History of the Finnish Spitz in Canada
and the founding of the CFSC
The first imports of the Finnish Spitz into Canada are thought to be several dogs brought from Finland by Ray Rinta of Vancouver, B.C. in the late 1960’s. But it wasn’t until the mid’70’s that the breed became firmly established and a community of fanciers developed into what was to become the Canadian Finnish Spitz Club…
It might be a bit presumptuous of me to share this history in the first person but I was there almost from the beginning. My involvement with Finnish Spitz spans 41 years this year (2016). As one charming judge suggested to me “I started when I was a mere infant”. I was actually looking for a Pomeranian. As an enthusiastic young teen growing up in Winnipeg, I bought a book at Eaton’s called “The Dog’s Annual” published by the Canadian Kennel Club for the first time in 1974. This publication contained two auspicious features: listings of breeders for all pure breeds throughout Canada and an article featuring new breeds being recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club in 1974 – one of which was a foxy red dog called the Finnish Spitz.
I wrote to many breeders listed in that book and only one responded: Joan Grant of Jayenn Kennels of nearby Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Even though she explained that $50 was probably not enough to buy a quality purebred she continued to correspond with and encourage me. Eventually we met at dog shows (not an easy feat as I was shy) and I kept saving, started junior handling classes, started showing…and still did not have my Pomeranian. Just before I was finally going to get one, it had health problems and Joan lost it. She did not have another puppy for me but what she did have was a puppy of a new breed which she had recently imported into Canada – a Finnish Spitz. Was I interested? A full-blown dog-o-phile now, I was fascinated with the opportunity to become involved with a rare breed.
Joan Grant of Jayenn Kennels…where do I start? Boundless energy, fathomless knowledge, valuable mentor. Already active with Pomeranians and Norwegian Elkhounds, she welcomed the challenge of working with a new spitz breed. When she heard the breed was going to be recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club she started corresponding with Griselda Price of England, winner year after year of top breeder awards for her famous “Cullabine” Finnish Spitz. Joan was first offered an adult female who came to Canada in whelp, Cullabine Isadora. That first litter, sired by Cullabine Arno, produced four puppies who were to become the foundation of Finnish Spitz in Canada and the US: Jayenn’s Cullabine Kotka, Jayenn’s Cullabine Kerri, Jayenn’ Cullabine Kukka and Jayenn’s Cullabine Kaiya. Isadora was then bred to another English dog, imported by Carolyn Rabb of Ontario – Cullabine Casper. This litter produced another four puppies including my Finnish Spitz puppy, Jayenn’s Naughty Net No Kwa (Nettie).
Meanwhile Estelle Mathews of Regina, Saskatchewan also imported – this time bringing in a brother/sister pair from Finland named Iljan Rekku and Iljan Sisu.
We were starting to see a little community developing when Joan suggested we support the entry at the Manitoba Canine Association shows, August long weekend in 1976 as a “breed booster show”. I had been showing my little “Nettie” at every show and match I could, often competing as the only Finnish Spitz at the show so the idea of having a few dogs to show with sounded great. Joan was also going to be bringing a new dog she had brought from England. That weekend we saw the debut of English Best in Show Champion Cullabine Tarik, bred by Mrs.Price, who was one of the top-winning Finnish Spitz of his time. He completed his Canadian championship that weekend with three Best of Breeds and group placings. Booster shows have proved to be integral to the breed, providing opportunities for breed promotion as well as competition and support for exhibitors all at the same time. Judges never fail to thank us for making the effort to bring a quality entry to their rings.
The Finnish Spitz community continues to be positive and supportive in Canada. The Finnish Spitz is a rare breed; we need each other in order to succeed. If we get together for a booster or a breed specialty show, it works if we all feel welcome and there are enough dogs to make the show a success. If there are different winners each day, we are pleased with the success for the breed. Community also led to the establishment of the Canadian Finnish Spitz Club — from our first little meeting in Winnipeg in 1976 to the inauguration of the club at our biggest breed gathering to date: Regina’s Anubis Dog Fanciers show, July 15, 1978. It was my 16th birthday and we changed the By-laws at that first AGM so that junior members could serve on the Board. New champion Cullabine Tarik also emerged from the booster entry to the first Group First for the breed in Canada, under Judge Leslie Rogers.
