The emigration

Between 1867 and 1915, almost a thousand people emigrated from Vilhelmina. Years of bad crops and unemployment promted the idea of leaving Sweden. Most emigrants went to the US or Canada and often journeyed via Norway with boat to England and then across the Atlantic.

Vilhelminaemigrants. Photo: Hjalmar Höglund.
© Västerbottens musuem

Life on the other side of the Atlantic was not as easy as people made it seem. In an effort not to worry friends and family back home, the letters sent home to Sweden often told of good job opportunities and good soil. But there are also letters that show the flip side of the coin. In September 1930, Konrad writes the following from Grand Forks, North Dakota:

[Freely translated from Swedish] The trip back went well without further mishaps. We had some storm and fog and therefore got a little bit sea sick, but worse, I got a bad cold the minute I got to shore. And so hot, so hot. I stayed in Duluth for nearly 3 weeks before I dared venture out to these parts, and it's been so hot the whole time that I've worked for only 3 days and work is nowhere to be found. Oh! If I had only been wise and stayed in Sweden for a years time.

On the other side of the Atlantic

When the great America fever hit Västerbotten during the 1880's, the risky business of sailing across the Atlantic had been replaced with the much faster and safer travels by steam boats. Around the last century, a trip from Liverpool to Quebec, Canada, took about four weeks.

The emigrants that left the county at the end of the 19th century were lured by the Lincoln regime's promises of free land in the United States and many of them ended up in Minnesota. In the beginning of the 20th century, the days of free land in the States were over. Instead, emigrants went to Canada where free land was now given away. Many Vilhelmina residents went to Hay Lakes, Alberta, where the landscape reminded them of home. In 1908 they formed their own congregation and called it WIlhelmina.

Wilhelmina Lutheran Church
Wilhelmina Lutheran Church, Hay Lakes, Alberta.

On the top of a hill, not far from the nearest lake, the congregation built the Wilhemina Lutheran Church. The exterior of the church bares much resemblance to its predecessor in Vilhelmina, Sweden.

It wasn't just the promise of free land that lured emigrants to America. Swedish girls were in great demand as housemaids in the cities, while young Swedish men could get employment at the rail roads, in the industry or as lumber jacks.

Would you like to know more?

In the collection
letters from America
Did you know...
...that Vilhelmina museum have many emigrant life stories in its collections? Amongst other things there are emigrant letters and recordings. Visit us if you want to know more!