Marked up to be included in the Scandinavian-Canadian Journal
ABSTRACT: In 1782, a group of Estonian Swedes were brought to southern Ukraine by Catherine II. There they set up a village called Gammalsvenskby. In 1929 the the overwhelming majority of these Ukrainian Swedes
RÉSUMÉ: En 1782, un groupe de Suédois estoniens, encouragés par Catherine II, ont aménagé dans le sud de l’Ukraine où ils ont fondé un village nommé Gammalsvenskby. En 1929, plusieurs de ces Suédois Ukrainiens sont
In his classic study of the different varieties of European nationalism, Hans Kohn makes a distinction between
German thought had also had a massive influence on the formation on Scandinavian nationalisms. Substantial emigration from Sweden helped fuel a strong nationalist trend within the political right. A sense of confusion and national humiliation followed the dissolution of the union with Norway in 1905. This confusion coincided with concerns over falling birth rates in Sweden. The result was the creation of organizations such as
Like pan-Germanism, pan-Slavism and pan-Finnism, pan-Swedishness was based upon a concept of nationality and race. But here one has to be very careful with classification and conclusions. The same term can have several different meanings. Race in a pan-German context stood for a biological supremacy, which we in retrospect know under its distorted form as the theory of a “Aryan Master Race.” The pan-Slavists talked about race in a non-specific, mystical, and culturally motivated way long before the Russian slavophilism formed its program of political action. The pan-Finnish ideology (
with open arms
This paper is a study of how the established Swedish-Canadian community reacted to and received the Ukrainian Swedes who arrived in Canada in 1930. It is based on a survey of news articles and material published in the Swedish-Canadian immigrant press on the prairies during the period of the exodus of this group of Swedes from Soviet Ukraine to Sweden and Canada.
The Swedish immigration to Canada came later than that to the United States with the result that at the time of the immigration of the Gammalsvenskby people to Canada in 1930 there was still a lively Swedish-language community in the prairie provinces. Although not immediately under the influence of the pan-Swedes, the Swedish-Canadian organs were deeply concerned about the issue of
In her wars with Turkey Catherine II conquered an area known as
There was a conflict between the Dagö Swedes and Count Karl Magnus Stenbock, who wanted serfdom extended to the free Swedish peasants. At the same time Grigorii Potemkin, Catherine II’s favourite, offered free land in southern Ukraine.
The Swedes made the journey to Ukraine by foot, through the Russian winter. These early Swedish colonists faced a very harsh life, struggling to make a living in a new and unknown environment. The first years brought incredible hardship to the villagers; between 935 and 1207 people left Dagö in 1781, but only 535 arrived at their final destination in 1782. In March 1783, after various diseases had taken their toll, only 135 people remained, 71 men and 64 women (Hedman 13,17; Hedman and Åhlander 2003 46). To this number, another 31 Swedes, prisoners of war from Gustav III’s war with Russia, were added in 1790. However, the impact of this latter group was marginal. By 1795, only five of these 31 individuals remained (Hedman 19; Hedman and Åhlander 2003 50; Bjelf 14-18).
In Ukraine, the Swedes were joined in 1804 by a group of German colonists. The Germans set up a number of colonies in their immediate neighbourhood, such as the Lutheran Mühlhausendorf (1804), Schlangendorf (1806), and the Catholic Klosterdorf (1805) (Kas’ianenko 187; Hedman 20-21). All in all, in the Kherson area between 1804 and 1883 German colonists founded 41 villages (Kas’ianenko 18). Some of the Swedes intermarried with their German neighbours, but despite the small size of the group, the Swedes managed to keep their culture and language alive in isolation. Much like their German-speaking neighbors, they were good farmers, and their standard of living was higher than that of the local Slavs. Lev Trotsky, who himself grew up in the Kherson province, pointed out the sharp differences between the efficiency of the neat German settlements and the rather backward agricultural practices of the local Slavic peasants (Weeks 89). The efficiency and relative prosperity
of the Germans made many Slavic peasants look at them with envy and perceive them as something of a threat (Weeks 222). After the outbreak of World War I, the Russian empire became increasingly
Although the Swedish farms were not expropriated, largely due to the chaos and disintegration of the Russian Empire, it was clear that the political situation was changing rapidly. The relative stability of the nineteenth century was coming to an end. The political situation had become very uncertain.
The collapse of Russia in World War I was followed by a brutal Civil War, when German and Swedish villages were attacked and looted by all sides. Their riches had made them attractive targets:
In the German villages there were more horses and hogs in the barns, more lard and hams in the pantries, more white flour and sunflower oil in their storerooms, more fur coats and carpets in the homes
[The] poor communities along the river had plenty of experience of all the horrors of war. Especially as a number of loose troop detachments, such as those standing under the command of the famous robber general Macknow [sic] did not behave as regular troops, but rather as—and indeed they were—pure hordes of bandits with murder, plundering and blackmail as their main ambition.
Neither were Gammalsvenskby’s experiences of the provisional government particularly positive. Its weak rulers were unable to stabilize the situation:
When Kerinski [sic] came to power it was generally believed that things would get better. But pretty soon it turned out that Kerinski [sic] was just another well-meaning talker incapable of initiative or action. Any improvement in the existing poor conditions was impossible. At the so-called elections the people had to vote for the candidates approved by the government. If this was not done you lost your right to vote. It got worse and worse. Children were taken from their parents and put in public kindergartens. If their parents dared to voice opposition, they had their voting privileges taken away. This meant being sentenced to a slow but certain death, since necessities were only handed out to those with ration cards. If one lost the right to vote one also lost the ration cards and therefore any chance of surviving.
World War I, the Civil War and the Sovietization, which began in the late 1920s, meant hard times for the villagers. At the same period, the Soviet policies towards national minorities in the 1920s, meant that the Swedish character of the village was recognized and respected by the Soviet authorities. The Swedes received their own national village soviet in 1926, in which the Swedish language was used (Martin 38, 40; Mace 215). In this early period many of the peasants in Gammalsvenskby were sympathetic to Lenin’s policies (Runwall and Hagert 68). However, this political liberalization was short-lived, and after a few years of relative tranquility in 1928 Stalin initiated his revolution from above. Agriculture was to be collectivized, five-year plans introduced and society reshaped to its foundations. While the revolutions of 1917 had fundamentally altered the system of government, the Stalinist revolution ten years later affected all aspects of everyday life for the
people in the Soviet Union. As Sheila Fitzpatrick puts it:
In the most prosaic terms of everyday life, Russia had been changed by the First Five-Year Plan upheavals in a way that it had not been changed by the earlier revolutionary experience of 1917-1920. In 1924, during the NEP interlude, a Muscovite returning after ten years’ absence could have picked up his city directory (immediately recognizable, because its old design and format had scarcely changed since the prewar years) and still have had a good chance of finding listings for his old doctor, lawyer, and even stockbroker, his favorite confectioner (still discreetly advertising the best imported chocolate), the local tavern and the parish priest, and the firms which had formerly repaired his clocks and supplied him with building materials or cash registers. Ten years later, in the mid 1930s, almost all these listings would have disappeared, and the returning traveler would have been further disoriented by the renaming of many Moscow streets and squares. If he
looked hard enough, he might perhaps have discovered his old clock-repairer working for a co-operative or state trust, and his old doctor employed in a municipal health department or medical research institute. But only a part of prerevolutionary Moscow and old Russia remained by the mid 1930s, either visible or hidden behind a Soviet facade. Another part had disappeared forever.
While the majority of the Gammalsvenskby Swedes seized this opportunity, their experiences in Sweden varied. For many villagers the change of environment was hard to accept. The differences between their conservative peasant life in their isolated village and the modern, industrialized and increasingly secular Sweden were sharp and hard to get used to. Few of them had seen a radio. Bikes were a rare sight in the village (Runwall and Hagert 99). There had only been one motorized vehicle, a truck, in Gammalsvenskby. The villagers referred to it by the Russian word
As is often the case in immigrant narratives, homesickness and a sense of alienation tormented many of these Swedish settlers. Soon after their arrival in Sweden, a substantial number of the Gammalsvenskby people expressed a desire to return, and left for Soviet Ukraine in three waves within two years of their arrival in Sweden. Others were eager to set up a new Gammalsvenskby in Canada (Utas 230; Bjelf 21).
While several books have been dedicated to the community of Gammalsvenskby people in Sweden and the returnees to Soviet Ukraine, the story of the Canadian Gammalsvenskby Swedes has received considerably less attention (see Hedman and Åhlander 1993; Hedman and Åhlander 2003, Runwall and Hagert). Today, over 75 years after leaving Soviet Ukraine, only a handful of the original immigrants to Canada remain. Their story is a fascinating account of multiple—or chain—migrations, and about the desire of a small group to keep its unique culture alive. For many of them, this migratory process was an attempt to recreate a world they had lost.
