Swedish Press May-June 2024 Vol 95:02 Sample

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02 2024 ] ] Swedish Media –Then And Now May-June 2024 Vol 95:02 $9.95 Community in Transition | Manufacturing Consensus | Sweden Joins NATO

A Community in Transition

How did the Swedish immigrant community assimilate into Canada? Historian Stig Lyren has scoured the archives of the Swedish Press to better understand how World War II helped Swedish-Canadians forge their Canadian identity.

Stig Lyren is a Swedish immigrant to Canada. Born in Umeå, he moved with his parents and younger brother to Vancouver in 1968.

“I still vividly remember my arrival in Vancouver on a late January evening. I was not yet thirteen years old, and arriving in a new country seemed exciting and scary. I have always wondered why families like mine would leave and seek their fortunes elsewhere,” he says.

Lyren was always interested in the great European migration, so after retiring from a career in finance, he returned to university to study history. He decided to devote his graduating thesis to the Swedish immigrant community – Swedes in British Columbia: A Community in Transition 1932 –1945.

“This was a period of great turmoil for the Swedish immigrant community, the Province of BC, and Canada. The economic depression of the 1930s was in full swing, Canada and the US were implementing immigration restrictions, and the period was to culminate with World War II. It was a transition period for the Swedish community,” he says.

Lyren focused his research on the change in the community through which the hyphen between SwedishCanadian was removed to simply become Canadian, albeit of Swedish roots.

“How the community looks at

itself and how they become more embedded into the Canadian identity,” he says.

To understand this process, Lyren went through all the editions of the Swedish Press from 1932 to 1945. “It’s not uncommon for historians to focus on ethnic newspapers as a way of studying a community,” he explains.

The Invisible Immigrants

The majority of Swedish immigrants to Canada arrived between 1900 and 1930. By 1931, there were just over 81,000 immigrants and Canadians of Swedish origin. A small number in comparison to the United States. They would become known as the “invisible immigrants”, largely due to

the ease with which they assimilated. For example, by 1931, only 3.1 percent of Norwegians and 2.9 percent of Swedes in Canada could not speak English. But it wasn’t all about the language. Sweden and other Scandinavian countries had a well-educated population which made them attractive employees. By the mid-19th century, literacy rates in Sweden reached 90 percent, significantly higher than in other European countries. This meant Scandinavians were often recruited into leadership roles in the workplace, which also facilitated their fast integration.

However, the ease with which Swedes and other Scandinavians assimilated, would negatively impact

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Stig Lyren digging through the archives of the Swedish Press. Photo: Kajsa Norman

the retention of their native language. It wasn’t long before Swedish associations and even Swedish churches began to use English to maintain members and attract new ones. As one pastor stated, “It is not that we love Swedish less, but we love souls more.”

Lyren can relate. Within six months of arriving in Canada in 1968, he stopped speaking Swedish to his family members and began to respond to everything in English. “I decided that I wouldn’t speak Swedish anymore. I wanted to assimilate,” he recalls. Fitting in became more important than retaining his mother tongue.

This appeared to be the norm rather than the exception. A 1970 Canadian investigation of ethnic minorities revealed that the second generation with the poorest command of their ancestral language was the Scandinavian community.

“We are not here as travellers or tourists but as citizens who build, live, and work in solidarity with and for our adopted country. Therefore, we are not foreigners in any sense.”

The Role of the Swedish Press

The Swedish Press was the newspaper that served the Swedish community in British Columbia and beyond. At first, however, the paper was called Svenska Pressen. It was started in 1928 by two Finnish Swedes, Helge Ekengren and Paul Johnson. Initially, it was an eight-page, weekly publication, but it would shrink to a four-page publication in 1933. The same year, Matthew M. Lindfors joined the newspaper and subsequently became its editor. Publishing a foreign-language newspaper

was not without its challeng es as the paper was depend ent upon a steady stream of new immigrants.

