History of Kemijärvi

Already in the Stone Age, the Kemijok arm was in lively cultural contact with the north, east, south and west. Evidence of ancient settlements has been found all along the shores of Lake Kemijärvi. The settlement of Neitilä in Luusua is thousands of years old, and was also the site of one of the few Iron Age smelters in Finland that has been studied.

The southern border of Lapinmaa (i.e. the border between Lapland and Lanna) was defined in the 1500s at the latest as the border through Kemijärvi via Luuksinsalmi. At the time of the settlement of Kemijärvi, the line through Pyhätunturi and Talvensaari was clearly understood to be the border.

Finland was part of the Swedish Empire until 1809, when Sweden ceded Finland to Russia. Finland had autonomous independence under Russian rule. Finland became independent in 1917.

Housing development

The Sámi inhabited Kemijärvi before the Finns arrived. The Keminlappans lived mainly by fishing and hunting.

When the first Finnish settlers arrived in Kemijärvi in the early 1600s, there were no longer any Sámi living in Kemijärvi. There were disputes between the settlers and the Sámi, because the area was the borderland of Lapland, where the Sámi used to go fishing.

Finnish settlers based their households on fishing and hunting. Kemijärvi was a particularly good pike water. The extensive sludge islands in the Kemijärvi estuary and the Kemijoki River provided the basis for agriculture and livestock farming. Droughts and frosts in August caused the dreaded canopies. As late as the 1700s, only a barrel of grain per capita was available from the fields, which was not enough. Barley was a safer crop than rye. Potato cultivation was widespread from the second half of the 19th century onwards. Reindeer meat was a great help during the food shortages of the famine years of 1867-1868.

Reindeer were only used for transport until the mid-1700s, when reindeer began to be herded in sturgeons, at least in the Kemijärvi area. The reindeer became a domestic animal in 1766. It was not until 1898 that it became compulsory to set up paliskuntien, i.e. communities of reindeer owners operating independently in a defined area. Reindeer husbandry made a significant contribution to the financial income of Kemijärvi households in the 19th century, although it was not widely practised.

Houses in Kemijärvi were often built as square houses. The dwelling houses and food fences were placed almost in a corner around the so-called man’s yard. Cattle buildings, feed sheds and equipment sheds surrounded the yard. The walls of the buildings were tapered downwards to prevent water dripping from the eaves from damaging the lower parts of the buildings. The barn walls were large. There were no trees or gardens around the dwellings. Even today, some old main buildings can still be seen along the main roads.

The summerhouse was often a small square building with an opening in the gable end and sometimes a tower. The barn therefore had a strong draught, which repelled mosquitoes and other insects that bothered the cows, so the cows milked well.

Doing business

Kemijärvi was a well-known trading place from early times. In the 17th century, the main commodity was dried pike and in the 1700s, butter.

Fur traders bought skins of squirrel, weasel, fox and beaver, among others. Birds were sold dried in the market. Furs, reindeer products and feathers were also sold. Households mainly needed salt and iron, but sometimes also bread and seed cereals. For example, cloth was bought from travelling bag-sellers. Predators, such as bears, wolves and wolves, were paid for killing. Tar was burnt in Kemijärvi only for domestic use. It was essential for boat building and maintenance, for impregnating ropes and nets, and for medicine. The need for window glass increased as the smokehouses began to be replaced by white ones.


Kemijärvi was located at the crossroads of important transport routes, i.e. waterways. Kemijärvi was a gateway to the Perämeri Sea to the west, the Arctic Ocean to the north, the White Sea to the east and from there to the Ladoga River to the south. The improvement of transport connections in the late 19th century led to an increase in the population of the village. The road from Rovaniemi to Kemijärvi was completed in 1853. There was regular ferry traffic between Kemijärvi and Pelkosenniemi on the Kemijoki River between 1908 and 1934. The railway to Kemijärvi was completed in the 1930s.

More recent history

In the 1920s, plans for a township in Kemijärvi began, but the project was interrupted by the Second World War. In the 1939-1945 wars, about 70% of the buildings in the area were destroyed. The post-war reconstruction until the second half of the 1950s and the construction of the Kemijoki power plant brought jobs, population and prosperity. In 1957, the church village and its surrounding areas were separated into the Kemijärvi municipality.

The Veitsiluoto pulp mill was built in the mid-1960s. The Seitakorva power plant in Kemijärvi Luusua was completed in 1963, after which the rationing of Kemijärvi was started. At this time, Kemijärvi (the trading town + rural municipality) had its largest population, around 16 000 inhabitants. Kemijärvi became a town in 1973.

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Kemijärvi’s first railway station

Janne Kaisanlahti’s compilation of the history of Kemijärvi: