Scandinavian fishing stories

The Scandinavian Cultural Society is organizing its annual Nordic Spirit Heritage Images Exhibit at the Scandinavian Community Centre. The exhibit will move to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in Steveston on May 5 before returning to the Scandinavian Community Centre. This year’s exhibit will focus on early Scandinavian-Canadian fishing activities in BC.

The immigrants who came to Canada from Scandinavian countries were often sea-going boys. Most would have grown up in farming families, but even those liked to fish for additional food during the winter. They knew how to handle themselves around water,” says Carolyn Thauberger, who organized the Nordic Spirit Images Exhibit alongside John Stuart, Isaac Vanderhorst and members of the Scandinavian Cultural Society.


Every year, the photo exhibition displays photos from one or more of the five Scandinavian Community groups: Swedes, Fins, Norwegians, Danes and Icelanders. This year focuses on all the groups together.

Icelandic settlers’ fishing boats, Hunter Island, BC, 1915. | Photo by Dr. E. J. Fridleifson

“Scandinavians have a lot in common. They don’t like showing off, and they value honesty. Another similarity is that they like to work together. If you look at the history of cooperative movements in western Canada, you notice that many early leaders of these groups were Scandinavian,” says Thauberger.

More than 3000 members are connected to the Scandinavian Community Centre in Burnaby where people from Nordic countries and anyone interested can join a club or attend Nordic cultural events. Thauberger is a member of several such groups, among them the Viking Society.

“My Norwegian background gives me an interest in Viking history,” says Thauberger. “My family name, Mære, is connected to a church in Norway that goes back to Pre-Christian Viking times. The church, which carries the same name as my family and the farm they lived on, was mentioned as a Norse sacrificial site in one of the Icelandic Sagas.”


Scandinavians migrated to Canada mostly for economic reasons in the early 1900s.

Icelandic settlers’ sail powered dories being towed to the fishing grounds by steam powered tug, 1915, Hunter Island, BC. | Photo by Dr. E. J. Fridleifson

“It was a time where land had run out in the Scandinavian countries, and often only the oldest son could inherit the farm while other sons and daughters had to fend for themselves,” says Thauberger. “The Norwegian government started providing technical education, which made my grandfather a blacksmith and my grandmother a seamstress, but even with these skills, jobs were scarce.”

An important reason that Canada became a settler’s destination was the fishing industry. As Thauberger explains, there was poverty in the Scandinavian countries after the Second World War. People started to come to Canada where they hoped to be able to continue to fish and sell their catch for a good price.

“One group of Norwegians connected to the Community Centre escaped from Norway during the war. They had been secretly ferrying refugees from Norway to the British Isles with their fishing boat until one day the Germans got a hold of this information. Before they could come after them, the Norwegian smugglers put all their family members – about 20 people – and as much food as possible onto their fishing boats and sailed to Canada,” says Thauberger.


The photo exhibit will feature pre-1950s photos of commercial and sport fishing, which have been gathered from the families connected to the Scandinavian Community Centre.

“The pictures come with a lot of interesting stories. One of the stories came from Norm Enridge, who got into trouble when he went ocean fishing with his younger brother when they were young. They called the Coast Guard, but when help arrived, the boys were already in the water next to their capsized boat. Norm had already been pulled out of the water when one of the men asked, ‘Do you want us to save your dog too?’ But Norm didn’t have a dog. That hairy head still struggling in the water was his little brother,” says Thauberger.

The pictures and their accompanying stories, live interviews and an evening concert will all be part of the Nordic Spirit Heritage Images Exhibit, on April 14 and 15 at the Scandinavian Community Centre.

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