November 2009 SaskSecrets

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Welcome! You are viewing an archived issue of SaskSecrets, Tourism Saskatchewan's Online Newsletter, from November 2009. To read the current issue of SaskSecrets, click here.

Film About Saskatchewan Pioneer Tom Sukanen Coming To Television


The story behind Sisu fascinated the California filmmaker Chrystene Ells. To create the film, Sisu: the death of Tom Sukanen, she moved from San Francisco to Saskatchewan in 2006, and is now in the process of immigrating to Canada. 

Ells says, “This story of Tom’s soul has haunted me for over 15 years.” Tom Sukanen was the legendary Saskatchewan pioneer who single-handedly built a massive ocean-going ship on the prairie during the Depression. After his early success as a wheat farmer, he lost his family to influenza and his wheat fields to the dust storms of the 1930’s.

As the Depression hit and his life crumbled around him, Tom began to envision a fantastic and romantic dream to build a steam-and-sailing ship on his prairie farm and pilot her home to Finland.


Over the next decade, Tom used the materials from his barn and house and transformed what had been his homestead into a magnificent ship, the Sontiainen. Alas, what is innovation if not misunderstood? His neighbours had him committed and he died in the North Battleford Mental Hospital shortly after his arrival in 1943.

According to local legend, Tom was just a crazy Finnish immigrant who went insane, but Ells’ film paints a different and much more beautiful picture. The first feature film made about Sukanen tells of a poignant and bittersweet story, based on Ells’ intensive research and interviews with Saskatchewan locals who knew him, as well as her studies of Finnish cultural history during a research trip to Finland. The film features both live action and a variety of animation and effects.

For more about the story of Tom Sukanen and the making of Sisu, visit the website. Sisu will be broadcast on SCN  December 12 at 7:00pm & 10:30pm.

Story courtesy of SCN 
Photos courtesy of
Chrystene Ells Films