Born in 1933 to Swedish parents, author Elinor Barr has written several books about the history of Scandinavian immigration and has long been dedicated to documenting and promoting the Scandinavian culture in northwestern Ontario.
Her latest project is unlike anything she's embarked on before and she needs the help of residents in Thunder Bay, Ont. to make happen.
Barr is turning a cozy corner of the Viking Room at the Scandinavian Home restaurant into a reading nook filled with works by temporary Nordic authors.
"We need English language books and magazines about the Nordic countries; Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark," Barr said, "we are looking for any kind of books."
The idea of a Scandinavian library has a long history in Thunder Bay. When the original Scandinavian Home was built in 1926 it included a library where newcomers could come together to socialize, read newspapers and share their stories, she said.
It was a place to "get over their home-sickness," Barr said.
"The restaurant was downstairs but upstairs were the club rooms and this is where the people, mostly guys, played cards, read, [and] learned English."
The original building & the library within
According to Barr, many Scandinavian immigrants during the 1920s felt isolated from the community because of their language barrier, which was one of the main reasons why the Scandinavian Home was built.
"That's the original Scandinavian Home two-storey brick house," Barr said, a group of men "gathered money; 50 cents, 25 cents from various immigrants [because] that's all they could afford [and] a lot of people gave their expertise."
A few years later in 1929 a section of the club room was turned into a library where a "huge bookshelf with glassed front and three sliding doors" overfilled with books very quickly.
The bookshelf still stands, and Barr has incorporated it into her new library, which is located next to the restaurant.
"First thing you'd have to do after going through the doors is turn right," Barr said "after you're through the doors, you are in the Viking Lounge and it won't take you very long to find the cozy corner that's the reading library."
"There's an area rug and easy chairs."
Hidden gems in people's homes
Barr said it was while writing her most recent book that she started to realize the potential to collect material for the library.
"When I started writing Swedes in Canada a lot of people gave me books, especially memoirs because this book is based a lot on memoirs; it's the people speaking," Barr said.
"I know, after writing this book, how much is hidden in people's homes that they hug to their hearts," Barr said, "and if they shared them, that would be wonderful."
People are encouraged to not only donate books but also visit the current reading room at the Scandinavian Home restaurant and browse through the bookshelf, watch the DVDs, or pick a novel to read.
"You would go in and read what you wanted, browse and then you would put a book mark in the place that you wanted to come to the next time you go to the Scand," Barr said.