Karl Adolf Oskar Relander (1863-1930) was the longest serving headmaster of the Sortavala Teacher Training College (1908-1928). Relander’s tenure included several key events of the college’s history, such as the Russification of Finland, Finnish independence and the rise of nationalism and karelianism. Relander arrived in Sortavala in 1908 from Jyväskylä, where he had worked at the local college as a lector of Finnish language. Relander was known for his deep interest in folk tradition and culture and he worked hard to preserve and advance karelian culture and language. He was also interested in agriculture and acted as the teacher of gardening at the college and was involved in the founding of several parks around Sortavala, such as the famous Vakkosalmi park. The hardest years of the college were between 1908 and 1917 during the Second Russification Period. Finland’s cultural and economic institutions were amongst the frontlines of this battle.
Sortavala’s location at the border between Finland and Russia made it a flashpoint in the cultural war. Russian authorities were wary of the college and would have wanted to move it to Hamina, far away from the dangerous karelianistic ideas and national romanticism. Relander was strongly against these pursuits. His son went to Germany to receive military training as a jaeger for the assumed coming war for independence, but was caught transporting explosives back to Finland. At this point the Russian authorities had had enough with Relander. on 29.11.1916 he was arrested and eventually exiled to Siberia, accused of German sympathies and revolutionary activity. Relander wasn’t discouraged by this but instead spent his time in exile by studying the foreign people, culture and nature. When the February Revolution came in 1917 Relander was granted his freedom and he began the long way back to Sortavala. He finally arrived back on 8.5.1917 and received a hero’s welcome.