The Block

Daisies, cornflowers and poppies intertwined with foliage, embroidered by Britt Lepa, create a colourful replica of Sweden’s midsummer wreath. To mark the end of a long, dark winter, a midsummer celebration occurs on the weekend closest to the summer solstice. Cross-shaped poles, erected in most communities, are decorated with ribbons and flowers. Wreaths are hung on each arm of the cross, and people gather around the pole to sing, dance and play games. Twirling ribbons, in the country’s national colours, are stitched to the centre of the block in a fashion reminiscent of those that flow from the midsummer pole. Dala horses, painted in the customary colours with kurbit or flower patterned reins and saddle, are suspended from the ribbons.

A traditional symbol of Sweden, Dala horses originated during the 18th century when lumberjacks began carving the horse figures from pieces of wood. Historically the horses were used as barter, but today, carved and painted in a variety of ways and ranging in size from tiny to over two feet high, the horses are enjoyed as children’s toys and honoured family heirlooms. In the upper point of the block, three crowns, a national symbol found on such things as Sweden’s currency and hockey team’s jerseys are stitched in fine gold work.

Cloudberry fotosafari 2011-HM-DSC 5970
Painted murals
Peasant art in Sweden, Lapland and Iceland (1910) (14777694531)
Woolen tapestry
Grangärdebygden 2013a
Farmland in Sweden
Pitesamisk beiarn 2005
A Sami man, in traditional clothes
Stockholm aerial view
Stockholm, viewed from the air

Cultural Profile

Sweden is the biggest of the Scandinavian countries and the fifth largest nation in Europe. Swedes make up the major ethnic group in the country, followed by Finns and Sami. The official language is Swedish, but English is widely spoken. Swedes are reserved people to whom personal space is important. They enjoy outdoor pursuits, cherish their traditional folk dances and regional costumes, and are known for their egalitarian attitude. The tradition of Fika, informal breaks taken during the day when people take the time to sit down with coffee and cakes, is also a cherished tradition and is said to play, paradoxically, a key role in the country’s high productivity. It is usually seen as a problem-solving time when issues, serious or not, are discussed informally and consensus is reached.

Other Swedish traditions include Lucia Day on Dec. 13th, when girls dress in white robes and parade through the street holding candles, Midsummer, and Christmas Eve. Foremost in the culinary traditions is the smorgasbord, a wide assortment of cold and hot foods from which diners can pick.

Sweden’s global influence in the world of science includes the Centigrade system of measuring temperature invented by Amders Celsius; the classification system of plants, animals and minerals, created by Carl von Linné (Linnaeus); and the international Nobel prizes, founded by Alfred Nobel. Literary contributions include the works of August Strindberg and Astrid Lingren, author of the beloved Pippi Longstocking books, which have been translated into 76 languages.

Swedish crafts such as ceramics, furniture, glass, silver and textiles have received international recognition for their simple beauty, form and functional design. Örrefors, for example, is a centre noted for its crystal, and IKEA, the furniture manufacturing and retail company, can be found in many parts of the world. It is interesting to note that this well-known business derives its name from the initials of the founder, Ingvar Kamprad, and the first letters of Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd, the farm and village where he grew up. Traditional handicrafts often include flowery designs similar to those shown on the block. For example, Dalercalian murals show delicate flowers painted on wall panelling, while kurbits painting is done on various household objects such as furniture and shows gourds and flowers. The traditional craft of Näver, the drying and weaving of strips of soft inner bark from birch trees, is used to make bags and backpacks.

The Sami, an indigenous group characterized by their reindeer herding, are spread between Northern Russian, Finland, Sweden and Norway. They are known for their slöjd. These crafts include knives with fir handles and engraved bone or reindeer leather sheaths, kuksas, drinking cup made out of birch burl and known to last a lifetime, and the gákti, their traditional clothing, tunics of reindeer leather or wool which feature woven sash or leather strap in dark blue, red, yellow and green. Very often, details of the gákti serve as indicators of the wearers’ place of origin.

During the late 1800s, more than a million Swedes immigrated to North America. Those who came to Canada settled in the Prairie provinces, British Columbia and Ontario. While the great majority of early arrivals were attracted by the opportunity to own farmland, others engaged in lumbering and fishing. After WWII there was a shift in settlement locations, and large numbers of immigrants moved to urban-industrial areas and became involved in industry, business and the professions. Swedes were quickly accepted into Canadian society and enthusiastically participated in community activities such as co-operatives, credit unions and the wheat pools of the Prairie provinces. To date, they have established a number of social clubs and organizations such as the Swedish Women’s Educational Association, the Svenska Klubbeni Montréal and the Svenska Herrklubban in Vancouver, all of which celebrate the culture of the homeland. There are currently over 341,000 Swedes now living in Canada, the largest numbers in the Prairie provinces and British Columbia.

Sponsor: Swedish Club of Montreal | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons