Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Swedes in Canada: Invisible Immigrants

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Swedes in Canada: Invisible Immigrants

Article excerpt

Elinor Barr, Swedes in Canada: Invisible Immigrants (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2015), 576 pp. 25 images. Paper. $35.95. ISBN 978-1-4426-1374-4.

Swedes in Canada is a comprehensive study of a much-neglected feature of Canadian history, namely the immigration of Swedes to Canada. Why, asks its author Elinor Barr, have Swedish immigrants to Canada been invisible? One major factor is the perceived need for Anglo-conformity: Swedish immigrants were anxious to conform to the language and customs of the English-speaking majority. When they encountered ethnic discrimination during the First World War as a result of Sweden's pro-German sympathies, many suppressed their Swedish identity. In addition, strong differences of opinion regarding religion, politics and temperance weakened the Swedish immigrants' impact on Canadian society. Barr also suggests that Swedish humility played a role.

Approximately 100,000 Swedes immigrated to Canada. Why did they immigrate? Barr suggests that the main reasons were economic: many came from the countryside, where poverty and hunger were rife during the nineteenth century. Swedes were also increasingly tempted by the promise of free land on the Prairies under the 'Dominion Lands Act' of 1872. Four waves of immigration can be distinguished: 1776 to 1900; 1900 to 1914; the 1920s; and post-Second World War (1945). The first wave comprised primarily couples with children and single men; the second added Swedish maids; the third consisted of mainly young men seeking work and adventure; the fourth included a substantial number from the middle class, including refugees, transferred employees from Swedish companies, and those looking for opportunities not available in Sweden. …

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