My Irish Grandfather emigrated to Canada but his loyalty to England was such that when England joined the war against the Kaiser, he joined the army. He was no privileged scion of a wealthy or politically important family. He was a glazier, a drayman, a common working man. Neither Ireland nor England had done much for him. But the UK needed him so he went for training, shipped to England, ferried to France,
Go West young man, go West. In 1871 that was the advice of Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Times.
Horace Greeley said that anyone who had to earn a living should go where workers were needed and wanted, where they will be hired because they are needed, not because someone is giving them a job as a favour. He added some conditions to his advice. Before going west, he said, a young man should learn to chop, to plough and to mow.
Because of geography and shipping routes, the Icelanders arrived in Quebec City. Some made their way even further East to Nova Scotia. But that did not last. The Icelanders were late comers. The good land was already taken. Others went to Kinmount, Ontario. After a disastrous year, they, too, continued the journey West. That journey West, with many stops and starts, would continue over the years until Icelandic immigrants reached the furthest West possible, first Vancouver, then Victoria, British Columbia. This weekend, we have all gathered to celebrate that long, arduous and often dangerous journey.
Following their dream of travelling to Amerika and the life it offered had a high price. Not in the fares people paid but in the lives lost. In the first stage of this saga, people died and were buried at sea. Later, they died in Nova Scotia, in Kinmount, they died on the journey to the promised land of New Iceland.
These sacrifices were not made for frivolous reasons. They were made because in Iceland there was a shortage of land, a lack of opportunity, a rigid social system, and natural disasters created by cold weather and volcanic eruption.
Horace Greeley had said learn to chop. The movement West was made harder by the fact that the Icelanders didn
Many years ago when I taught high school in Snow Lake, Manitoba, I was invited to go dip-fishing for whitefish. We travelled by boat to the mouth of a creek, hiked up along the creek until we reached a beaver dam. We lined up along the top of the dam, played our flashlights over the water and tried to dip fish from the base of the beaver dam. That was the closest I ever got to Castor Canadensis, the Canadian beaver. The images of that evening came flooding back as I read a book called Once They Were Hats, a book exploring and explaining the past and current role of beaver, their tree cutting, their dam building and their saving of our land.
The Vic theatre was packed. Extra chairs were lined up at the rear. A quick trailer for the movie, Rams, was shown. There was no need for the trailer to encourage people to go to Rams. Both Virgin Mountain and Rams had been sold out for days. The audience for the annual Victoria Film Festival know their films and were aware that Virgin Mountain, the Icelandic-Danish film by Dagur K