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Swedish Heritage
Learn About the History of Swedes in BC

Carina Spencer - Swedish Honorary Consul

This month we would like to introduce to you our new Swedish honorary consul in Vancouver!

Carina grew up in a small village called Figeholm on the east coast of Sweden in the province of Småland. She came to Canada in 1986 and spent her first year here as a nanny to a family in Pitt Meadows, B.C. She met her future husband, Doug, at UBC in 1987. Carina enrolled in the Canadian travel School and got her Travel Diploma that enabled her to work for Thomas Cook Travel. Doug and Carina married in Vancouver in 1990. Two sons were born in 1992 and 1994 respectively.

Carina and Doug bought a food brokerage business in 1996 which they called “Summit Marketing Canada Ltd”. They together grew the company nationally and worked hard. In 2018 they sold the company after 22 successful years. Carina became involved in the Swedish societies through a Swedish friend and joined the Swedish Cultural Society . In 2014 she was chair of Sweden House Society. In 2016-2017 Carina was president of the Scandinavian Community Centre and is still a director today. She is also on the board of The Swedish Heritage in B.C.

"I still feel a strong connection to Sweden and this is the main reason I accepted the position as Swedish Honorary Consul for BC and Yukon. I am truly honoured and proud to carry on with all the great work so many people have done before me to preserve the Swedish Culture abroad and to build new connections between Canada and Sweden. This could never have happened if I had not made the decision to visit the Scandinavian Community Centre and thanks to all the wonderful people and experiences I had and continue to have at my home away from home."
- Carina Spencer

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Svea - A Sick Benefit and Benevolent Organization

Before provincial healthcare, Workers' Compensation, and Employment Insurance provided relief from illness or accidents, which was especially prevalent among BC's dangerous manual labour occupations -- there was Svea. Svea operated as a sick benefit organization (including accidents and illness), which also helped with funeral costs, and donations to needy Swedes. Active during the years 1908-1968, it was initiated by Oscar L. Sundborg, a snuff manufacturer from Winnipeg who was later the editor of Svenska Vancouver Posten. There were ninety members in its first year and a list of members reveals that most came from a background as farmhands and labourers to work in Vancouver as loggers, carpenters, and labourers but also included such diverse occupations as waiters, a bartender, and even a civil engineer. An early rule from Svea’s statute book states that members should be Swedish-born men living in BC, with good character between the ages of 18-45. This was later amended to older members and their descendants, as well as Finn-Swedes.

To give an idea of the scope of Svea’s work, the following records indicate that from 1908-1922 (14 years) total revenue for the organization was $7,150.12 (approx. $175,700 in 2022 dollars). Keeping in mind that the pay was less than today, sick help was paid out in the amount of $2,697 (approx. $66,275 in 2022 dollars), funeral help was paid out in the amount of $300 (approx. $7,372 in 2022 dollars), and donations to needy Swedes was paid out in the amount of $414 (approx. $10,173 in 2022 dollars). A typical entry in their books on May 11, 1920 was the following: “Mr. A. Anderson presented a doctor’s certificate for the period April 13 to May 29. The society granted Mr. Anderson's claim for sick help for a period of seven weeks, $35.00”, which amounts to $464.43 in 2022 dollars.

However, Svea was more than a sick benefit organization. As soon as it was established, a "munterhetskommitte" or merriment committee was formed to organize parties and celebrations such as their first Midsummer Fest held at Pete Larson's North Vancouver Hotel. Party-goers were ferried across in a hired boat and enjoyed musicians and dancing on the spacious grounds of the new hotel. Women played a key role in donating their time and abilities to these social events, as well as fundraising activities — a role acknowledged in the Minutes by the Svea membership. Starting in 1910, there was lively debate about whether they could become members until 1921 when it was definitively voted down. One exception to the rule is the mysterious appearance of one Cecilia Wahlin, a domestic servant, registered in the membership log around the time the debate started.

Another committee was also formed in its first year. This was a political committee to improve Swedes’ political standing in Vancouver. Svea was also involved in social affairs and a committee in 1911 was formed to, “discuss if the society could do something for the suppression of the wild and unlawful life that happens in a few of the city’s pubs, where Scandinavians constitute the most prominent nationality”.

In the late 1950s, with changing government aid, Svea continued mostly to visit sick members and hold social meetings. Finally in 1968, after sixty years of service to the Swedish community in Vancouver, Svea disbanded.

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Harold Reinhold Svensson 1899 – 1985

My father, Harold Swanson, was born in the family home in Spånga, Hanaskog, Sweden on September 16, 1899. His father had a sawmill business. Eventually the family moved to Agnesberg, also in Hanaskog. His father set up an oak flooring business and raised show horses there. My dad graduated from Malmö Tekniska Läroverk which helped him to get work in Canada. He was well educated and spoke Swedish, German and English which helped him when travelling to Germany on business.The family business eventually went into bancruptcy and the oak flooring business was sold to Tarkett.

In 1929 my Dad and his brother came to Canada by ship and rode the rails. He stopped in Alberta for 2 years to work on a farm and in the forest. In 1931 he rode the rails to Vancouver and Vancouver Island working at a variety of saw mill companies for .42 cents an hour which was a top wage then. He worked with a company installing the first Swedish Ramsågen in the Vancouver area. KomHS technical education he received in Sweden came in handy. During 1941 to 1945 he worked as an engineer at Heaps Engineering, next came Ideal Iron works and finally Dominion Bridge where he worked until 67 years of age and retired. Dominion Bridge stopped making gang saws and only sold parts. I remember my dad had to travel to many states in the south of USA.I remember my dad asking a black person to help him, no problem with his work! I think dad experienced racism first hand.

I remember going on holiday with my dad and mom through BC and having to stop at all the saw mills on the route! Dad met my mother at the Swedish Lutheran church. My brother was born on Vancouver Island, he was the first white baby born in the area. Dad must have been excited , he used Svensson on my brother's birth certificate! Jack had to change his last name to Swanson later.The family was very active in the Swedish Lutheran Church. My dad was a good friend of Matthew Lindfors and was President of the Swedish Press.

My dad became a board member at the Swedish Canadian rest home in North Vancouver in 1950.My dad served as vice president for two years and two years as president.The mortgage was burnt while my dad was president. The North Vancouver Swedish rest home was evetnually sold to the BC government to make way for roads to the new Second Narrows Bridge. While working for Dominion Bridge, my dad would go out during lunch looking for a suitable acreage for the new Swedish Rest home. He came across a nursery for sale and the rest is history. My dad continued as a board member and served on 3 building committees. After retiring, he would drive up to the home to look after daily business and received a $200 car allowance! In march 1970 he received a special certificate for services rendered signed by C Hagman, president and John Leander, secretary. He carrried on as trustee and voiced his disapproval from time to time.

Written by Glenn Swanson

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Lund, B.C.

Lund, B.C. is the small picturesque seaside village on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast on the northern terminus of Highway 101, 22 km north of Powell River. It was founded in 1889 by two brothers from the Valdemarsvik area, Charles and Fred Thulin.

Charles Thulin (1863-1932), born Carl August Andersson and Fred Thulin, Fredrik Gottfrid Andersson (1873-1935) grew up in a crofter’s holding in Tryserum parish, Östergötland County, but Charles’ adventurous spirit took him to Vancouver. His younger brother Fred followed three years later. They changed their name to Charles and Fred Thulin and finally settled on the Malaspina Peninsula where they founded the settlement of Lund.

In 1889, with money from his work on the Canadian Pacific railway and as a logger, Charles was able to buy a piece of land north of Vancouver. With hard work more or less day and night the Thulin brothers created the site they called Lund after the southern Swedish city. It was in 1890 that the name was chosen because it was easy to remember and easy to spell.

The entrepreneurial brothers had the foresight for the need for services to the logging and fishing industries so they built a wharf, tugboats, large and smaller scows, a hotel in the centre of Lund that contained a store and a Post Office. They cleared and drained the meadows for farmland. Fred became the Post Master and Justice of the Peace in the community. Fred’s reason for coming to Canada was that he had heard they did not work in the rain there. He was known among the Scandinavians as ‘‘Poppa Thulin’’ for his willingness to aid the community and to assist people in financial difficulty.

The following is a story from John Kalervo Gröhn’s memories from the 1930s courtesy of Dianne Kilback:
‘’One of the Thulin brothers supplied the loggers with drinks from the bar and marked the cost against their pay cheques. When their credit ran out they were told to go back to logging. Many of the loggers complained that they were being taken but to no avail as Thulin was the law in Lund. One day the loggers got together and planned to play a trick on Thulin. The plan was to coil the fire hose on top of the bar in the hotel and one of the loggers was to turn on the water when Thulin came in the door. When this happened Thulin and the whole bar was a dripping shambles. Thulin did not take this lightly and he had the loggers thrown in the clink. The jail was underneath the hotel floor on the rocks next to the high tide line. As the loggers got used to the dim light there they noticed that Thulin’s liquor cellar was right next to the jail. They managed to get into the cellar without too much digging and consumed a large quantity of liquor before the break in was discovered. They had to go back to logging to pay the bill.’’

Fred Thulin remained in Lund for the rest of his life. Charles Thulin moved to Campbell River for more entrepreneurial projects.

Astrid Switzer

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Bo Fred Olsson

Bo Fred Olsson was born in Hede, Härjedalen, Sweden. The Olsson family of 6 left Sweden by ocean liner from Gothenburg to New York in 1946 when he was 4 years old. They travelled across America by rail and entered Canada through the border customs in White Rock, British Columbia. Bo's father was already a Canadian citizen from having lived in Canada several years before, but his mother, he and his younger sister didn't have the proper immigration papers to show, so they were put in a holding cell at the White Rock train station. It was a shocking introduction to a new country for a young family to be put in jail for some reason they had no idea about. and it's even humorous to think of a little 4 - year old boy standing behind bars that were almost wide enough for him to walk through. After several hours of waiting for the clearance documents to be wired to the customs officers, they were released to continue their travels into their new country.

The Olssons settled in Vancouver where the children attended school in the East End.Bo attended Laura Secord Elementary school for grades 1 to 6 in Vancouver and grades 7 to 12 at Vancouver Technical High School. After graduating in 1960, he added a first year of college before taking a job in a large supermarket and earning his way to become Produce Manager. In 1964, he took a year off to travel home to Sweden and stayed in Vikarbyn, Dalarna for a year. There, he worked daytime in a machine shop, learning various metal work skills and teaching night school English at a local school. He was so inspired by both jobs that, upon his return to Canada, he knew he wanted to combine these two skills for a career as an Yrkeslärare (Technology Education Teacher).

After retiring from 34 years of high school teaching, Bo decided to chase one of his other dreams: to be an actor. He started on stage with local live theatre to learn basic acting skills then went on to get an agent and auditioned for film and television. Like most serious actors, he started off in television commercials and was principal actor in over 40 TV ads for many different products. He had various roles in film and television shows like, Beyond Belief, Animal miracles, Dead Like Me, the 4400, the Girlfriend Experience, Helix etc. just to name a few.

He is no longer doing any acting, but continues to perform for many senior residences and other venues in the Lower Mainland where acting skills augment his music and joke-telling routines. He is presently writing songs and hopes to record and publish a few for posterity.

Bo has entertained at many Swedish events, at the Scandinavian Centre and at Swedish Heritage events.

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Solander Island

On the BC coast we have a small island that gets its name from a Swedish botanist, Solander Island. This island is situated just off the Brooks peninsula on the west coast of Vancouver Island and is now an ecological reserve.

Daniel Solander was born in Piteå in northern Sweden in 1733. He enrolled at Uppsala university in 1750 to study law but abandoned the law after becoming inspired by botany professor Carl von Linneaus, who is the father of taxonomy ( naming of plants). Daniel Solander mastered this new naming system and was sent to England in 1759 by Linneaus as an emissary. In England, Solander was appointed assistant librarian at the British Museum in 1762.

During this time he met a wealthy landowner, Joseph Banks, and through him was invited to join Captain James Cook's ship the "HMS Endeavour" on its first voyage in 1768. It was a circumnavigation that went to South America around Cape Horn to the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia and on through SouthEast Asia and South Africa to England, returning in 1771.

During this voyage Solander and Banks collected over 30,000 specimens. Solander was meticulous in his work, categorizing the specimens they collected. He wrote notes that are now bound together and kept at the Natural History Museum in London.

He also invented the "Solander box" to preserve his notes during the voyages. This protective case is sometimes still used today in libraries and archives. After his return to England Solander spent the rest of his life working at the British museum. He never returned to Sweden. Daniel Solander died in London in 1782.

However Captain James Cook went off on another expedition to find the Northwest Passage. This took him up the British Columbia coast and it was then that he named Solander Island after his friend Daniel Solander. Many in BC think that Solander was on Captain Cook's expedition to our coast but that is not the case.


