—Much of what Craig Redmond knows of Sweden, he learned from watching hockey. But he’s convinced the national tourism marketer has done a great job capturing the “gallant soul” of the country—
My first encounter with anything to do with Sweden came when I was watching a Toronto Maple Leafs game as a kid. His name was Börje Salming.
He and Inge Hammarström were the first from the country to play in the NHL, brought over Leafs GM Jim Gregory in a highly ridiculed move. Dubbed the “Chicken Swedes,” they arrived just as the game was descending into the goon era, and their intelligent, graceful style of play seemed doomed to fail.
Sure enough, that first game I watched was against the Philadelphia Flyers, then known as the Broad Street Bullies for their physically intimidating style of play. Salming soon found himself waltzing with bloodthirsty goon Dave “The Hammer” Schultz.
But as I watched the tall, lanky foreigner swing around and around, avoiding the fury of fists flailing past his pale, gaunt face, I was mesmerized by his gaze. First by the look of confusion and terror in his eyes, and then by his forbearance. He bore the resignation of a forsaken martyr, and that instantly made him my hero.
My second brush with the Nordic country also came in the shape of a future NHL Hall of Famer. This time, it was far less traumatic, though equally unforgettable.
After a protracted stay at BC Children’s Hospital, my son received an invitation to watch a Canucks game from the luxury box belonging to the Sedin twins. Our boy was a massive Sedins fan, and the promise made in the invite that one of the brothers might visit after the game was too good to be true.
Despite a gruelling and heartbreaking 1-0 overtime loss, and the intense media scrum that must have followed, as Rogers Arena emptied there appeared the gently gracious Henrik Sedin in his suit and tie, ready to spend another unselfish hour with my son and the other outpatients invited to the box. The moment felt equally heroic.
The closest I’ve ever come to visiting Sweden would be strolling through IKEA, collecting bits and bobs we never intended to buy prior to entering the big, patriotically blue and yellow retail maze. But I’ve often wondered about it.
And I’ve always believed that if I ever did go, I’d discover a country that is the physical and cultural manifestation of that gallantly unassuming stoicism embodied by two of its favourite sons, those Swedish hockey heroes of mine.
So, I was quite tickled to learn that my hypothesis was seemingly validated by an equally unassumingly stoic Swedish tourism campaign that has been unfolding over the past six years.
The first chapter launched back in 2016, offering a very intimate invitation to get to know the nation’s personality by literally providing the whole world with one phone number where any random Swedish citizen might be reached.
Sweden Tourism: The Number
That was followed a year later with the entire country registered as one enormous Airbnb. Inspired by an ancient law that allows citizens to roam freely anywhere in the country, on public or private lands, the campaign presented the nation just like a warm Airbnb welcome video, but instead of room to room, presented itself from lake to lake, fjord to fjord, and mountain to mountain.
Sweden Tourism: The Airbnb
Now, just as other destinations around the world scramble to attract tourists and re-ignite their industry post Covid, Visit Sweden is back to its quirky, unobtrusive best by inviting visitors to experience the country’s supernatural cultural lore.
This time, it’s using a geo-restricted audio horror tale that can only be enjoyed— or feared—in its entirety in the Swedish forests it describes. An excerpt from that story can be heard below, and virtual visitors will be treated to the whole story on the website over Halloween, but otherwise you need to go full Blair Witch Project and go there yourself to get the full experience.
Sweden Tourism: The Forest
As for me? I doubt I’ll ever actually make it over to the homeland of those hockey heroes of mine. But I can always take solace in knowing I can visit their beloved gallant souls just down the road at the Hockey Hall of Fame. And if I ever really get a hankering for a true taste of their home, I can always go back to IKEA and hoover down a few of those famous Swedish meatballs.