"STOFT: DUST OF OUR BEING"
I believe my grandfather was a dreamer. I am glad of this.
As a child, I saw him above me, often distinguished in a suit... a man with a broad smile, but also a visage that showed distance, thoughtfulness and inner involvement. Yet, when my brother and sister and I would tangle up the fishing lines off the rock in front of his cabin and lose the lures he had given us, he would just smile.
Generous yet stern, quiet, yet austere. Who was Arthur Anderson, my grandfather?
A little while ago, after picking up the old book of Swedish poetry off the shelf - “Stoft”, I felt that it was time to understand what his words, published in 1934, were saying. This began an intriguing journey which revealed to me the great importance of ancestors, of dreams and of life.
While in Sweden, the poems were received through computer technology by Ellen of the Scandinavian Centre of Winnipeg, who translated them to reveal stirring poetry. From the beginning, you can see influences of Nordic Mythology woven throughout his poetry, revealing an air of mystical, idyllic longing.
Arthur Antonius Anderson was born in 1894, January 17, in Malmberget, Sweden, Lappland. He was the son of a miner and one of ten children. He went through High School at Luleå, and later earned a Forestry degree. He found employment in sawmills, becoming a manager, then married, about 1918, Maria Elisabet Roos (‘Maj-Lis’ as she called herself).
In 1924, they emigrated with their two young sons, my father, Jan Ole, and his older brother Kaj Artur Lennart. The immigration record says that Arthur desired a better life in Canada, which he was prepared to start with 180 kronor in his pocket ($40 now) and the disability of having only his right arm, which I believe only strengthened his resolve.
You can sense his energy in poems such as “Song of the Strong”, “Restless”, and “Bred Out of Nothing You Were.”
The family settled on Polson Avenue, in the vibrant, ethnic North End of Winnipeg. Grandpa Art was writing, starting up a steamship company with A. Hermanson (later to become Swedish Consul) and was involved with the Swedish press, “Svenska Canada Tidningen”, a representative voice which had, in the 1920’s, competed in importance with the largest Swedish weeklies in the United States. He was trying to find his place.
In 1934, his poems in “Stoft” were published by Dahl’s Printing on Logan Avenue, which was the bustling heart of Swedish and other ethnic enterprises. In 1935, some of his poems were translated and lauded by the linguist and Nobel Laureate nominee, Watson Kirkconnell in the book “Canadian Overtones”, an anthology of Canadian poetry, written originally in seven languages, including biographies of the poets and the contributions of their communities to the greater fabric of Canada.
Many of Arthur’s poems reveal disdain for war and pitiful social conditions: “Disharmony”, “Nom de Guerre”, “Hunger”,“Stifle”, “Soldiers” and “Star-Eye.”
Grandpa Art’s ventures with steamships merged into his working for the Swedish American Line. This became a passion for him and it is where he helped many Swedes in their immigration processes and return trips to Sweden.
He managed Swedish American Lines from 470 Main Street, a hub of Scandinavian activity. Arthur was later recognized for his long term efforts by the King of Sweden, receiving the Royal Patriotic Gold Medal for long service.
My father tells me that he remembers his father visiting many Swedish homes in the rural areas, especially the Interlake in Manitoba, during this time, to interview new settlers and record their stories. They confided in him and used him as a sounding board for their ideas.
In 1965, there is evidence that grandpa applied for a grant to the Centennial Committee to have the hundreds of accounts published as a meaningful part of Canada’s celebrations and history. He had always been a strong advocate for the establishment of a Swedish archives. Those stories have not yet been found.,
His sentiments and even questioning of his heritage run through poems like, “Sons of a People” “Swedishness”, and “Prologue” – the beautiful rendering of the gathering of the Swedish ‘tribe’ – the ‘thing’, at Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan in 1934.
During WWII, work with the Swedish American Line came to a halt. Two of the ships, the Drottningholm and the Gripsholm had been seconded by the Red Cross to be used as Mercy Ships for refugees. For a brief time, in 1941, Arthur worked as editor for “Canada Tidningen.” After this, he left for British Columbia where he was employed as a lumber inspector for Canadian war planes.
Back in Manitoba, when times were tough, he ventured up north of Erickson, on Lake Manitoba, along with his second wife, Agnes Johnsen, to the community of Mulvihill. There, he rented a chicken farm and was able to send eggs back into the city for his son to sell from the office.
You can witness his humorous accounts of Swedes in poems like “Mr. Olson”, “Mr. Shoholme”, and “Lena on the Hill.”
At some point, Arthur translated poems of Robert Service into Swedish. You can see the effects that Service and the Canadian Long Poem had on grandpa as you read the rollicking words of “Big Swede” in this collection.
On June 5, 1942, the founding of the Winnipeg Press Club was initiated at the Hotel Fort Garry. This was a big event and attracted representatives from over thirty-two ethnic presses in Manitoba, and many dignitaries from across Canada. This club was at the heart of political, visionary thought in Winnipeg. There again, I spied Grandpa Art’s name on the executive. He was also a member of the Canada Press Club.
For a great many years, Arthur conducted the Swedish Male Voice Choir, which performed in several towns and locales throughout the province. The Choir was a great love for him. The Male Voice Choir later merged into the Scandinavian Choir. He also hosted the large Swedish Choir from Minnesota with a big event at the Winnipeg Civic Centre and banquet at the Royal Alexander Hotel.
About this time, and perhaps with some inspiration from his friend Esse Ljungh, Arthur got involved in editing Swedish radio programs for the CBC, the “Voice of Canada.” He was also arranging for Swedish cultural presentations in Winnipeg, from such as the great operatic tenor Lauritz Melchior, displays from the Swedish Gymnast Team at the Winnipeg Civic Auditorium and the first of its kind multi-cultural presentation, before Queen Elizabeth on the Legislative grounds in 1959, produced by John Hirsch.
From 1958 – 62, Arthur and several others worked to establish a Scandinavian Centre on Young Street which would unite the Nordic groups into one building with one common purpose. Arthur was a member of the Norden Society as well as the Order of Vasa.
In the 1950’s, Arthur bought his beloved cottage in the Whiteshell at Lake Brereton, where many relatives’, families’, friends’ and colleagues’ lives were enriched to ultimately reveal beautiful similar memories. At one of these retreats, among colleagues, his sponsorship for Swedish Consul arose.
His tendersness and love of others is expressed in poems such as: “Mother in Number Twelve”, “Memories of Hawk Lake”, “My Dearest”, “Do You Remember?” and “The Princessess’s Story.”
In 1955, Arthur was appointed Swedish Consul by Lester B. Pearson, then Secretary of State. He also received an extension to his tenure until 1962. he was still actively pursuing the possibility of publishing his Swedish immigrant interviews in 1967. He also continued to work as an editor with “Svenska Canada Tidningen” until his death in 1969. He was 75 years old.
Like the pieces of a puzzle, more and more knowledge of my grandfather is falling into my hands. But it is his poetry that speaks to me most clearly - of his love for his ‘landsmän’ ... which extended beyond the Swedish people. His yearning, struggles and passion for the ideal, is at the heart of all of our hopeful journeying.
No matter where you come from, or how old you think you are, Anderson’s poems can be read every day for inspiration... “Dies Irae”,“Faith in the Future”, “Utopia” ...
It is an honour to retell his story.
Malmberget, Lappland, Sweden