A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History


Despite the waning of early Norwegian ways in the West, a distinctive cultural identity still exists with traditions centring on festivals and food. For the Westvicks the tie that bound them to their heritage was music. The little town of New Norway was given a cosmopolitan feel by its weekend dances where the Westvick girls would "lift the piano off the floor" with their playing. Generations later there was still concerts after family dinners, where all the kids, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren had to come out and show off their musical skills with recitals of song and dance.

Skiing is another prominent tradition of Norwegian heritage. The acknowledged father of Canadian skiing, Herman (Jackrabbit) Smith Johannsen, was born at Horten, Norway, in 1875. He learned to ski at the same time he learned to walk, at the age of two. Eventually he came to Québec where the Laurentians became a special part of his outdoorsy life. He was president of the Montréal ski club in 1931. Johannsen blazed more ski trails than any other Canadian. Over the years he organized ski clubs in 23 towns across Canada. In 1932 he was a leading supporter for the pioneer ski lift at Shawbridge, the first real ski lift in North America. The name "Jackrabbit" was given to him by Québec woodsmen whom he visited during early cross-country ski trips into the Laurentian wilderness. The Cree Indians, admiring his ability to slalom at high speeds down heavily-wooded slopes, gave him the title Okumakum Wapoos -- Chief Jackrabbit. Johannsen was named to the Order of Canada in 1972, at age 97, for his contribution to Canadian skiing.(13)

Another well-known Canadian skier of Norwegian descent is Anne Heggtveit. In 1960 she won Canada's first Olympic skiing gold medal in the slalom as well as the world slalom and alpine combined titles. Heggtveit is also a member of the Order of Canada.(14)

The Norwegians' Lutheran religious institutions have also been an enduring presence in Canada. Neither the Lutheran Collegiate Bible Institute at Outlook, Saskatchewan nor the Canadian Lutheran Bible Institute at Camrose, Alberta, had given in to the more modern secular movements. They have retained their constitutional heritage in supplying workers for the programme of the Church both at home and abroad and continue as heritage institutions as part of the western "Bible Belt."(15)

Norwegians are also noted historically for their dedication to egalitarian principles which are anchored in the basic tenets of their Lutheran religious faith: emphasizing that individuals are free and not to be shackled by government, privilege or power. It is from the Norwegian tradition that Canada established the civic role of the ombudsman. The ombudsman is an official responsible only to Parliament but free to examine the actions of any ministry or department in government if a citizen makes a legitimate complaint. The ombudsman has become an effective grievance officer in many countries internationally, acting as a check on heavy-handed bureaucrats and ensuring they adhere to basic democratic principles and processes.(16)

Canadian painting has been affected by Norwegian influences. In 1912, Lawren Harris and J.E.H. MacDonald of the Group of Seven attended a Scandinavian exhibition in New York and were greatly impressed by what they saw. They appreciated the bold, colourful and rhythmic patterns as a means of portraying the great Canadian landscapes effectively in their paintings, which until then had not developed a distinctive stylistic approach.(17)

Canadians have also adopted the Norwegian smorgasbord as a way of serving food, especially to large gatherings of people.(18)

Norwegian ethnic clubs and societies in Canada continue to promote charter tours to Norway so that recent generations become aware of their distinctive heritage. Norwegian ethnicity 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.(19)

The Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

From Fjord to Frontier, A History of the Norwegians in Canada, by Glubrand Loken
(McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1980).

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