Buck Hill Road for $5.00 an acre. Jack was an excellent carpenter and built every building on the property starting with the sauna. He did have some help from Arnold Kerr and Ted Dean to dig his pond, but even before there was electricity and the roof on the house was finished in 1930, Aili (Hakkila) Galasyn was born. She lives in the same house today.
As a girl, Aili liked to go fishing, swimming, boating and hiking through the woods. She inherited her love for the land and the outdoors from her father. She also had to learn how to do housekeeping skills such as cross-stitch, hand sewing, hankerchief lace and eventually machine stitching. She also became an excellent cook.
When Aili started school she didn't speak any English. She went two years to the Green School, two years to the North Society Road School, two years back at the Green School and 7th & 8th grade at the Frost school. A few of her schoolmates were: Alice Raymond, June Leiss, Eddie LaFramboise and the Swan boys. In the spring, the teacher at the North Society Road School would take the children swimming at the old swimming hole on Barstow Road. She allowed them to go on their own for a hike through the woods and when it was time for them to come back she would ring a cowbell.
In High School, Frannie Gallagher Smith and she became best friends. They often stayed after school to play sports. There were no late school busses when they participated in after school activities, so they had to take a local bus from Griswold to Plainfield and then had to dodge a few vicious dogs on the walk back to their homes. Her love of sports continued and when she was older she played in a badminton circuit and traveled around the state.
The Finnish people's activities were centered on the Finnish Hall located on Route 169 (N. Canterbury Road). The building was built in 1924/25. Every Saturday night there would be a dance and her father would play his accordion. All the children had to go because they didn't have baby sitters and this was a nice get-together time for all.
The Finns instilled in their children the need for education. In the early 1940's, women usually didn't go to college, but because Aili was the valedictorian of her high school class, her Mother said to her Dad "let her give college a try". She graduated in 1952 and her tuition for four years was $7.00. She began her teaching career in Stratford and then West Hartford. One of her students, Bob Smith, wrote a book entitled "Hamlet's Dresser" that mentioned her as a young teacher in Stratford. She began teaching again at the Dr. Helen Baldwin School in the 1960's when her daughter Katherine was in Kindergarten. One of her classes in Canterbury had 45 students without a teacher's aide. She had to teach reading and English for two periods a day and the reading level was from grade 2 to 14.
She met her husband Val when her brother invited him home before they went on a camping trip. They married and had four daughters.
In the early 1940's, Aili's Father was on the Board of Assessors. Canterbury declared a surplus and the next year the residents didn't have to pay any taxes. This was so unusual the Providence Journal ran a full front-page article about it. Aili followed in her father's footsteps when the Republican Town Committee asked her to run as a Justice of the Peace and later on as a Registrar of Voters. She won both positions and was a Moderator at elections for several years. She served on the Northeast Regional Planning Agency and this is how she got interested in Town planning and ran and won a position on Canterbury Planning and Zoning Commission. Between the two boards, she served twenty-seven years. The Secretary of State honored her with an award for her many years of service.
During World War II, a tower was constructed across from the Dr. Helen Baldwin School and manned by townspeople. Each person who signed up would take a turn and watch for enemy planes. This was done because Canterbury was so close to the shore.
Aili can remember so many ways Canterbury has changed since she was a child. In 1947 the schools became consolidated into one, the Town government records were kept in someone's house until the 1960's, the post office was in a corner of the house near the Prudence Crandall museum. We now have a beautiful new municipal building built in 2001 and a post office built in 1990. Canterbury's roads and bridges have become much improved over the years also.
As for her Finnish heritage Aili says, "Finnish people were looked up to because they were such hard workers. They knew how to have their fun, but they knew how to cooperate." Aili Galasyn has continued this tradition.