Most foreign-language newspapers at the time had a very high mortality rate and similar challenges faced Svenska Pressen. The 1930s and 1940s were marred by financial difficulties. The depression and the decline of new first-generation, Swedish-speaking immigrants impacted the readership. Lindfors was constantly seeking subscribers and advertisers. Finally, in 1936, Lindfors sold the newspaper to Seattle’s Svenska Posten. The venture proved unsuccessful; within seven

months, Lindfors had reacquired the newspaper and renamed it the Nya Svenska Pressen (New Swedish Press). The first edition of the Nya Svenska Pressen was published on February 11, 1937.

Lindfors did not hesitate to use the newspaper to champion Swed-

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ishness, advocate for the Swedish language, and to rally the community to support their heritage. Convinced that reaching the young generation was key, he created annual summer camps for kids, St. Lucia celebrations, and the establishment of a children’s club and a children’s column in the newspaper – events aimed at strengthening the connections within the community and help it establish its identity. However, given the decline in Swedish-speaking readership, the use of English in the newspaper continued to increase.

World War II

During World War I, Swedish immigrants had been targeted by the AngloCanadian community because of their perceived support for Germany. Swedes were considered pro-German because of Sweden’s continued relationship and trade with Germany. The lingering doubt about the loyalty of the Swedish community would persist during the interwar years and featured from time to time in the newspaper. At the onset of World War II, there were concerns in the Swedish-Canadian community about how the government and the larger Anglo-Canadian community would treat them. Although Germans, Italians and eventually the Japanese were treated as enemy aliens, Swedish-Canadian did not suffer the same treatment, despite Sweden’s continued wartime trade with Germany. From the beginning, Lindfors and the Swedish Press supported Canada’s war effort, a position reflected in the content of the paper and the broader community as a whole. However, the situation soon became more complex.

“Things were fine until 1941 when Germany invaded Russia,” says Lyren.

“Most Scandinavian communities were anti-Russian and now Russia had suddenly become an ally of Canada. Meanwhile, Finland became an ally of Germany to protect herself in the continuation war of 1941. In December 1941, Canada declared war against Finland. How do you handle that?”

The situation in the Nordics was incredibly confusing for the Scandinavian community in Canada. Denmark and Norway had been invaded by Germany and were under occupation. Finland had entered an alliance with Germany, which was at war with Canada. This made covering news from Finland, Norway, and Denmark very challenging. Thus, the coverage in the Swedish Press began to focus almost exclusively on the Swedish

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Ads supporting the Canadian war effort were common in the Swedish Press. “This is your Canada too! Is your daughter helping to defend it?” asks this ad for the RCAF.

perspective of the conflict. Many articles talked about Sweden’s wartime preparedness, the assistance provided to her neighbors, and the war’s effect on Sweden. Articles from 1941-1943 were very much in line with the official stance of the Swedish government, as exemplified by the headline on February 6, 1941: “Sweden has helped and is now helping her stricken neighbours.”

After 1943, there was an even more concerted effort to provide a positive image of Sweden and to attempt to justify her stance. It was clear the war was turning and it became important to try to influence the perception of Sweden’s role in the war, particularly in North America. Swedish public agencies provided stories to the Swedish North American press where the concept of neutrality became part of the Swedish identity. These articles were also featured in the Swedish Press. The message was that although Sweden was neutral, it certainly sympathized with the Allies. The fact that the stories were in English also

suggests that the intended readership stretched beyond the usual subscribers.

To show its support for the Canadian war effort, war heroes of Swedish descent also featured in the press. For example, the story of the heroic accomplishments of Pilot Officer George F. “Screwball” Beurling warranted a place on the front page. Beurling was the son of Swedish immigrants and a Canadian flying ace credited with shooting down twentynine axis planes over Malta. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross and bar and would later receive the Distinguished Service Order.

The tragic stories of the SwedishCanadian soldiers who were killed in action were another reoccurring theme in the paper. A number of the

The complexity of the Nordic allegiances during the war made covering events in Finland, Norway, and Denmark very challenging. Thus, the coverage in the Swedish Press focused mainly on the Swedish perspective of the conflict. Many articles talked about Sweden’s wartime preparedness, the assistance provided to her neighbors, and the war’s effect on Sweden.

“We must understand Finland and hope for Norway… Freedom for the north is all our concern.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Rickard J Sandler on August 10, 1941.

