Throughout the second half of the 19th century, what began as a shipbuilding enterprise on Varjakansaari – a small island sitting just off the coast of Northern Finland – started to grow into a significant industrial centre based around a steam-powered sawmill. The industry on the island brought workers from all over Finland – and beyond – to live and work in the area.

In 1919, much of the timber storage and industrial buildings on the island were devastated by a great fire. With the large sum of insurance money the company replaced the old buildings and expanded the sawmill according to the designs of the county architect Harald Andersin. This represents a clear turning point in the history of Varjakka. The early 1920’s witnessed the construction of magnificent office buildings, a canteen, fire station and other utility buildings, as well as houses and barracks for workers.

Meanwhile, on the mainland,18 multi-family homes were constructed along two streets. At its peak, the sawmill operated in two shifts, employing over 700 workers. The sawmill contributed to the development of a vibrant social and cultural life including a cinema and a weekend market that attracted merchants from across the water in Oulu.

In 1929 a mechanical failure, along with worldwide recession, led to the sawmill’s demise. Some of the buildings, including the workers’ homes on the mainland, were dismantled and dragged over the ice to new locations. Over the course of the next 50 years, the local industry gradually declined and the island was deserted. 

WARJAKKA is an art project that aims to revitalise the area by collecting stories, creating community gardens, hosting artists residencies and revisiting the past using augmented reality technology.