A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES, COMING TO CANADA

Sivert Westvick could hardly believe his eyes when he arrived in Canada. Land in Alberta was so plentiful, so productive. The Norwegians quickly put down roots. Soon there was a creamery, a butcher shop, a flour mill and a cheese factory in New Norway. Sivert became a prairie Renaissance man: fisherman, carpenter, butcher, the town's mayor, its self-taught mortician, and an importer of women's hats that were sold at his fully-stocked general store. He was a "Jack of all trades" who had patched together a new world from the old

The Great Depression, however, would change everything for the over achieving Norwegian. It was cruellest to people who had spread themselves too thin. The great rush of immigrants and rapid development of the prairie economy between 1900 to 1915 had been seductive. The farmers had been tempted by the ease with which larger and larger areas could be cultivated and harvested with machinery. They doubled and tripled their estates and went bravely into debt. At the end of the 1920s, the average Norwegian Canadian farmer, like any farmer, was loaded with debt but still very optimistic about the future. Then, without warning, the Depression struck. Suddenly there was no money to meet the bills and the mortgage payments.(8)

This was the era in the West known as the Dirty Thirties. The Depression was compounded with dust storms, drought and pestilence. Winds blew dust so high in black blizzards that early afternoon became as dark as night. Crops were killed by scorching sun and heavy clouds of grasshoppers. Drought and depression led to despair and thousands of settlers eventually deserted their homesteads.(9)

As the local economy of New Norway disintegrated, many families could no longer afford to educate their children. Sivert Westvick was so easygoing and generous that he was doing everyone favours. He wouldn't turn anybody down. He was too kind-hearted and ended up having to sell his store. As people left the district one by one, the school shut down and the dream of New Norway on the prairie was over.

There was an exodus of Norwegian settlers, a re-migration to different parts of the prairies. But this time there wasn't the hope or enthusiasm of starting over. World War II caused another kind of hurt -- a feeling of being ignored by eastern Canada. A system of tariffs designed to protect the eastern manufacturer forced up the price of western machinery and trucks. And freight rates were designed to exploit the West rather than help build it. These grievances pushed western settlers away from national politics and they began electing their own political mavericks into Ottawa. They wanted rights to control their natural resources, the same rights granted to all the other provinces. These struggles for independence and recognition brought the co-operative stores, the credit unions, the wheat pools and the medical insurance schemes that dominated early prairie politics. Norwegians were often leaders, front and centre, in fighting and winning these battles.(10)

The Norwegians also fought battles closer to home, fending off Anglo-Saxon pressure to assimilate. Many Norwegian settlements named their villages and post-offices after people and places of their heritage. Norwegian homesteaders in central Alberta named their post office "Eidsvold," after the place where Norway's constitution had been formulated in 1814. But the coming of the Canadian Northern Railway brought pressure to change the name. The post office was soon after known as Donalda, after Donald A. Mann who built the railway through the village.(11)

Some areas were able to retain their historic names such as Bardo, Edberg and New Norway, in recognition of the Norwegian pioneers who first settled the land. But over the years, the Norwegian traditions and the Norwegian language would be almost lost. The numbers of Norwegians in these once pioneering villages dwindled and Norwegian immigration was decreasing. The dominance of Anglo-Canadian culture inevitably won out in assimilating Norwegians into the larger society.(12)

Footnotes:
1,5,6,7,12,14,19
The Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

2,3,4,8,9,10,11,13,15,16,17,18
From Fjord to Frontier, A History of the Norwegians in Canada, by Glubrand Loken
(McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1980).


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