To show its support for the Canadian war effort, war heroes of Swedish descent featured in the press. Here is Pilot Officer George F. “Screwball” Beurling, the son of Swedish immigrants and a Canadian flying ace credited with shooting down twenty-nine axis planes over Malta. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross and bar and would later receive the Distinguished Service Order.

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young boys who had participated in Lindfors’ children’s club perished in the war and their deaths naturally impacted the community.

“When you have young men of Swedish heritage fighting in the war and dying, that does a lot to tie you into the brotherhood of the Canadian community,” says Lyren who believes the sacrifices of the Swedish-Canadian community in support of the Canadian war effort was key in the transition to their becoming Canadian.

“When, as a society, you sacrifice your young men, you’re making a commitment to the country that you are now a part of. You’ve lost family as well and you are now more a part of the Canadian identity than the country you left behind,” he concludes.

An ad from 1942, requesting support for the Swedish Press.
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Financing the war was a significant undertaking by the Canadian Government who enlisted the aid of the media to support the war effort. The Swedish Press published many ads in Swedish appealing to the community to support the war effort and purchase “Victory Bonds”. Here are some examples.

Sweden’s neutrality policy would significantly impact he country's international image. The allies criticized Sweden’s stance, while Norway and Denmark, who would spend the war under German occupation, felt betrayed. The Swedish Press published articles attempting to explain or justify Sweden’s position. Danish writer Signe Toksvig contributed a series entitled “How Neutral is Sweden?” which was published over four weeks, with the first article on March 25, 1943.


First published on April 29, 1943.

How is it now in Sweden? With Germany to the south across the narrow Baltic, Nazis in Norway and Denmark to the west and north, Nazis in Finland to the east – do they pipe down, bend low, tread lightly?

A woman who has just returned from a visit to the country gives the best answer: ‘They stand up to their big hardships with clear eyes and a will to let nothing break them, whatever the cost. I talked to all sorts of people, and they are all the same – uncomplaining, confident, firm in their belief that they are on the right way. Their fighting spirit is their most evident characteristic. And next to that is their loving pity towards all the suffering people of Europe. They are doing much more, especially for the Norwegians and the Finns, than they really ought to, they have so horribly little themselves. I was shocked beyond words at the change in living standards since 1939. Their meat and bread rations are dreadfully small – the people do not get enough; I never had enough! No hot water in that cold winter. Yet everybody’s answer is, ‘But WE can’t complain.’ Everything is endured gladly, willingly, proudly. It made the tears fall to see what I saw and to read what I read. The press! I got frightened several times by reading the newspapers, they are so unflinchingly outspoken, as if they represented the strongest and most independent great power in the world.’

Between January and May, Stock-

holm apartment houses were allowed only three days of hot water. The bread ration is about seven ounces daily. One egg and six ounces of meat are the weekly allowance of those essentials.

The Swedish press must be mentioned. There is no greater aid to the country’s morale and self respect. Ninety-five per cent of the population reads a daily paper and 63 per cent a weekly. Only one afternoon paper, now being boycotted, is rated as pro-German. Typical of hundreds of papers is what a great liberal daily said: ‘Nothing has meant more for Swedish sense of reality and self-knowledge than the attempt during the past year to force a foreign system on the Norwegians. If people think that the brutality of jailers or the bullets of a firing squad will lame the will to resist of the Norwegian patriots, they are just as mistaken as they would be to think that the news of this would throw the Swedes into a state of fear and fatalistic subjection.’

those are the people who are seized as hostages and put into concentration camps. The Swedes are well aware of it. This knowledge does not throw them into a state of fear or fatalistic subjection: It did not even when prospects looked darkest.

Examples of the courage of the Swedish press would fill several books, especially if one were to include the resolutions condemning the Nazis, which are almost daily being passed by Sweden’s many organizations. Remember that the Nazis keep detailed records of the journalists and other people who publicly or even privately oppose them, and when they occupy such a country

So long as she can maintain her neutrality, Sweden bars the path of the Axis. If she can’t?

‘We may have to fight for all that we hold dear,’ Sweden’s staunch premier, Per Albin Hansson, said late this summer ‘and if we do, I know that our people who love peace will show that they love freedom and democracy more.’

How neutral is Sweden.

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