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Moving to Manitoba

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It has become somewhat of a custom for me to set up my laptop computer in the kitchen each evening while I prepare dinner. While I am chopping vegetables and boiling water I like to listen to the streaming audio radio program found on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) website.

By clicking on the “Central Canada” programming selection, I am able to listen to the live radio broadcast and for an hour or two I feel like I am back in my Canadian hometown.

I will admit that the hourly Winnipeg traffic reports and Manitoba weather warnings are not what I would consider to be particularly “useful” or “relevant” information for me in my Reykjavík kitchen.

However, I have found that tuning into the radio is a nice way to unwind and get in some “English-time” at the end of a long day.

I can feel the stirring in my brain (caused by my attempt to get through the day using as much Icelandic as possible) subsiding as I listen to the familiar voices of the radio hosts and the mention of names of streets, businesses and cities that I recognize. It is all surprisingly comforting.

Although I live over 4,000 kilometers away I find that at times I know more about the headlines making the local news than my own friends and relatives who live in Manitoba.

In one instance last spring I was listening to the radio on the computer as usual and was shocked to hear that a small plane had just crashed outside of a local airport—the very same airport that my father (a self-proclaimed “passionate recreational pilot”) flies in and out of all of the time.

After hearing of the crash I raced to the phone, punched in the dozens of numbers it takes to place an international call with a phone card as fast as my fingers could go and tried to reach my dad on his cell phone.

“Dad!” I shouted into the phone, “Are you all right? There was a crash at the airport!”

After a slight and, I can only assume, confused pause, he said, “How in the world did you even know about that?! I am in the car right now and only just heard it announced two seconds ago…”

Aside from bringing about the occasional panicked phone call, the streaming online broadcasts are a great way to stay in touch with what’s going on at home.

Last week my ears perked right up when, between the local Winnipeg headlines, I heard the word “Icelanders,” followed by, “eye Manitoba as land of opportunity.” Pardon me?

The report went on to say that the Manitoba provincial government was willing to “fast-track applications” for any skilled labor positions that Icelanders may qualify for.

It was their way of lending a helping hand to those who wanted to come to Manitoba in order to escape the financial mess in Iceland (one article in a Canadian newspaper even referred to these Icelanders as “financial refugees”).

Although the Icelanders would be granted temporary foreign worker status, reports on the radio did state that after six months they could apply for permanent residence.

Iceland’s new Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, can even be heard on the broadcasts saying that she supports the idea but goes on to say that “Many of them will return, I hope.”

I started thinking about the potential exodus of Icelanders to Manitoba in relation to the first emigration in the 1880s.

This earlier group of Icelanders was prompted to make the trans-Atlantic journey due to excruciatingly hard times including the threat of starvation. Their trip to Manitoba was often their only hope for survival.

Over a hundred years after the Icelanders settled in “New Iceland,” Manitoba now has “the highest Icelandic population outside of Iceland itself,” as stated in a recent article in the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper.

In an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press, the consul-general at Iceland’s Manitoba Consulate, Atli Asmundsson said, “Everyone in Iceland knows or is related to someone in Manitoba,” and that Manitoba is, “the only place you can go from Iceland and still be there.”

It is true; once you enter “New Iceland” the signs of the respect and reverence that people still have for their ancestral culture are everywhere.

It’s even possible to find people in Manitoba who can speak Icelandic, yet have not visited Iceland. However, in these cases it may be more likely that you would hear an older version of the language versus the ever-changing Icelandic spoken here.

I have spent nearly every single long-weekend in August attending the Íslendingadagurinn festival in Gimli, Manitoba and have seen the people’s passion for Iceland first-hand.

In “New Iceland” the names of towns are Icelandic (Gimli, Arborg, Lundar) and the names of some businesses are Icelandic (Amma’s Tea Room and the Viking Motor Hotel, complete with a huge colorful mural of some intimidating-looking Vikings complete with horns and all).

It is only after spending almost five years actually living in Iceland that I can now say (with the utmost respect) that rather than being a mirror of Iceland (I grew up thinking that Iceland must be just like this!), “New Iceland” is more like a slightly exaggerated, but well-intentioned, tribute to the old beloved motherland.

I find the prospect of a new generation of Canadian-Icelanders absolutely fascinating. It is unfortunate that the Icelanders who have to make the difficult decisions of whether or not to leave their country and head to Manitoba stem from less-than-desirable circumstances.

However, aside from the move to Manitoba being motivated solely as a financial solution for economic survival, I think that the sharing of cultures will offer citizens of both countries many unexpected and pleasant surprises.

Alana Odegard – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.