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Ralph Sultan

This month we would like to introduce you to Ralph Sultan, who has been a person who has shown a great deal of interest in Swedish Heritage in BC. Ralph Sultan was born in Vancouver in 1933 to Swedish immigrants.

His father, born in 1899, came from Gräshult near Jönköping in Småland and emigrated to Canada at 18 years of age. Ralph's mother also emigrated at the age of 18 joining a brother near Revelstoke. She came from a small village outside Umeå. Ralph's paternal grandfather was a soldier and the name Sultan is a name given when soldiers joined the armed forces. A lot of people in Sweden had names like Hansson and Svensson and it created difficulties in the army when a lot of men had the same name so they solved this by giving them new names.

During this time he met a wealthy landowner, Joseph Banks, and through him was invited to join Captain James Cook's ship the "HMS Endeavour" on its first voyage in 1768. It was a circumnavigation that went to South America around Cape Horn to the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia and on through SouthEast Asia and South Africa to England, returning in 1771.

Ralph grew up in Mount Pleasant in a three room house with 8 children. His father had a house painting business where the whole family worked and helped out. Ralph's parents belonged to and supported the First Swedish Lutheran Church on Princess and Pender streets. The Church was central to all their social life, that was where their friends were.

Ralph went to UBC and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering. He went to Harvard business school where he eventually got 3 university degrees and became a professor in economics.He stayed at Harvard for 15 years with his family. While at Harvard as a student he was chosen to go with 6 other students to Sweden by the invitation of Marcus Wallenberg. They went in 1959 for 6 months to work in some of his industries. Ralph worked at Atlas Copco. This was his first time in his parents' home country and he brought his mother to Sweden for a visit during this time.

Ralph came back to Canada and worked for many years as Chief Economist for the Royal Bank and later owned a mine. Ralph's wife died in 2001 and that is when he decided to go into politics, He became a MLA for Capilano-West Vancouver riding and held that seat until 2021 when he retired. Ralph Sultan is very proud of his Swedish heritage and says that from his parents he learned to work very hard which has stood him in good stead throughout his life. He also found that on the whole Swedish people in general have a good reputation worldwide for being hard working and honest and feels it helped him in his career.


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History of the Swedish Canadian Rest Home Association

Thora Johnson was a Lady with a vision. She recognized the plight of elderly Swedes, many of whom lived in deplorable conditions. In February 1945, she invited members of the Swedish community to a meeting in her home to discuss building a Rest Home for elderly people of Swedish descent. In the latter part of August 1947, the cornerstone was laid by District Commissioner M.E. Sowden for the $86.000. The 50 bed Rest Home was officially opened on May 15, 1949.

At the time of the construction of the Iron Workers’ Memorial Second Narrows Bridge, the Rest Home was virtually cut off by highway cloverleafs. Harold Swanson located a 5-acres garden nursery that was for sale in Burnaby on Duthie Avenue. This was purchased in 1956. The New Swedish Rest Home could receive 80 occupants, when it stood ready in 1957.

May 15, 1967 saw the Official Opening of an extension to the Swedish Canadian Rest Home. The Rest Home could now accept 114 residents. 20 single rooms and 8 two-room apartments had been built. An auditorium had been added to the lower floor.

The official opening of Gustav Vasa Place took place on April 5, 1992 with many dignitaries honoring the occasion with commendations and appreciation. It was also proclaimed that the site would be called the Swedish Canadian Village. The sod was going to be turned as well for the Valhalla Court construction. The Valhalla Court was the next project for the Swedish Canadian Village site with 27 condos planned with the intention that it would help financially cover the cost of the Swedish Canadian Village. The first condo owners moved in during the summer of 1993.

Rising costs and changes in provincial health programs brought about closing of the Swedish Canadian Rest Home in 1995. After much work and many difficulties, the Board of Directors started the construction of Swedish Assisted Living Residence — 64 one-bedroom units, 46 of which are subsidized by Fraser Health and BC Housing, and 18 private units. This building opened in March 2012.

Started by the Swedish Canadian community in the 1940’s and continuing to present time by the many volunteers and sacrifices of this community and others. Swedish Canadian Village continues to this day to provide Assisted Living and Subsidized Housing to many residents of Greater Vancouver of all nationalities.

Click here to read more about the history of the Swedish Canadian Rest Home Association.