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  • Hilde Huus

A Canadian Diplomat in Sweden from 1984 to 1988

D’Arcy Thorpe, left, in conversation with John Gilbert

CNS Council has had member D’Arcy Thorpe in mind for our Distinguished Speakers Series for some time now. We knew that his tenure as a diplomat in Sweden in the 1980’s would be an interesting topic for our members, and we were right! His very enjoyable talk on September 25 gave us a glimpse of the life of a diplomat and his family, while also informing us about some very significant events that occurred during their stay there.

D’Arcy began his talk by reminding us of the global political situation at the time he was posted to Sweden. Nelson Mandela was still in jail, the last Shah of Iran had just been deposed, Iraq had just started its war with Iran, the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, Germany was still divided, East Germany had acquired nuclear arms, Ronald Reagan had defeated Jimmy Carter, and Pierre Trudeau had defeated Joe Clark. The Soviets had just shot down a Korean Airlines flight, killing all 269 passengers and crew. D’Arcy also noted that it was exactly 36 years ago that same evening that Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov was warned by computer that five nuclear missiles were heading from North Dakota to the Soviet Union. Petrov somehow identified the warning as a false alarm, thereby averting a worldwide nuclear war. D’Arcy was then still at his previous posting in Prague, Czecholslovakia, then part of the Eastern Bloc under the U.S.S.R. He recalled that Prime Minister Trudeau’s concern about the Cold War prompted him to visit that city. On the Prime Minister’s arrival in Prague, he was greeted by a little girl at the airport, none other than the young daughter of D’Arcy and his wife Nancy.

To prepare for his arrival in Stockholm in the summer of 1984, D’Arcy was sent to live with a Swedish family in Vancouver for six weeks of immersion in the Swedish language. To his disappointment, when he arrived in Sweden, he found that Swedes preferred to converse with him in English. His language training was useful however as he was able to read the local newspapers and other documents. His job included public affairs work such as promoting the upcoming Calgary Olympics, encouraging trade between Canada and Sweden, and reporting on political and economic issues. A steady stream of delegations from Canadian municipalities and provinces who were fascinated by the “Swedish model” visited to investigate the reasons for Sweden’s success. The Province of Quebec opened a Nordic office in Stockholm in an effort to attract interest and investment.

D’Arcy’s recollections of his stay included some rather unusual applications for immigration to Canada, including the defection of a senior translator from Prague, and a fisherman from the north of Sweden who wanted to start a fish farm in B.C., his assets consisting only of a dog team that was worth $80,000. Both of these applicants were approved. Political highlights of the period included the 1988 nuclear treaty negotiated in Reykjavik by Gorbachev and Reagan in 1988 - a major achievement - and two Swedish national elections that left the Social Democrats in firm control of the country.

Two key events of D’Arcy’s tenure occurred in 1986. These were the assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme and the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. The Prime Minister was shot at 11:20 PM on the night of October 28. At 11:45 PM, D’Arcy received a phone call from Canada with the news of the assassination. He placed a few calls and within 45 minutes was on the site of the murder. By 4:00 AM, the new Prime Minister, Ingvar Carlsson, was sworn in. Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark was one of about a thousand prominent people who attended Palme’s funeral on a very solemn grey day. To date the murder remains unsolved.

CNS member Rolf Pedersen examines D'Arcy's copy of a Swedish newspaper announcing Palma's death

On Monday, April 28, 1986, a sudden escalation of radiation levels was detected at a nuclear plant north of Stockholm. This was the first indication of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. By Thursday, the Swedish newspapers were covering the story. It was not until Saturday that the Soviets confirmed that the accident had occurred. Much concern and many notices about what to do and not to do in order to stay safe ensued. We can imagine how this situation must have worried D’Arcy and Nancy.

Overall, D’Arcy and Nancy enjoyed their posting in Sweden, which included attending a dinner for the King and Queen of Sweden hosted by the Canadian ambassador in his beautiful historic residence. They found their quality of life there to be very high, if expensive. They lived in a beautiful home and their children attended good schools nearby.

Following his talk there were several questions and some interesting discussion regarding Sweden’s politics, economy, and culture as compared to Canada’s. And of course D’Arcy was presented with the much coveted CNS mug in appreciation for a most enjoyable evening! Photos by Astrid Ahlgren.

Ross Francis, left, was Canada’s Ambassador to Finland when D’Arcy was posted to Sweden

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