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Memories of Finding New Life on the MS Stockholm

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Editor’s Note: When we think of cruising these days, it’s usually all about vacation, and hitting sunny ports of call. But not so long ago, often the transatlantic voyage was  the way Europeans immigrating to North America traveled and began new lives. Today writer Krista Bjorn, (aka, the rambling tart) takes along on her own family’s journey on a particularly notorious vessel for our new section about vintage travel, “Vintage Style”.

She may be known as the cause of one of cruise ship history’s most famous maritime disasters, and for an attack by pirates, but to me the MS Stockholm will always be cherished as the vessel that brought the first of my Danish family members to North America.

The MS Stockholm was arrives in New York City severely damaged but still afloat following her 1956 collision with the Andrea Doria

My Grandpa Alfred and Grandma Ruth were born and raised in Denmark and met when Grandpa joined a Spejderne troupe  (Danish version of the Boy Scouts) led by Grandma’s brother-in-law. She was 18 and he, 22.

“I got to look at her and said she’s the one for me,” Grandpa said simply in his strong Danish accent. Grandma grinned. “Awww, he was a nice guy.”

They were soon married and settled into the life of farming they’d always known. Grandpa had started work on a neighbor’s farm when he was just 9 years old, working every morning and evening, going to school during the day.

“We thought it was fun,” Grandma said. “But now, to look back and think of it, it was terrible.”

Things didn’t improve with time. Grandpa worked very hard, going to work at 5 a.m. every morning with one Sunday off a month. They decided this was not the life they wanted and began saving every penny they could to start a new life in Canada.

Their families weren’t keen on the idea. “A lot of people thought we were crazy,” Grandma said. Her own mother admonished them saying, “How can you go over to such a heathen country?”

Alfred and Ruth after they came to live in North America

But they were undeterred and kept on saving. By the time they had enough, Alfred and Ruth were 31 and 27 and had four children – Erik (my Dad), Gerda, Tina, and Arne. Their passage was paid for by the Canadian government which needed farmers, so they packed up their belongings into several suitcases and a big box they could add legs to and turn into a table when they got to Canada.

It was October in the early 1950’s when they took the train to Copenhagen and boarded the glistening white MS Stockholm, waving good-bye to the many family members gathered to see them off. 

“They kept waving until we were out of sight,” said Grandma.

All six family members shared one cabin lined with bunk beds, but the whole ship was their playground for the next week and they loved it!

At 525 feet with a gross tonnage of 12,165, the MS Stockholm was the smallest passenger ship operating on the North Atlantic route at the time, but there was plenty to entrance four farm kids who had never even seen a car before. They roamed the hallways and decks and my 9-year-old Dad rode the elevator up and down, up and down. “That was where we could always find him,” Grandma said.

Dining was and still is a favorite part of cruise travel

By far their favorite aspect of the voyage was the food.

“The best part was when we all gathered outside the dining room, a big crowd, and the Captain would open the doors and welcome us all in,” Grandma said. “We took turns sitting at the Captain’s table, all of us, even the kids.”

“Oh you wouldn’t believe it,” Grandpa said, his eyes twinkling at the memory. “One time they came in with a big turkey on a platter all lit up inside with a candle. Oh, we had good food there.”

Their grand adventure on the MS Stockholm came to an end when they docked in Montreal, Quebec and boarded a passenger train for a 5-day trip across Canada to the tiny logging community of Crescent Spur, British Columbia. They arrived in the pitch black and were picked up in a jeep by a friend of Grandpa’s who had immigrated years earlier.

“I didn’t know until later that we crossed the river on a bridge made of just two boards in the middle of the night,” Grandpa said with a grin.

They soon settled in to their new home and made friends with the Dutch and Swedish families who made up the small town.

“We just loved it!” said Grandma, reminiscing about the gorgeous scenery and her lush gardens. “We never ever regretted it once.”

Grandpa agreed. “It was the best thing we ever did. We had all our kids and steady work all the time. We should’ve done it ten years earlier. We were never homesick once.”

The MS Stockholm found infamy a few years later when she collided with the Italian ship Andrea Doria on the night of July 25, 1956 in thick fog off the coast of Nantucket. The catastrophe killed 51 people and earned her the name of “the death ship”.

Although severely damaged herself, the MS Stockholm helped in the rescue and carried 327 passengers and 245 crew members from the Andrea Doria as well as her own passengers and crew. After the Andrea Doria sank, the MS Stockholm sailed to New York City under her own power and was repaired three months later.

Over the years she served as an ocean liner and barracks ship before being refitted as a modern cruise ship known as MS Athena.

The MS Stockholm later became the MS Athena, which in 2008 was attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia

On December 3, 2008 MS Athena was surrounded and attacked by 29 pirate boats in the Gulf of Aden. Thankfully this time tragedy was averted when crew members firing high-pressure water cannons and the presence of a hovering US Navy P3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft finally sent the pirates fleeing.

The MS Stockholm may be known as “the death ship” to some, but to me she is a life ship. Without her, I wouldn’t be here.

*A big thank you to the cruise line history siteCruising the Past for information and photos used in this piece.

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About the author

I am a wood-burning artist, goat farmer, writer and photographer of all things food, travel, and lifestyle. Born in Canada, raised in the USA, and shaped by my European roots, I now live on a goat farm in Queensland, Australia with my husband, where I celebrate anything that leads to healing, thriving, and loving. For more visit: Rambling Tart

13 thoughts on “Memories of Finding New Life on the MS Stockholm”

  1. Fascinating article!! I felt like I was traveling with them by the lovely description of their journey! Beautiful story, indeed!

  2. i also sailed on the stockholm in 1957 the first sailing after the sinking of the andera doria. We had a wonderful time and the food was unforgettable. I enjoyed your story .

  3. This delightful story just came up on TB. I think the “old days” were probably more fun than today with the casual atmosphere (unless you were on the Titantic or the like). Love the photo with the Danish modern furniture in the dining room – it’s all popular again.
    And … nice to know that you are a Canadian too.

  4. Hi Krista, it’s a lovely story, thanks for sharing it with us.
    It recalls my own story on the MS Stockholm, where I met a classmate. We both wanted to become sailors, he did and worked on the MS Stockholm and I was a passenger many years later.
    It was very exciting – unforgettable, I live in New Zealand and Ulli (his name) – I’ve got no idea.
    I love well traveled people. Greetings to Queensland
    (photo see link)

  5. Hi Krista, it’s a lovely story, thanks for sharing it with us.
    It recalls my own story on the MS Stockholm, where I met a classmate. We both wanted to become sailors, he did and worked on the MS Stockholm and I was a passenger at the time.
    It was very exciting – unforgettable, I live in New Zealand and Ulli (his name) – no idea.
    I love well travelled people. Greetings to Queensland
    (photo see link)

  6. Hi Krista, I enjoyed your article. I have a similar story in that my family sailed on the MS Stockholm in November of 1948 when we emigrated from Sweden to America. The amazing thing is that she is still sailing! Now named the MS Astoria part of the CMV fleet out of England. Eight ownership changes and 11 name changes. Lots of redesigns and refits, but the hull is original. My sister and I will take a nostalgia cruise on her this Fall (1918), seventy years apart. An amazing ship!

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