Swedish immigration to Canada began in the 1850s. However, most Swedes were soon lured to the United States after only a brief sojourn in Canada. Efforts to persuade Swedes and other immigrants to remain in the country were at first unsuccessful, due to more inviting opportunities south of the border, where land and climate seemed more inviting. In fact, until 1914 most of the Swedes who came to Canada migrated from the United States. Immigration to Canada would not pick up until the end of the 19th century when land in the American
Midwest grew scarce and expensive. Those who could not secure ample farmland crossed the border into Canada where affordable land was still in abundance.
Many Swedes who came to North America during this period were fleeing famine and a land shortage in their home country. In addition to farming, early Swedish settlers also found work as
miners and lumberjacks in Northern Ontario or as labourers on the Canada Pacific Railway. With the completion of the railway in 1885, the Canadian prairies were opened up for
settlement and Winnipeg became the centre of Swedish immigration in
Canada. In fact, it was in Manitoba that the first Swedish language newspaper and church were established.
The first Swedes to settle in what is now Alberta set up homesteads at
Bittern Lake near Wetaskiwin in 1892. Bittern Lake soon formed the nucleus of a large concentration of Swedish settlements that included the villages of New Sweden, Crooked Lake, Swea, Burnt Lake, Valley City, Malmo and Water Glen. The Swedes in this region were mostly farmers who had emigrated from the United States.
After 1900, an increasing number of Swedes began to emigrate directly from Sweden. They were a diverse
group—some were industrial workers, other engineers and business men involved in the export industries, drawn west by emerging opportunities in the prairies.
There were close to 16,000 Swedes in Alberta by 1921.
Links in the Swedish community have in part been maintained through the use of media. Swedes in Canada have published a number of periodicals, most originating in Manitoba. The longest running Swedish periodical in Canada was the weekly
Canada-Tidningen, founded in 1892. It amalgamated with the
Swedish American Tribune of Chicago in 1970 which continues to publish weekly. In addition, Canada-Svenska is published semi-monthly in Toronto and caters primarily to post World War II Swedish immigrants living in Central Canada. The
Swedish Press (Nya Svenska Pressen) is North America's only Swedish monthly magazine and is published out of Vancouver for worldwide distribution.
Scandinavian Press is a quarterly magazine that features news and articles about Scandinavian and Nordic communities.
The Vasa Order and Vasa Lodges have played an important part in the preservation of Swedish traditions. Named after Gustav Vasa, a 16th century Swedish ruler, the lodges originated in the 1890s in the United States as an association for sick benefits and Scandinavian culture. Alberta's first Vasa Lodge was established at Meeting Creek in 1931. Today, affiliated lodges can also be found in Calgary, Bashaw, Wetaskiwin, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Thorsby.
Vasa Lodges engage their members in a number of social and cultural activities, as well as several community service programs. They organize Saint Lucia pageants each year, which mark the beginning of the Christmas season and celebrate the lengthening of daylight hours following the winter solstice. As part of the festivities, the eldest daughter dresses in a white gown and wears a crown of lit candles to represent Saint Lucia, a Christian martyr who renounced her possessions and served the poor. Today Lucia is a symbol of light and hope for the future for the Swedish community.
Swedish-Canadian cultural organizations are often affiliated with Pan-Scandinavian associations. For example, in 1959 the Vasa Lodge in Lethbridge admitted Danes and Norwegians to form a Scandinavian club. In Edmonton, Swedes are active in the Scandinavian Centre Cooperative Association, which was created in 1954. The Scandinavian Centre in Calgary supports various groups and is the location of a
Swedish School for children, and Swedish seminars for the more advanced students.
The University of Alberta has an active Scandinavian
Club that promotes events and activities for students interested in Scandinavian culture, as well as links to other resources and organizations, and the city of Edmonton is home to the Scandinavian Heritage Society.
In addition to social and cultural activities, Swedish Canadians have been active in the country's political and economic life. Like other Scandinavians, Swedes were instrumental in the organization of Co-ops in Alberta and were active members of the
United Farmers of
Alberta. Harry Strom, a former Premier of Alberta was of Swedish decent.
In 2001 there were 282,760 Swedes in Canada, 45 percent of whom lived in the three Prairie
provinces. Specifically, Alberta is home to a Swedish population of over 78,000. Swedish immigration to Canada has been slight since World War II, due to favourable social and economic conditions in Sweden.
Through their community organizations and participation in the economic and political affairs of Alberta, Swedes both preserve the cultural heritage of the province and take an active part in shaping Albertan society.
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.