In the 1700s and 1800s, the harbours of Ostrobothnia were lively places where one probably heard a cacophony of noises from smithies, shipyards and cartwheels, as well as men shouting and horses snorting. The air was thick with the strong smells of tar, pitch and horse manure. Local residents would gather at harbours to watch the launching of new sailing ships or the vessels returning from long journeys abroad, hoping that the crew would be okay, or at least alive, after the trials and tribulations of their journey. The dangers on journeys included shipwrecks, accidents, disease and even hijacking. For instance, when the frigate Concordia returned to Pietarsaari from distant seas in autumn 1785, more than ten of its crew had died of diseases during the journey. Concordia was the first Finnish ship to sail to the East Indies. Hercules, a ship owned by Peter Malm and skippered by Petter Idman, also attracted attention in the 1840s by being the first Finnish vessel to sail around the globe.


Shipbuilding, seafaring and trade increased the wealth of merchants and provided work and income for other locals. Carpenters and joiners were needed in shipbuilding, seamen and officers in seafaring. These livelihoods had an impact on a large area because shipbuilding and trade were possible only by utilising forests inland. Timber and tar were transported to Kokkola from the Perhonjoki river valley and to Pietarsaari from the lake district of South Ostrobothnia. The depletion of forests, which was a cause of concern already in the 1700s, was the flip side of the “green gold” received from forests.


The old harbour of Pietarsaari – which due to land uplift in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s was gradually moved from the town to a location north of it in Kittholma – has been a place of economic, cultural and historical significance for the whole of Finland. The harbour with its surroundings was a centre of seafaring, shipbuilding, trade and industry. Tar, pitch and timber were exported from the harbour while salt, coffee, spices, tobacco and dyes, among other goods, were imported. 


The location of the harbour was regarded as excellent because it was protected against strong winds. The crown vessel manager Påhl Lijthen noted in the late 1600s that the entrance channel to the harbour was deep enough and without larger rocks, so that ships could anchor near the waterfront sheds for moving cargo. The Kittholma forest, where tree felling was forbidden already in the early 1700s, provided natural protection against northern storms.


The harbour was later said to be perfect also in order to get full navigation freedom and customs rights for Pietarsaari. The merchants of Stockholm naturally defended their own privileges and were against the granting of staple rights to Finland’s coastal towns. After a long, multiphase political struggle, Pietarsaari finally received staple rights in 1793, and Kokkola had received them about thirty years earlier. The staple rights were advocated above all by Anders Chydenius, who represented the clergy at the Diet, and by the mayor of Pietarsaari, Natanael Häggström. They were brave enough to imply in Stockholm that the loyalty of Finns towards Sweden could be put to the test if trade rights were not granted.


Stockholm thus restricted trade in small towns, but arguments were common on the Finnish coast as well. Just like the bourgeoisie, Finnish farmers also traded by the sea – even as far as Stockholm – even though there were efforts to restrict their sailing. The bourgeoisie hoped that the farmers would focus on taking care of fields and meadows instead of confusing the business of the bourgeoisie. Overall, trade was strictly regulated and monopolised by trade companies in the 1600s and 1700s. In addition, customs supervised trade and imposed taxes on it.


Ships were being built in the old harbour area already in the 1660s by the Dutch Momman brothers. The internationally significant shipyard Carlholm (or Calholm) started its operation west of the harbour bay in the late 1700s. Other industrial activity was also started in this area. In the early 1750s, a pitch factory (Pikiruukki) was established near the harbour, in Nätinabban (Verkkoniemi). In the 1850s, there was a bone mill in Piispansaari that produced bone fertilisers. At about the same time, a brewery and spirit distillery were established in the area. A machine shop started operation in the late 1800s. From 1860, one of Finland’s first steam sawmills operated in Tukkisaari.


Wars and trade conditions naturally also affected the operation of the Pietarsaari harbour as well as life in general. During the Great Northern War in the 1710s, ships were lost due to Russian terror. Almost the entire town was burned. During and after the Finnish War (1808–1809), shipbuilding stagnated. The situation improved only at the end of the 1820s. In the Crimean War in the late 1850s, people lived in fear because the English were besieging the harbour area and tried to attack. Just like in the neighbouring town of Kokkola, the English invasion did not succeed. This war paralysed shipbuilding and trade for some time as well. The heyday of sailing ships lasted until the late 1800s, when they started to be replaced by steamships, which were more competitive.


The harbour was moved to Alholma at the end of the 1800s. After that, the old harbour has been mainly a leisure area and a small boat marina. Water treatment, dredging and landscaping have preserved the rich natural beauty of this cultural-historically valuable environment. Visiting the harbour, you may still find former loading places, where you can see and smell “tar floors”. Mixed with the tar, there may still be ballast stones, which were needed to balance the sailing ships.