Vaasa – the Capital of White Finland

The Russification of Finland and the activities of the Russian state relating to this in the early 20th century lead to Finland’s desire to become independent and finally to its success in 1917. However, independence came at a cost. There were still numerous Russian soldiers in the country and their relegation led to the Civil War in early 1918. The country was divided into the Red and White Guards. The Reds controlled Southern Finland and Helsinki with all its government offices. Some of the country’s government members fled to Vaasa, where Lieutenant General Mannerheim, now appointed Supreme Commander of the White Guards, began the deportation of Russians with the help of the Civil Guard and the Jaegers, who had been trained in Germany.

Katunäkymiä Vaasassa.Mannerheim arrived in Vaasa on the 19th of January 1918 and began to organise the White army. On the 25th of January, he gave the order to disarm Russian garrisons. Hostilities began on the 27th of January both in Vaasa and in various parts of the province. The majority of Finnish Jaegers arrived in Vaasa on S/S Arcturus on the 25th of February 1918 from Germany, where they had been in training. The Jaegers immediately found themselves in the middle of warfare, training and leading the Whites.

Senators Alexander Frey, E.Y. Pehkonen and Heikki Renvall had escaped the now Red-occupied Helsinki in the nick of time and arrived in Vaasa right after the hostilities had broken out. Senator Juhani Arajärvi from Tampere also came to Vaasa and, at the end of March, P.E. Svinhufvud and Jalmar Castrén succeeded in travelling to the town from Helsinki. The Senate of White Finland sat in Vaasa for three months. At first, it operated in the Governor’s house on Koulukatu, where Mannerheim had also stayed for a few weeks in January. However, there was a gun workshop downstairs in the premises of an industrial school, making the space too cramped and noisy. On the 16th of March, the Senate and its office moved to more spacious facilities in the City Hall.

Vaasan Osake Pankin seteleitä_760With the Reds occupying the mint and banknote printing press facilities in Helsinki, the Vaasa Senate printed its own Vaasan Osake Pankki notes and stamps in Vaasa. The notes and stamps were printed in Julius Björkell’s lithographic printing shop on Kauppapuistikko. The notes were designed by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, who worked at Mannerheim’s headquarters. The Vaasa-based artist and architect Matti Björklund (later known as Visanti) drafted the stamps, basing his design on the first Finnish stamps designed by Eliel Saarinen. Several public utility companies and towns were also granted permission to print their own payment instruments of small value. The best known of these are the “notes” printed by the cotton factory Waasan Puuvillatehdas Osakeyhtiö.

Vaasa notes and stamps are reminders of these exciting times when Finland’s first steps as an independent state were governed from Vaasa.

After the Whites occupied Vyborg and Hämeenlinna at the end of April, and their German allies occupied Helsinki and Lahti, the decision to move the Senate back to Helsinki was made. The last decision the Senate made in the town was to entitle the city of Vaasa to incorporate the Finnish Cross of Liberty in its coat of arms.