After a year in Sweden a number of Gammalsvenskby Swedes set off for Canada and duly settled in and around Wetaskiwin, Alberta. The provinces of Alberta and British Columbia had witnessed two previous waves of Gammalsvenskby immigration in the 1880s and 1890s (Hedman 52; Hedman and Åhlander 1993 449-452). These waves of immigration had been triggered by imperial Russian policies such as mandatory military conscription for men but also by a shortage of arable land. The Gammalsvenskby people had followed in the footsteps of Mennonites from the same area who had begun emigrating to Canada in the 1880s (Hedman 29; Hedman and Åhlander 2003 449). Between 1885 and 1926 about 30 Gammalsvenskby families had settled in Alberta and British Columbia and in 1929 there were some 200 Gammalsvenskby Swedes in Canada, of whom no fewer than 170 lived in Alberta, the remainder living in British Columbia (Hedman and Åhlander 2003 176). The first of them had arrived as early as 1885. By 1930, many of them had become prosperous farmers (
The history of the Swedish-Canadian community has been covered in some detail by Lars Ljungmark, who based a 1994 study on a review of the major Swedish newspaper
general and secular newspaper
As far as I am aware, no study on the other major paper,
During the winter of 1904 a number of people had been invited by pastor J.M. Forsell in order to discuss the starting up of a small newspaper company in Winnipeg
…resulted in a small, Swedish eight page missionary newsletter, to be published twice a month. It was supposed to be Christian with religious stories, correspondences and, as far as the space allowed, contain news.
In terms of the politics of the time, both papers were centre-left, reflecting the views of a substantial number of the Scandinavian immigrants to Canada. They actively and strongly supported the Liberal Party of Canada, which traditionally had been the
It is as a echo of the burning patriotic love, the heroic spirit which distinguished the bleeding forefathers of these Lapua men during the memorable days of [von] Döbeln. The silent Kosola somewhat resembles ‘the man with the band around his forehead,’ who could lead but also command as few—perhaps indeed no one else—during his time. ‘With these troops one can defy the world,’ General Döbeln said. ‘One does not wait, with them we attack.’
Stahlhelm is an organization outside, and above political parties. It was formed a little more than 12 years ago, when Imperial Germany collapsed and the German people blindly subordinated itself to the promises of their enemies and accepted the conditions of the victors
…Stahlhelm also works for the internal and external liberation of contemporary Germany. The cross and the sword are its symbols, its slogan is ‘Sacrifice and weapons alone bring victory.’ …The instinct of defence must be retained and strengthened in opposition to the disarmament, which the Versailles treaty forced upon Germany …Stahlhelm wants to nurture the memory of their fathers’ heroism and the memory of their fallen comrades. It claims that the achievements of German monarchs in past times can never be undone by revolutions and constitutional changes …The young generation should be hardened into willpower and love of Fatherland in order to contribute to the liberation of the German race from the foreign yoke and for the resurrection of the Reich of Wilhelm I and Bismarck.
weak-minded and mentally insane
Attempting to analyze the attitude of these two papers to the Gammalsvenskby people gives rise to a number of methodological concerns regarding how to interpret the articles. The initial attitude was one of fascination and good will. But the politics of the time soon had an impact. The Swedish-Canadian newspapers started to express doubt about the Ukrainian Swedes. The story of Gammalsvenskby was treated as one of the most important stories of the year, competing with stories on the
During 1929 and the first few months of 1930 a number of articles sympathetic to the Gammalsvenskby Swedes appeared in the papers. The papers both emphasized character traits such as honesty, modesty, religiosity and hard work when describing the people of Gammalsvenskby.
In our time, no other tiny ethnic group or tribe in the whole world has received such a reputation as the Svenskbyborna who are the proud descendants of the brave Carolins
The first mention of Gammalsvenskby appeared in
Gammalsvenskby is a tiny village of Swedes in the heart of Russia [sic] who has faithfully preserved the language and customs of the land of their forefathers. Through generations they have nurtured a desire to return to Sweden. The phenomenon is remarkable and moving, from a human perspective
…The people folkethave guarded their Swedish nationality as its great and precious possession. The Swedes in Gammalsvenskby came from Dagö. The year was 1782. By force and with the help of escorting Cossacks 1,200 Swedes were brought the 2,000-kilometer long way down to the land by the Black Sea, which the Russians had conquered from Turkey …During the exodus, terrible diseases took their toll. According to the tradition, in the tiny Russian village Roshetilavka the minister had to perform so many funerals that the Russian population learned both the words and melody of the Swedish funeral psalms. The mortality remained high after the arrival, and it seemed as if Gammalsvenskby would die out. In May and June of 1782 no less than 220 people died. In 1790 the village received an addition of some thirty Swedish prisoners of war, but still in 1793 the village only counted 200 inhabitants. Already at the time, when the Dagö Swedes were brought down to Ukraine, they had started negotiations to be allowed back to Sweden. The idea of returning homecan thus be traced far back in time.
