There is no doubt that a Scandinavian fever has taken over Toronto. Lately we’ve been seeing a massive influx of Scandinavian restaurants and retail ventures pop up throughout the city. Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian-inspired cafes are growing in numbers, with names like Fika, Odin, Thor, and kafebar highlighting their true Scandinavian origins. Scandinavian fashion brands like Tiger of Sweden, Ganni, and Soulland are now available – if you know where to look – in the city, and the number of Nordic design stores has grown exponentially in recent years. In almost every neighbourhood in Toronto, there is a product of this new Scandi-influence, which is definitely something to be excited about.
Having lived in Copenhagen for a period of six months (and having made numerous trips back since), I can empathize with our newfound love for this culture. These nations are home to some of the best, most thriving cities in the world, and for good reason. Defined by their minimalism, their successful infrastructure, and relaxed attitude to life, Scandinavian cities are a model for how we wish our major cities could work – with ease. That’s not to say that Toronto hasn’t been using the Nordic model as precedent – in recent years, we’ve seen major changes to our urban fabric.
Cycling is inherently Scandinavian, with over half of the population in Copenhagen using it as a main form of transportation daily. People still drive, but the city has found a way to allow these two modes of transport to work together harmoniously; through curb segregated cycle tracks and cycle-specific traffic lights. This summer, Toronto introduced special lanes for cyclists on Queen's Quay and Richmond Street as part of a 10-year plan to build a greater bicycle infrastructure. Although these are baby steps, it’s progress, and promises an exciting future for cyclists in the city.
The white walls, light wooden floors, and ethereal airiness synonymous with Scandinavian design and interiors has permeated Toronto’s design world. Mjolk, a design studio located in the Junction, is one of the most prolific design stores in Toronto to offer Scandinavian goods, and has garnered international praise for its concept and design. EQ3 and Design Within Reach in Toronto's King East Design District carry celebrated Scandinavian designers like Arne Jacobsen, Poul Henningsen, and Marimekko. The Distillery District's Bergo carries unique Scandinavian products (Bodum and George Jensen), and the Bay on Queen Street even hosted a month long event last year celebrating Danish Design and Fashion.
Scandinavian cuisine has also found a niche in Toronto's famous food scene. Karelia Kitchen in the Annex serves authentic smørrebrød, a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich of rye bread (rugbrød), butter (smør), and a variety of different toppings. The Viking Bakery on the Danforth and the Vegan Danish Bakery in Thornhill serve traditional Scandinavian pastries. The Taste of Iceland, an annual event held throughout the city, hosts an Icelandic dinner at Luma that features classic Icelandic food like skyr and langoustine. At the annual Swedish Christmas Festival at the Harbourfront, you can listen to Swedish Christmas Carols over glögg (mulled wine) and Semla buns.
Like Scandinavia, Canada is a winter country. We spend eight months out of the year fighting chilly temperatures, waiting for those four glorious months of summer where we can finally enjoy the outdoors. Scandinavians, who have notoriously long winters (and often live in the dark for months) have found a way to combat these winter blues - and Torontonians should take note. Hygge, an untranslatable Danish word that can be loosely defined as "coziness", is the act of spending quality time with loved ones and friends over good food and drink, usually during the dark winter months. It is speculated that hygge is why the Danes, and the rest of the Scandinavian population, are among the happiest people on earth - it's because hygge, in its purest form, is about our relationships with others.
Alana de Haan is a photographer and designer based in Toronto. She is a contributor to the Beringer Brunch Journal.