Column: Sweden by the bite
ESCANABA — Local businesses are such an integral part of the tourism industry and provides visitors with one-of-a-kind experiences. Each business has a story to tell and an exciting history that highlights an area’s uniqueness; just like the small business written in my blog below. Without them, our travels would not be as memorable. As the pandemic has put a halt to our vacations, it has greatly affected locals’ businesses. We encourage you to shop local, grab take-out, and back our local businesses. Support them today so they can be here tomorrow for us to enjoy and visitors in the upcoming years. Find the full blog at www.visitescanaba.com.
One of the more eclectic restaurants in the Upper Peninsula resides in an old building in downtown Escanaba. Underneath its blue and yellow awnings reads “Best Food in Town.” Little is known about this iconic location’s original owners, but one conclusion can be made; they knew how to cook! We know this to be true because the Swedish Pantry has been whipping up these same original recipes for over 40 years.
Locals agree that this is the place you go when you need your fix of Swedish pancakes dressed in imported lingonberries and served with a side of Swedish meatballs. If you’ve never experienced a craving for these Swedish staples or even heard of lingonberries, I guarantee you will after giving this dish a taste. Take it from me, before moving to the Upper Peninsula, I had no regard for this breakfast platter, but now it is a regular part of my diet. It did not take long for me to get acquainted with the beloved “Pasty” that originated from Cornish Miners and has strong roots in Yooper-culture. Often-times, the Swedish influence of the Upper Peninsula lives in the shadows of Cornish-traditions. But if you dig just a bit, you will find how the first Swedes left their mark on the Upper Peninsula.
Look into Delta County’s past or a phone book for that matter, and between the last names and historical records, strong Swedish-ties are everywhere. I asked Charles Linquist, President of The Delta Historical Society, about where I would uncover more about these ties, “Well, probably the main thing would be churches that had a strong Swedish influence.” I would like to note that I have had several conversations with Mr. Linquist, and he makes my job a lot easier. The man can recite any history related to Delta County off the top of his head. Linquist continued, “Do you know Bethany Lutheran Church? Well, that was originally called The Swedish Lutheran Church, and it was part of the town that was called Swede-town for at least a while”.
It appears that this was not the only church in Delta County that had a Swedish congregation. According to Reverend Elise Low Edwardson of Central United Methodist, a popular Swedish reverend named Karl Hammer served at the church for 30 years. “Even members of the church today can remember services being completely held in Swedish,” Edwardson said. While researching for this blog, I also found among the archives at the Delta Historical Society a postcard of a small Swedish-Finnish Baptist Church, which was the beginning of Grace Church in Gladstone. According to NMU Archives, churches were cultural institutions that provided social and religious support to Swedish immigrants. I imagine many Swedes appreciated these spaces as they navigated a new culture in rural surroundings.
Besides churches in the area, Swedes had other comforts reminding them of home. Newspapers written in the Swedish language covered topics happening in Sweden and current events in Michigan. NMU Archives indicate that Escanaba was one of at least seven functioning Swedish Newspapers in the Upper Peninsula. However, after World War 1, many Swedish Newspapers in U.P. declined partially because American-born citizens perceived these swede newspapers as pro-German due to their similar religious and language similarities.
Of course, Swedes were not the only immigrants making their way to the Upper Peninsula. Big Bill Bonifas, an immigrant from Luoxenberg, found his success in cutting timber. His wife put forth donations to an auditorium and gymnasium for St. Joseph Church, which is now the residence of The William Bonifas Arts Center. French Canadian ties are present at St. Annes Church, where according to Linquist, was built by immigrants of this descent, “Immigrants, they really helped build this city,” Linquist said.
Find rest of the blog at www.visitescanaba.com
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Baylie Bullington is with the staff of Visit Escanaba