The sympathetic tone of the article reflected the attitude that this group of people were natural members of an organic Swedish nation, who had been detached from the larger community against their wishes and whose desire had always been to return and re-enter the
The arrival of the Gammalsvenskby people in the land of their forefathers on August 1, 1929, was considered a significant event in Sweden. When their ship docked at the port of Trelleborg in southern Sweden they were welcomed by a large crowd, headed by Prince Carl, who greeted them in the name of King Gustaf V. They were brought to Jönköping, where Prime Minster Arvid Lindman delivered a speech of welcome.
The trip had started tragically, when 22 people, who were not considered
of pure Swedish origin
Since a Jewish colony has bought both the new and the old village, they would probably have to convert the houses of worship to synagogues.
Their arrival in Sweden appears to have been perceived as a major event by the Swedish-Canadian press. Both major papers carried an article by a C.H. Lager, titled
The colony in GammelSvenskby [sic] in Southern Russia is certainly unique: it has been surrounded by an entirely different culture and an alien race, the Slavic race. That the Swedes under these circumstances should have held on to Swedish language, culture and worship is easily understood. But that they managed amidst such oppressive social conditions to retain their Swedishness during several centuries, proves that Germanic—like Greek—culture is actually immortal, if it is only given a chance to exist.
This perspective was typical of many Swedish newspapers in North America: much of the admiration for the tenacious Gammalsvenskby Swedes was due to their ability to preserve both language and culture under conditions, much more oppressive than those the North American Swedes had endured.
The Swedish colony by the Delaware River did not experience the same conditions as their fellow countrymen in Russia, but that colony too promised and developed a great and outstanding culture. It is only during the past few years, since the World War, when the United States began to develop an entirely new culture, that the sons of Svea started to feel ashamed for their mothers’ and fathers’ homeland and suddenly became
Lager’s article gives a fairly good idea of the Swedish nationalism advocated in the Swedish-Canadian press. This might be seen as an expression of Kahn’s
There is no definite clear-cut distinction between linguistic and racial nationalism. Originally, the doctrine emphasized language as the test of nationality, because language was an outward sign of a group’s peculiar identity and a significant means of ensuring its continuity. But a nation’s language was peculiar to that nation only because such a nation constituted a racial stock distinct from that of other nations
…It was then no accident that the Nazis distinguished the members of the German Aryan race scattered in Central and Eastern Europe by a linguistic criterion. In doing this, the Nazis only simplified and debased the ideas implicit in the writings of Herder and others.
This notion followed Kahn’s model of a civic,
Nearly a thousand former Russian subjects, who are Swedish in heart and soul, are currently in the process of transferring from their homeland to the country with which they feel the greatest spiritual belonging. Would it not be an appropriate response then, if a corresponding number of Swedish subjects, who in heart and soul are Russians instead left their fatherland, with which they are so dissatisfied, and moved to the Soviet empire, with which they feel so intimately connected, and the social conditions of which they never get tired of promoting as so incomparably superior to the Swedish
…For the two countries it would be a benefit to get rid of bitterly dissatisfied citizens, and this benefit would be mutual.
The first controversy was the decision by a group of about 20 Gammalsvenskby Swedes, headed by the brothers Johan and Woldermar Utas and their brother-in-law Petter Knutas to return to Soviet Ukraine. The communist press in Sweden, which had been very negative, if not outright hostile to the Gammalsvenskby Swedes, now actively supported their decision to return. This group of returnees, however, was initially denied entrance to Soviet Ukraine, something that apparently puzzled the Swedish-Canadian press since they considered the returnees “Bolsheviks, or at least Bolshevik-minded.”
