Friday, August 23, 2013

O Canada! Like a Close Cousin

As an American descended from Norwegian and Celtic ancestors, I can't help but feel a close affiliation with, and longing for, certain other countries like Norway, Scotland, and Ireland.  Though I personally identify more with my mother's Norwegian family heritage, the sound of bagpipes combined with a flash of tartan never fails to stir my soul.  But, also vying for position near the top of the list is a country a little closer to home---a distance of only 75 miles to the border, in fact:


My mother has always maintained that she is 100% Norwegian-American, but admits she might have just enough Swedish genes to lay claim to the area taken up by one little toe.  Perhaps it is the same with me and my various links to Canada, but in this case, the claim is also made on emotional territory.

My adopted father was a native Canadian.  Dad was born in Vancouver, British Columbia to an ex-patriot American father and a Scottish-born mother.  His mother died when he was five years old, and his father died a few years after that, so he spent the majority of his childhood in a Vancouver orphanage and foster homes.  When he became an American citizen in the mid-1940s, Dad left behind the graves of his parents and three siblings in Vancouver.  He moved to California where his sister lived, but a second sister had been adopted out to an unknown Vancouver family soon after her birth.  Happily, Dad was able to make contact with the unknown sibling a few years before his death.  In 1973, he made a trip back to Vancouver to meet his little sister for the first time, and also visited some beloved family friends and locations important to him as a child in Canada.

Since I am Norwegian-American on my mother's side, then I surely also have Viking blood ("Oh, so that's where all the tenacity comes from," I can hear some smirking!).  Vikings arrived on the shores of Newfoundland (Canada), over 1,000 years ago, looking for new trade goods.  They left the ruins of their Icelandic-style dwellings to be discovered centuries later.  You can read more about the first European discovery of North America on the Smithsonian Institutes's Natural History Museum website:  Vikings, the North Atlantic Saga.  Hmmm... if the Vikings were the first Europeans to set foot on North American soil, then why is Columbus Day (October 12) more prominently celebrated than Leif Erikson Day (October 9)?  Perhaps it is some consolation to Scandinavian Americans that Leif Erikson Day comes before Columbus Day on the calendar.

Canada also served as the point of arrival in North America for the majority of my more recent Norwegian ancestors.  During the 1850s and 1860s, many immigrants coming to America, especially from Ireland and Norway, arrived on sailing ships at a detention station at Grosse Île, an island near Quebec.  From there, my great great grandparents and their families made their way by land to locations within the United States.  You can access surviving records online from the quarantine station at the Library and Archives Canada site for Immigrants from Grosse Île.

If my Norwegian ancestors had not formed prior plans to meet up with friends or relatives in Wisconsin and Minnesota, they might have been tempted by the wild beauty of Canada.  Some men in the family later revisited the idea of settlement there.  A few years ago, I connected with an entire branch of the Winje family that was descended from Edward Winje, who left Minnesota for farming in the open fields of Saskatchewan and later moved with his son to British Columbia.  I have many Canadian cousins from that Winje line, and I know the British Columbia residents are proud, and rightfully so, of their beautiful province.

For twenty years, my husband and I regularly spent Week 50 at a timeshare in Whistler, British Columbia.  The objective was to enjoy the unparalleled scenery from the ski slopes of Whistler/Blackcomb, as well as the ambiance of its international village.  We could not help but notice the level-headed friendliness of Canadians who crossed our paths.  We also watched their government in action and marveled at how it did not waste any time as far as preparing for the 2010 Olympics was concerned.  Stretching from North Vancouver to Whistler, B.C. is the stunning ribbon of a coastal road romantically named the Sea to Sky Highway.  It was evident that the Highway 99 corridor, often narrow and sometimes treacherous, needed to be widened in some areas to safely accommodate the increased traffic expected for the Winter Olympics. The year after the contract for the 2010 Olympics was secured, we were surprised to see the roadside blasting had already begun, with 9 years left to go before the deadline!  Now, that is being proactive, and the sight won my respect for the Canadian powers-that-be for their ability to expedite the inevitable infrastructure repair in such a manner.  No one was going to catch the Canadians asleep at the wheel when the world came to visit, no sir!  

I'm not the only one who has a warm and fuzzy feeling for our hefty and well-mannered neighbor to the north.  It turns out that Canada is at the top of the international popularity list for the third year in a row.  In June, Forbes published its annual list:  The World's Most Reputable Countries, 2013.  Thousands of consumers from G8 countries were asked to rate nations based on four things:  overall reputation, good feelings about the country, whether it was admired and respected, and last but not least, trustworthiness.  I'm happy to say that Norway (this is a Norwegian genealogy blog, after all) also made the top section of the list, coming in at #5 after Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, and Australia.  A reality check is that the United States currently rates #22.  Come on, America... we can do better than that!  Let's roll up our sleeves and get some good old team spirit in action.  A little spit and polish never hurts, either.  We are not a nation of quitters!  Okay, enough cheer leading.

The United States will always be my home, but Canada will always have a little piece of my heart. In addition to the personal reasons I have already described, Canada has value because although it is the second biggest country in the world, it has less population than the top 30 of countries worldwide, therefore, it has a lot of wide open space.  Canada also has more coastline than any other country, plus a diverse geography with many mountains, lakes, and waterways that brings tourists from near and far.   Based on the evidence, the attraction is understandable, eh?

1 comment:

the said...

Happy Blogiversary!!

Regards, Grant