Some 500 years before Columbus landed on a Caribbean island, displaced Norsemen discovered and attempted a settlement on Canada's shores (seeNORSE VOYAGES; ICELANDERS).

Norwegian Rally
Part of crowd at rally of Norwegians in Camrose, 1926 (courtesy PAA).
Nansen, Fridtjof
Norwegians were active in Canada at the end of the 19th century, with Fridtjof Nansen as the pioneer of major Norwegian expeditions (courtesy Library and Archives Canada).
Amundsen, Roald
Amundsen, one of history's greatest explorers, was the first to complete the Northwest Passage (courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley).


 Some 500 years before Columbus landed on a Caribbean island, displaced Norsemen discovered and attempted a settlement on Canada's shores (seeNORSE VOYAGES; ICELANDERS). Nordic sagas helped Helge Ingstad, a Norwegian explorer and writer, to discover an ancient Norse site at L'ANSE AUX MEADOWS on the northern tip of Newfoundland in the 1960s - the earliest known site of European settlement in America.

 Norwegians were active in Canadian waters again at the end of the 19th century, with Fridtjof Nansen as the pioneer of major Norwegian expeditions. Otto SVERDRUP charted many of the arctic islands and discovered AXEL HEIBERG, AMUND RINGNES and ELLEF RINGNES islands - all named for his Norwegian sponsors. Norwegian Roald AMUNDSEN navigated the last unsailed link in the NORTHWEST PASSAGE. It was not until 1930 that Norway recognized Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. Henry A. LARSEN, of Norwegian birth, was the first Canadian to travel the Northwest Passage.

Permanent Norwegian migration to North America began in 1825 when the first shipload of Norwegians arrived in New York. In the next 75 years some 500 000 Norwegians landed at Québec, for this was the shortest corridor to the central American states. In spite of efforts by Canada, very few remained because of Canada's restrictive land policies at that time. Not until the turn of the century did Norwegians accept Canada as a land of the second chance. This was also true of the many American-Norwegians who moved to Canada seeking homesteads and new economic opportunities. By 1921 one-third of all Norwegians in Canada had been born in the US.

Migration and Settlement

Major settlements by Norwegians in the Canadian West occurred between 1886 and 1929, a span of time that can be roughly divided into 3 periods of 15 years each. In the first period, from 1886 to the turn of the century, the building of the CPR and the opening up of the West to homesteaders brought Norwegian settlers, and a Norwegian colony was established in Calgary in connection with the Eau Claire Lumber Mill. Second, from 1900 to 1914, there was a great influx of Norwegians from both the US and Norway (18 790 from Norway). Third, from 1914 to 1929, 21 574 Norwegians arrived from Norway. The 1931 census reported 93 243 people of Norwegian descent in Canada. Of these, 39 241 were born in Canada, 32 551 in Norway and 21 451 in the US. The GREAT DEPRESSION and WWII reduced the flow of Norwegian immigrants to 1376 from 1930 to 1945. From 1945 to 1959, 9196 arrived, but between 1960 and 1975 only 4615. The 2006 census estimated that there were 432 515 Canadians of Norwegian origin (single and multiple response).

Social and Cultural Life

 In Canada, Norwegians established their own ethnic and religious associations. Because Norwegian settlements in Canada began as extensions of their experiences in America, their major social organizations were generally continental institutions. This is still true of the Sons of Norway lodges, which were originally established in Minneapolis in 1895. The ethnic paper Noorrana, founded in 1910 in Winnipeg but later published in Vancouver, ended there in 1984.

In 1941, of Norwegians in Canada, 84.7% adhered to the Lutheran Church, 5.4% the United Church of Canada, 2.6% the Anglican, 1.5% the Presbyterian and 5.8% miscellaneous groups. In 1967 the Evangelical Lutheran Church, of Norwegian background, became an autonomous Canadian synod. Those of Norwegian background are a diminishing minority because of continuing church mergers.

Because most of the early immigrants were literate and Lutheran, they placed high value on a Christian education for their children. Most Norwegian settlements not only promoted local summer parochial schools but conducted confirmation classes beyond the regular Sunday school. The Norwegian Lutherans established Camrose Lutheran College in 1911 and Outlook College in 1915. Then, in co-operation with other Lutheran synods, they founded the Canadian Lutheran Bible Institute in 1932 and Luther Theological Seminary in 1939.

Maintaining Group Identity

Over the years, assimilation was promoted by the numerical superiority and dominance of an Anglo-Canadian culture, the levelling influence of the public school system, the decreasing migration from Norway, the readiness of Norwegians to speak English and to marry into other groups, their readiness to accept Canadian citizenship and their above-average educational status, which opened doors to advancement in urbanized society. Nevertheless, a distinctive cultural identity is still maintained in the homes of Norwegian Canadians, where traditions are centered on festivals and foods. Ethnic clubs and societies promote charter tours to Norway so that recent generations may become aware of their distinctive heritage. Norwegian ethnicity, far from dying out, has recently reasserted itself. Language classes in Norwegian are again popular, and even the third and fourth generations are discovering the distinctiveness of their roots. The 2006 census recorded 7710 people who reported that Norwegian was their mother tongue (first language learned).

Well-known Canadians of Norwegian descent include skier Anne HEGGTVEIT and figure skater Karen MAGNUSSEN. The acknowledged father of Canadian skiing is Herman-Smith Johannsen, who was nicknamed "Jackrabbit" by the Cree. For his contribution to Canadian skiing he was named to the Order of Canada in 1972 at the age of 97.

Further Reading

  • Gulbrand Loken, From Fjord to Frontier: A History of the Norwegians in Canada (1980).

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