The Swedish-Canadian press had problems coming to terms with the fact that there were people who preferred a life under socialism in Soviet Ukraine. One short notice in
We cannot blame those who are looking for a refuge that a number of Russian-spirited individuals managed to slip in among them. They had been assigned the task of returning and uttering false testimony to return and carry false testimony against the emigrants and against Sweden. They carried out their Judas deed. No more than their teacher will they gain any enjoyment from their deed.
Along with the applications for exit visas from the Gammalsvenskby people, the Soviet government received applications from other colonies in the enormous Soviet empire. How to counteract this less than flattering picture of the Soviets? Some cunning person found an answer. The Gammalsvenskby people would be allowed to leave, but accompanied by a number of families who were reliable Bolsheviks and who after some time in Sweden would return to Russia only to claim that the conditions in the new country were intolerable. There were three reliable Bolsheviks among the Gammalsvenskby people: the brothers Woldemar and Johan Utas and their brother-in-law Buskas. In Gammalsvenskby they served in the less than savoury role of agents for the Cheka. They were therefore chosen, and the rest of the story is only too well known to be retold here. It would be enough to establish that the “doubts” that the Soviet authorities appeared to be experiencing about letting them return was another play for the galleries. The whole point was that the Utas brothers and Knutas would, after the return to Russia, be used as prominent tools of Bolshevik propaganda. They would present Sweden in the darkest of colors and point out the bad treatment they had received. In case the
muzhikswere complaining, they would only have to refer to Gammalsvenskby: “See how the peasants have it in other countries, the Gammalsvenskby people are returning!” They even know how to turn such an embarrassing event as the exodus of foreign colonists into a propaganda for themselves! As soon as the three returning Gammalsvenskby families were back on Russian territory, they started slinging mud at Sweden.
If a small number of returnees were easy to dismiss as rogue dissidents or traitors, it was harder to explain the following waves of returnees. On September 28, the evening edition of the Leningrad paper
Kherson, September 28. A second party, consisting of 39 colonists have returned from Sweden. The colonists explain that they had become victims of pastors Hoas’s and Kulakova’s propaganda. These men convinced them to emigrate to Sweden. When the colonists arrived in Sweden, they were placed out as tenant workers on the farms of Swedish landowners. The landowners exploited them in many ways; they did not pay them for the hours worked, explained to them that they were only there “to learn how to work”, fed them disgustingly, etc. After that, the colonists decided to return to Soviet Ukraine. A second group sent a delegation to Canada in order to find out whether it would be possible to settle there. These delegates returned after three months, bringing the message that the same kind of exploitation exists in Canada as in Sweden. The colonists explained that another 250 colonists want to return from Sweden. From Kherson the colonists left for their village Staroshvedskoe, which they have decided to rename Novoe Krosnoshvedskoe.
return to Russia.
The ambivalent attitude toward immigration on part of many of the Gammalsvenskby people puzzled the Swedish-Canadian press. In an article of November 27, 1930,
The Gammalsvenskby people are very indecisive. Our experiences have shown, says president Kyhlberg, that the 150 or so Gammalsvenskby families can be divided into three groups. One group of about 110 families consists of very hard-working and able people, who surely do not have any plans to emigrate. A second group consists of some 25 families that are hard-working and clever but more ambivalent and influenced by propaganda. Finally, there is a third group of about 15 families constituting the dissatisfied. They are dishonest and not fit for permanent settlement. This is the group that causes discord. They are a desirable and easy prey for communist propaganda.
This last group would constitute the third, and largest wave of returnees. The Swedish Communist Party actively encouraged this group and assisted them in their desire to return to Soviet Ukraine. They set up their own Gammalsvenskby Committee,
Neither the pledges nor the prayers and tears of pastor Hoas could prevent this group from returning (Tysk 143; Hedman and Åhlander 2003 208). 180 Gammalsvenskby people arrived in the Soviet Union on August 19, 1931. A telegram from the Soviet News Agency in Leningrad of October 10, 1931, was published on the front page of
The Soviet Russian press is delighted over the fiasco of the Gammalsvenskby people. Sweden is not one of the worst capitalist countries in the world, but nevertheless, see how the poor Russian emigrants were treated there. Terrible! Only listen to what they themselves have to say about this: According to a telegram from Leningrad of October 10 “180 Gammalsvenskby people, belonging to the group, which in 1929 departed for the land of their forefathers, Sweden, in order to settle and stay there for the rest of their lives, returned to Russia on August 19, exhausted by the conditions in Sweden and bitterly disappointed by everything in that land. They have now issued an open statement to all the people of Russia, particularly to the workers and peasants, about how thoroughly miserably they were treated by the large landholders of Sweden. How upsetting! Instead of receiving land and animals, as promised, they had to serve as farm servants and were subjected to lives of outright slavery. They expressed their heartfelt joy at returning to the care of the Soviet government.”
Dissatisfaction with life in Sweden, in addition to the pull factor that the strong Gammalsvenskby community in Alberta exercised, led another group to seek settlement in Canada. Initially the interest in immigration to Canada was enormous: 62 families had signed up to immigrate (Utas 232). Economic concerns severely diminished this group. In the end twenty Gammalsvenskby families, a total of 97 persons, settled in Canada between 1930 and 1932 (Hedblom 40). Another reason why Canada appeared attractive seems to have been its geographical distance from the Soviet Union, a country some of the Gammalsvenskby people wanted to get as far away from as possible (Nels Buskas, interview February 21, 2005).
Despite being taken care of by their own people—Gammalsvenskby immigrants from a previous wave—many recent immigrants quickly became disillusioned with Canada and returned to Sweden. In the end, only about 70 people of the 1930’s wave of Gammalsvenskby immigrants stayed in Canada (Hedblom 41;
Much as in Sweden, where
The conditions for agriculture are entirely different [in Sweden] than where [the Gammalsvenskby People] live now. I am certain, that it will
notbe possible to transplant the Gammalsvenskby people to Swedish soil and have them acclimatized here. The winters, for instance, will cause them much hardship, since they are hardly accustomed to cold, snow, and ice down there in the land across from the mild Crimea …Their relatives in Canada are fully prepared to receive them. Over there, in Western Canada it seems as if the natural conditions for the Gammalsvenskby people to make it are good, at least if we were to judge by the successes of their previously emigrated relatives. Canada is—like Russia once was and can once more become—a wheat producing-country, and its climate appears more beneficial for the Gammalsvenskby People than those we can offer here in Sweden.
People [in Sweden] are not really aware that in Canada there is already a considerable group of emigrants from Gammalsvenskby, which has reached a good economic position. They have also longed for a larger number of their people to join them. These could also settle in adjacent areas
…Ever since the late 1800s, when a number of inhabitants from Gammalsvenskby emigrated to Canada and were able to set up a good life there, and were able to attract even more people from their native village, the Gammalsvenskby issue has had a serious Canadian dimension …In Canada there already are the Buskas, Malmas, Utas, Hannas and other families from Gammalsvenskby. If the Buskases in Gammalsvenskby join the Buskas family in Canada, the Malmases in Gammalsvenskby join the Malmases in Canada, and so on, would this mean ending up as strangers in a strange land? If the Buskas, Malmas, Utas and Hannas families from Gammalsvenskby join the families with the same names in Canada, would that mean getting further away from “home” than being settled next to the Anderssons in Skåne, Petterssons in Småland and Svenssons in Östergötland? Do they have weaker blood bonds to the Buskas, Malmas, Utas, and Hannas families in Canada and stronger blood bonds to the Andersson, Pettersson, and Svensson families in Sweden? …And do we have any guarantees that the colonists from Gammalsvenskby, once they have worked the Swedish soil for a number of years and found it more meager and the conditions different from those they are used to from Southern Russia will not feel that the voice of the blood from the Canadian side will be impossible to resist? …The Swedes in Canada have an excellent chance to do something worthy of the Swedish name and character, something that coming generations should be able to describe as a cultural investment.
It appears that in addition to an influx of linguistically conscious Swedish immigrants to beef up the Swedish presence on the prairies, the editor felt that this would give the Swedish-Canadians a chance to shine, and prove their
Even before the arrival of the commission, a number of articles started to question some of the Swedish credentials of the Gammalsvenskby people. This change in attitude echoed a similar development in Sweden, where editorials on the communist left as well as the conservative right considered Hoas’s plans for emigration to Canada an act of disloyal ingratitude (Hedman and Åhlander 2003 204). The editor of
The racial type of these people is not clearly Swedish. It is likely that their forefathers left Sweden in the 1100s or 1200s, and it is also likely that they mixed with alien elements, particularly in the 1700s. Neither do [Swedish] traditions seem to have been particularly alive in Gammalsvenskby. Indicative of this is a letter, mailed from the village during the summer of 1849, which reads: “We do know that our forefathers are from dago [sic], but of the trek here we know nothing; the old are all dead.” It would be unreasonable of us a couple of generations later to demand that the Gammalsvenskby people would have an immediate feeling for Sweden as their only true home on earth. Other than that, it is indubitable that the Gammalsvenskby people historically, linguistically, and ethnographically made up an alien group in a foreign land. With admirable tenacity this small group of people has preserved its Swedish language and customs in a new land for 150 years.
