The History of Swedish Press
By Elinor Barr
Elinor Barr is the author of Swedes in Canada: Invisible Immigrants. The book includes the history of newspapers and magazines that allowed Swedish immigrants to keep in touch with ongoing events in the Old Country. The book is beautifully written and belongs on the shelves of every North American with Swedish roots. It is available on Amazon.
Elinor has kindly given us permission to reprint the chapter that describes the origin and evolution of Swedish Press since its inception in 1929.
The only Swedish newspaper still in existence in Canada, Swedish Press, was established in Vancouver in 1929 as the Swedish-language Svenskapressen. British Columbia’s first Swedish paper, the weekly Svenska Vancouver posten(The Swedish Vancouver Post) had been founded in 1910 by Oscar Sundborg, a snuff manufacturer from Chicago. Although circulation hit 2,500 the following year, both Sundborg and his newspaper disappeared in 1914.
It was two Finland Swedes, Helge Ekengren and Paul Johnson,who founded Svenska pressen. Ekengren provided space in the same building as his travel agency, and the first issue was dated 24 January 1929. The four-page weekly gave equal space for news from Sweden and Finland. When Ekengren left in 1933, Matt Lindfors became editor, assisted by Rud Manson, who had already worked there for three years. Nobody knew that Rud was married, or that he was never able to earn enough money to bring his wife to Canada as they both wanted. Their profoundly moving correspondence came to light only after his death.
Financial difficulties dogged Svenska pressen, despite inventive appeals and refinancing schemes. In 1936 Lindfors sold the paper to Seattle’s Svenska posten, which printed his weekly Vancouver page. Less than a year later he got it back and changed the name to Nya svenska pressen (The New Swedish Press). In 1943 it was reorganized as a private company under the name Central Press Limited, having purchased its own printing equipment. A board of directors was elected and shares sold to pay capital expenses. At this time Lindfors was busy elsewhere, and Einar Olson took over as editor for five years, followed by Rud Manson until Lindfors returned in 1961. Maj Brundin wrote articles under the pseudonym Röksignaler (Smoke Signals) and also served on the paper’s board of directors.
Lindfors was a tireless promoter of Sweden and things Swedish, especially among children. As Farbror Olle (Uncle Olle) he wrote a weekly column in Swedish, and in 1935 founded a club called Vårblomman (The Spring Flower). Members performed on his local CJOR radio program Echoes from Sweden just before Christmas, with prizes for those who signed up new members. The year before he had founded a young people’s club, Diamanten (The Diamond), also based on a weekly column, which by 1938 had 600 members. Farbror Olle organized the first of many summer camps at Swedish Park, which usually wound up with a public music program presented by Diamanten as well as races, vocal solos, and a public dance with live music. Naturally these activities were duly reported in Nya svenska pressen.
The paper faced another crisis in 1984 when the editors, professional journalist Jan Fränberg and his wife, Vicky, decided to return to Sweden. By this time the paper was publishing only ten issues a year. “The problem,” lamented Jan, “was that the subscribers were dying.” At this point Nya svenska pressen was one of only five surviving Swedish newspapers on the continent.
While it was true that original subscribers were dying, it was also true that most of their children and grandchildren could not read Swedish and did not have strong feelings towards Sweden. Immigration had virtually halted during the years from 1930 to 1950 because of the Depression, the Second World War, and reconstruction in Canada. When North America became a favoured destination once again, many immigrants had already learned English at school as a compulsory subject. The loss of subscribers, coupled with escalating printing costs, sounded the death knell for hundreds of ethnic newspapers in North America.
Sture Wermee, who had worked as typographer and sometime editor since 1952, was determined that Nya svenska pressen should survive. Along with Swedish consul Ulf Waldén and others, he scouted around for an editor and found Anders and Hamida Neumüller. The couple agreed to try it for a year as a monthly, with the backing of the Swedish Press Society. They switched the name to Swedish Press/Nya Svenska pressen, adopted a smart magazine format, and started producing the paper on a Macintosh computer. The Swedish Charitable Association, which raised money through bingos, funded purchase of the new equipment and the first issue came out in January 1986. Continuing to contribute were journalist Ann-Charlotte Berg-lund, cartoonist Ernie Poignant, and Sven Seaholm, the paper’s poet laureate. New contributors included Mats Thölin with sports, Adele Heilborn with news from Sweden, and Roberta Larson with reports from the Swedish Canadian Rest Home.
Editor Anders Neumüller credited Canada’s multicultural policy and Vancouver’s Expo ’86 with generating enough advertising revenue to see Swedish Press through its critical first year. He also came close to meeting his goal of doubling the number of subscribers. Since then, Swedish Press has become an international resource, keeping readers informed in an interesting way about happenings in Canada, Sweden and the United States, very little of which is included in the mainstream media.
Peter Berlin: At the end of 2012, Claes and Joan Fredriksson purchased Swedish Press from Anders and Hamida Neumüller who retired and moved back to Sweden after a successful run of the magazine for 27 years. Claes and Joan revamped the magazine and are now producing a full-colour edition featuring the innovation and imagination that Sweden brings to the world. Readers are treated to stories on design, travel, music, fashion, and culture while enjoying a round-up of selected news. Other features include interviews with distinguished personalities and award-winning companies, along with stories on traditions and heritage.
In 2016, Swedish Press received an award for “Excellence in Editorial Concept Art and Visual Presentation” from the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada.