30 / 09 / 2022

The Story of Harju’s Sauna Took Me to Scotland

Read about Carina Granö-Träskelin’s trip to Scotland via the StoryTagging project.

Writing and telling stories has always been an important part of who I am. As a journalist, I had the opportunity to capture other people’s stories and share them with the world. When I later became an entrepreneur, it was self-evident to me to preserve and record the history of the building that has housed my company, Wasa Wellness, for the last ten years.

The history of the building’s sauna stretches back 130 years; the foundation for the public sauna in the neighbourhood of Vöyrinkaupunki was laid in 1890. The sauna is nowadays popularly known as Harju’s Sauna. If walls could talk, this sauna at Pitkänlahdenkatu 13 in Vaasa, Finland, could recount and refer to numerous human fates. Men, women, and children of all ages and shapes have wandered in and out of these doors with their dreams, challenges, and joys. Just like now.

At the time of the sauna’s construction, the city of Vaasa was called Nikolainkaupunki because our country was part of Russia back then. The sauna’s first blueprint says: “Bathhouse of stone to be erected at Pitkänlahdenkatu in Nikolainkaupunki, 1890”. The public sauna has been through a few name changes, and it’s nowadays known as Wasa Wellness, a wellbeing centre for the body and soul.

Throughout the years, I’ve met with people who have gladly shared stories of what has taken place in the building. Many have told of the washerwomen’s firm hands, Seppo Harju’s friendliness, and how they learned to swim as children in a pool that was constructed in the building in the early 1970’s. The underlying idea has always been to help the sauna’s visitors relax, charge their batteries, and strengthen their wellbeing.

This is also the guiding principle of Wasa Wellness today. Regardless of whether you want to feel physically better, calm your mind, find balance, and perhaps sleep better – we’re there for our customers and clients.

Prior to our 10th anniversary on October 15th, 2011, I had written down many of the stories that were shared to me by the sauna’s previous visitors. Therefore, it felt natural to register my interest in the StoryTagging project Northword when I received an email from Project Leader Ann-Sofie Backgren.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, things didn’t turn out quite as planned and meetings with regional companies couldn’t take place, which was a real shame. When I was later given the opportunity to travel to Inverness in Scotland to represent our part of the world in the project, it felt like a true honorary mission – and simultaneously a dream come true.

Scotland has long been on my travel wish list of countries that I want to visit. The longing to realise this dream was strengthened when I – like countless others – became fascinated by the Outlander series, which is set in the Scottish Highlands in the mid-18th century and onwards.

My flight landed in Edinburgh on June 13th. The taxi driver who took me to the train station displayed the kind of warm hospitality that came to characterise my whole stay in the country. He quickly checked the railway timetable for the next train to Inverness, gave clear instructions on where to buy tickets, and explained where the train usually stops.

I warmly recommend taking a train to the Scottish Highlands; the landscape is breathtakingly beautiful. When you sit in a train compartment and watch the green hills and rolling fields pass by, you gain an excellent understanding of what Scotland has to offer to anyone who enjoys dramatic nature, interesting encounters, beautiful sights, and charming small towns.

The Northword StoryTagging conference was held at the Inverness Creative Academy. On the morning of June 15th, I was met by an enthusiastic Project Leader, Katie Murray, in the middle of the showroom. Everything was far from ready even though the first guests were expected to arrive in a couple of hours. The atmosphere was good, and we helped the Scottish artists hang their last artworks on the walls. In the Scottish part of the project, storytelling manifested in the form of making art of a local historical event, tale, or the like. Our task in Ostrobothnia had been to tell about our company history.

The story that made the biggest impression on me was the one that artist Andrea Chapell captured in the kilt she sewed. The story is based on a fire-themed festival, The Burning of the Clavie, which is held every year in Burghead along the Moray Firth coast. The story dates back to 1752, when Great Britain replaced the Julian calendar with the Gregorian calendar, resulting in the loss of 14 days. The festival in Burghead on the Shetland Isles celebrates this event every year on January 11th. It marks the beginning of the new year and is filled with rites and careful preparations. With great accuracy, Chapell embroidered the kilt with the constellation that was visible in the sky in 1752 at the time of the transition, and she also used materials that originate from the rites that are performed annually by the island’s Clavie King.

Another artist, Izzy Thomson, captured the events that took place in the village of Culbin, which was devastated by a sandstorm in the autumn 1694. The sandstorm took the villagers by surprise, and Thomson’s artwork shows everything covered in sand; from a plough that was just used by a farmer in the field to a house that only has two chimney pipes sticking out from the sand dune. The villagers fled the sandstorm, and when they finally returned to the village, there was nothing left.

The conference also showcased stories that were told in the form of music, slideshows, and computer animations. The most imaginative was perhaps about a monkey that had started to weave on the Sabbath, something that was strictly prohibited. The monkey was presented via an iPad, and the public could choose the monkey’s mood and even the pattern that formed on the screen when the monkey wove. The angrier the monkey was, the more irregular the pattern became.

My contribution, the story of Harju’s Sauna, was well received. Many were curious about our Finnish sauna culture. Another aspect that the public found interesting was how my company history is used in the trademark Wasa Wellness and what kind of additional value it has given the company. For me, the sauna’s history forms the roots and foundation of our activities. Stories about the past make us unique and create an entirely special identity for us 20 entrepreneurs who nowadays work within the walls of the building.

The conference was a lovely example of how art, in all its forms, can elevate stories that are found everywhere in our surroundings, both old and new. Gathering around storytelling has always been natural to us humans throughout history; it’s something that enriches our everyday life and helps us understand each other at a deeper level.

The artworks, the Scottish Highlands, and the people of Inverness left a lasting impression in my heart. I’m already making plans to return – maybe already this spring! A heartfelt thank you to the Kvarken Council, Katie, Ann-Sofie, and others who made this trip possible!


Text: Carina Granö-Träskelin


Briefly about the project:

The Kvarken Council participates in the international “StoryTagging” project, which aims to preserve stories connected to our cultural and natural heritage. By bringing to light our stories, we wish to attract visitors to the birthplace of the stories and products. Stories from all over the Kvarken region will receive visibility. The Kvarken Council acts as project partner on the Finnish side, whereas Region Västerbottens Turism answers for activities on the Swedish side.