Therefore, the arrival of the leaders of the Gammalsvenskby people to Canada became a major news story, which dominated both of the major Swedish-Canadian newspapers.
forced these Gammalsvenskby People to leave the land of their forefathers in order to seek rescue in Sweden, Canada or even in the darkest Africa.
Had Stalin and his henchmen not undermined the economic position of the villagers, taken away all rights, banned free thought and action, making his goal the total annihilation of culture, no propaganda, no promises or bribes could have made the Gammalsvenskby People leave their nest and abandon their beautiful village.
But once in Canada, pastor Hoas seemed to become increasingly aware of the enormous difficulties connected with a large-scale immigration to Canada. He started to waiver. When he returned to Sweden he seemed convinced that it would not be possible to recreate Gammalsvenskby in Canada, at least not on a large scale. There was a lot of speculation in the Swedish-Canadian press about the hesitations Hoas began to feel during his mission to Canada . The religious
In the discussion about why the Gammalsvenskby People have been advised not to go to Canada we have heard much of a surprising nature. Most surprisingly, at least for us, was that Malmas should have claimed that pastor Hoas partly had been influenced by by ‘protestant’ congregations outside the Lutheran Church of Sweden
The word used here iswhich he claims have opposed the project because the transportation of the immigrants was guaranteed by the Lutheran Augustana Synod.” The study commission was reportedly also the object of a ruthless propaganda from anti-immigration circles frikyrklig, i.e.belonging to a frikyrka, or free church,such as the Missionary Covenant, Baptists and Pentecostals, as opposed to Lutherans. …As far as pastor Hoas is concerned he himself has given a clear answer regarding the reasons why the Gammalsvenskby People were discouraged from traveling for the moment. Asked …about the claim that the delegation would have been subjected to pressure from anti-immigration circles, pastor Hoas [answered] “That is only loose talk, as is so much else that has been said and written during our trip to Canada. We have not been subjected to pressure from any side. We have been able to travel and see what we wanted, and have not noticed any propaganda from any side.” …“The main factor was that we were promised a loan which never existed.” Hoas answered firmly …that “The Lutheran Synod in Canada is not controlling the Swedish Lutheran Aid Association — absolutely not. Any such talk is pure nonsense.”
Suddenly there has been an abrupt change in the extensive colonization plans to place several hundred Gammalsvenskby People in Canada. The committee, headed by pastor Hoas, which has arrived in Canada in order to arrange and prepare for the arrival of their fellow countrymen, is now returning with “Drottningholm” [to Sweden]. The idea was that they would stay here for a year, if needed. It is clear that at least in Sweden this change of heart has been given plenty of attention. In large headlines the papers have proclaimed that “Canada is not good for the Gammalsvenskby People. No land, no work.” Anyone reading these headlines may think that suddenly we ran out of land in Canada. But that is a very false idea. As far as we have been able to tell it is not space that is lacking in Canada. Neither can we say that the perspectives are more frightening than they are attractive
…And we are convinced that Canada is just as good for the Gammalsvenskby people as for any other entrepreneurial Scandinavians. The single largest reason for the change of heart is probably to be found in misunderstandings about what the contracts and promises really mean. The source for this misunderstanding needs to be found, and the Swedish government ought to demand a full account …It is clear, however, that this change of heart has caused some unpleasantness for the Gammalsvenskby People, the Canadian Pacific Railroads as well as the Swedish Lutheran Aid Association.
Much publicity has been given to the temporarily stranded colonization plans. This has given unexpected publicity to Canada—publicity which has been negative and unfair. While this has occasioned big headlines in the Swedish press there has also been another sensation added to this story: some of the Gammalsvenskby people, much like the Israelites of the past, apparently wish to go back to the land of slavery and to the dangers, which they have escaped
…The Gammalsvenskby Committee faces more than one problem with these [people] who do not seem to know what they want.