Our affinity for the breed was shared with news, stories and photos in “The Red Letter”. Joan bought a used gestetner machine and we spent hours typing, printing, collating and mailing a regular newsletter to every CFSC member. Then we had photocopying, soon we had little dot-matrix clip-arts and tear-off printers and – oh my gosh — word processing made that newsletter so much easier to produce. Some of those articles are still worth re-reading today and can be found in Joan Grant’s book: Finnish Spitz, A Closer Look. Today the newsletter still keeps us connected and is, for the most part, sent via email. Free copies are available to all new owners in Canada.
The club also has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/canadianfinnishspitzclub.
We were still encouraging breed get-togethers from Winnipeg to Regina, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Edmonton. Many hours were spent at every dog show gathering, tackling the project of improving the CKC standard for the breed which was formerly an awkward translation from the Finnish. In 1984 the club attained specialty status and the first breed National Specialty was held in Regina under Judge John Ross.
In 1988, the year of the Canadian Kennel Club breed centennial, many of us made the long trek to hold the Canadian Finnish Spitz Club National Specialty in Toronto.
1988 was also the year the Finnish Spitz was recognized by the American Kennel Club. Canadian Finnish Spitz had already been winning at rare breed shows and FSCA matches, including Best in Specialty at the first-ever FSCA National. The first-ever AKC show weekend for Finnish Spitz saw a Canadian Finnish Spitz win Winners Bitch at a California supported entry.
During the 1980’s and 1990’s the breed was in capable hands with Group placings occurring regularly from Ontario to British Columbia, boosters and specialties were attracting respectable numbers and Canadian Finnish Spitz were winning Best in Shows. The breed was garnering respect from judges and exhibitors of other breeds. Canadian-bred Finnish Spitz were winning US National Shows, all-breed Best in Shows in Canada and the US, setting North American records in the breed.
As often as possible we have employed Finnish judges to evaluate our dogs and Canadian Finnish Spitz breeders have emerged from these shows with enthusiastic reviews from these competitions including Group Firsts, multiple placements and assurances that breeders are meeting the responsibility placed upon them to protect Finland’s National Dog.
Canadian breeders have benefitted from an atmosphere of full disclosure established by Joan Grant from the very beginning. Early breedings showed that the Finnish Spitz, which was purported to be “relatively free of inherited disease” was not as healthy as we were led to believe. A small genepool revealed early on that the imports which had been brought in, while of superior quality especially in structure and temperament, had three main genetic issues: inherited cleft palate, congenital holes in hearts and most disturbing of all, chondar achalasia, a nerve disorder which interferes with swallowing (known in some breeds as the wider term “mega-esophagus” which is actually the result of disrupted swallowing so is a symptom rather than a cause of the disease).
Some breeders would have hidden the problems. Some breeders would have quit. But Joan Grant sought the advice of a vet who taught genetics seminars and who himself was a breeder of another challenging rare breed. His advice was to test breed and keep the healthiest to breed forward with.
Thirty years later breeders of Finnish Spitz in Canada enjoy raising litters free of all three diseases because of the foundation established through these test breedings. We do not have epilepsy in the Finnish Spitz in Canada and all breeders are careful with imports to make sure this disease is not introduced into Canadian bloodlines. Most importantly, we breed in an atmosphere of full disclosure which assures us there is no shame in finding health problems in our breeding stock, only shame in hiding it from others. Working together has allowed us to breed some of the healthiest Finnish Spitz in the world.
The smaller genepool has also reinforced a foundation of “Canadian breed type” and “Canadian soundness”. Fronts are particularly strong on Finnish Spitz in Canada. Finnish Spitz from Canadian kennels have gone on to win many U.S. National Specialties, set breed records in the U.S., wins in New Zealand, Australia, Holland, and World and European Winner Shows in Finland and Sweden. A Canadian-bred Finnish Spitz is the only Finnish Spitz from North America to attain a Finnish Championship!
The breed has also benefitted from occasional imports over the years. New blood from Finland, Sweden, Holland and the US has contributed to the health and soundness of Canadian Finnish Spitz.
With so much going for the breed, it is surprising that the Finnish Spitz is not more popular at shows across Canada. There are only a few active breeders and all are willing to sell their best dogs to encourage breed participation. The breed is particularly under-supported in the east and we encourage new fanciers, especially those who are already enjoying dog activities – bring your knowledge and enthusiasm to the Finnish Spitz community in Canada!
After a brief period of inactivity, the Canadian Finnish Spitz Club is experiencing a renaissance as new breeders and fanciers bring new energy to the breed and those who have supported the club for so many years are inspired to become active again. Breed booster shows have been held in Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. Education, breed promotion, protection of the historic value and health of the breed and maintaining that all-important sense of community are goals of the club. New members are always welcome.
- Lifetime member of the CFSC