More than anything else, the main reason for Hoas’s change of heart came down to financial concerns. The Canadian Pacific Railway could not give Pastor Hoas concrete answers to his questions regarding the land issue (Utas 233). Already in January 1930 it was clear that the Gammalsvenskby people desiring to emigrate to Canada would not be getting the assistance they needed from the Swedish government. That meant that every family who wanted to go to Canada would start their new life with a debt of $17,000. The fact that the Study Commission under Hoas was nevertheless sent to Canada appears merely to have been a show, intended to prevent more people from returning to Soviet Ukraine (Hedman 49, Hedman and Åhlander 2003 201, 449. When the committee returned after a little over a month the majority of the members agreed that it would not be possible to recreate a new Gammalsvenskby in Canada (Hedman 50, Hedman and Åhlander 2003 202). Of the members in the Gammalsvenskby Study Commission only Andreas Malmas disagreed. He decided to stay in Canada and assisted the Gammalsvenskby people who, despite the hardships, had decided to emigrate to Canada (
There they purchased an abandoned industrial farmstead called Camp 1, about 25 miles from Winnipeg, where they—ironically enough—set up a collective farm (Hedblom 1999 43; Hedman 50; Hedman and Åhlander 2003 458-459). The reason for this decision was primarily economical, since the absence of financial support from Sweden meant that they had to pay back the debts from the purchase of the farmstead over a period of 22 years. Andreas Malmas remained the leader of this group until his death (Hedblom 44). An additional three families accompanied them within a year, but did not stay long. Two more families arrived in 1932, only to return to Sweden in a few years (Hedman 50). But the settlers who stayed were successful in re-establishing something resembling the world they had left behind. They called the homestead Lilla Svenskby [Little Swedish Village] and maintained the old traditions of Gammalsvenskby (Hedman 50; Hedman and Åhlander 2003 458). The sanctity of the
Sabbath was strictly honoured, and every other Sunday until 1953 a Lutheran Minister came out to Lilla Svenskby to conduct services in Swedish (Hedblom 45; Hedman and Åhlander 2003 460). A favourite pastime was singing. The group sang psalms from the Old Swedish Hymnals of 1695 and 1819 in addition to songs in the Gammalsvenskby dialect (Hedblom 46).
the Svedbergian hymnal,
Pastor Hoas never really gave up on his plans to resettle a substantial part of the Gammalsvenskby Swedes in Canada. Around 1933, as the economy began improve somewhat, he once again attempted to arrange an exodus to Canada. But by then, the Gammalsvenskby people had started to feel at home on their farms in Sweden, and his efforts elicited little response from the community. On the contrary, Sweden appealed to the Gammalsvenskby people in Canada, and six families returned to Sweden (Hedman 50).
Despite the remarkable achievements of the hard-working colonists, in one respect Lilla Svenskby failed. The Gammalsvenskby Swedish dialect began dying out after the first generation of pioneers. In this respect, the situation in Manitoba was very different from what it had been in Ukraine. The children of the immigrants grew up as Canadians, and used English as their first language. By the 1960s, there was a new pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, who did not know Swedish, and the language of the service now became English. This development was a disappointment to the pioneers of Lilla Svenskby, who felt their language was taken away from them (Hedblom 45). In 2004, John Hoas, born in 1913, is one of the very last surviving Gammalsvenskby Swedish speakers in Meadows.
We kept our language for hundreds of years in Estonia and Ukraine. But here in Canada the Swedes lost their language after one generation.
The history of the immigration from Gammalsvenskby provides an insight into a small but lively immigrant community, which was trying to maintain its traditional identity in the midst of rapid social and economic change. The pressure on the Scandinavians to assimilate was strong. They were seen as a
However, this image was soon challenged by a number of events. Perhaps most disturbing for many Swedish and Swedish-Canadian observers was the fact that a significant number of the Gammalsvenskby people, after experiencing life in Sweden, preferred to return to life in Soviet Ukraine. Three groups of returnees, or close to 20% of the original emigrants, returned to the Soviet Union, where they were pressured to publicly denounce Sweden.
The Gammalsvenskby immigrants encountered many obstacles that prevented a wholesale emigration to Canada. The ultimate cancellation of large-scale immigration plans to Canada were perceived by Swedish-Canadians as tainting the image of Canada in Sweden. This was something on which both Swedish- and English-language papers in Canada commented. It became a source of embarrassment for Swedish-Canadians who felt that that credentials as good Canadians were called into question by association with their unappreciative brethren. The fact that the bulk of the Gammalsvenskby people rejected the Canadian option hurt their pride as Swedish-Canadians. It was also an awkward situation for a newspaper, such as