One of the first links between Canada and Norway was established in Newfoundland some 1000 years ago, when the Vikings arrived and established the first known European settlement in North America. They were later followed by fishermen, tradesmen and immigrants. Norwegian polar explorers set foot on Canadian soil from the final years of the nineteenth century, amongst them Otto Sverdrup, who mapped large tracts of the Arctic regions. Following World War 2, Canada and Norway entered into NATO, continuing the extensive cooperation that originated during the war. Collaboration at the United Nations and other international multilateral forums also characterize the Canadian-Norwegian relationship.
Canada and Norway share domestic similarities as relatively small populations spread over a vast country with abundance in natural resources, they are large producers and exporters of oil and gas, and important geo political actors in the Arctic. Both countries have a rich, but fragile northern environment, and consequently are committed to environmentally sustainable resource management.
Roald Amundsen was an Arctic explorer born in Sarpsborg, Norway, on 16 July 1872. He was from early age determined to be a polar explorer and went to sea as a young man.
He decided to navigate the Northwest Passage and purchased and equipped the Gjøa to that end. In June 1903, Amundsen and his crew departed Oslo on Gjøa with the aim of sailing through the Northwest Passage and researching the Magnetic North Pole. During their voyage, they stayed over two winters in what he called "the finest little harbor in all the world", which now carries the name Gjoa Haven. Here they befriended the local Inuit population and picked up vital knowledge on how to survive in a very tough climate. They then continued their journey west on 13 August, 1905. The entire trip took 3 years and resulted in a collection of a large number of scientific samples, as well as description of an Inuit society the Western culture did not know existed. And most of all; Amundsen was the first to complete the journey through the Northwest Passage. The trip has achieved status as one of the most famous polar expeditions ever.
In 1911, they followed this up with an expedition to the South Pole, beating the British expedition led by Robert Scott. On this trip, Amundsen utilized the information on polar survival gained from the Inuits during his stay in Canada. In 1918-1920 he sailed through the Northeast Passage in the ship Maud, and in 1926 he flew over the North Pole in the airship Norge, piloted by Umberto Nobile. When Nobile went missing in the Arctic in 1928, Amundsen set out to find his lost companion. During this rescue mission, Amundsen’s plane went missing and he is presumed to have died somewhere in the Barents Sea. His body has never been recovered.
Otto Sverdrup was a Norwegian Arctic explorer born in Bindal, Norway on 31 October 1854. He joined Fridtjof Nansen’s Greenland expedition in 1888, and in 1892 he advised Nansen on the building of the ship Fram. In 1893, Sverdrup was made captain of the ship and second-in-command by Nansen on his expedition to the North Pole. After purposely letting the ship be frozen in in the pack ice, the goal was to let the drift of the ice carry them to the pole. After 18 months, Nansen was tired of waiting and together with Hjalmar Johansen, he set out to reach the pole with dogs and sleds, leaving Sverdrup in command of the rest of the expeditionary crew and the Fram. Nansen and Johansen did not reach the exact pole point, but they went further north than anyone before them and were able to return safely to Norway. Sverdrup and the Frami drifted in the ice until they finally reached the North Atlantic, and they too returned safely to Norway.
In 1898, Sverdrup embarked on another expedition with Fram, this time attempting to circumnavigate Greenland via Baffin Bay. However, the attempted failed, and the crew was forced to overwinter on Ellesmere Island. There they explored many of the uncharted fjords and peninsulas on the western shores of the island, giving the area many Norwegian names. Sverdrup would overwinter on Ellesmere Island during the three following winters as well to do further exploring and mapping, ultimately discovering the islands west of Ellesmere, which were collectively named the Sverdrup Islands. During his stay here, he learned from the Inuit and used this knowledge to chart a total of 260 000 square kilometers of the Canadian Arctic.
Sverdrup would claim the Sverdrup Islands for Norway, which led to a sovereignty dispute that was finally settled when Norway ceded the claims in 1930. The same year Sverdrup sold the records of his expeditions to the Canadian government for $67 000. He would die on 26 November 1930, only two weeks after the deal was struck.
Henry Larsen was born in Norway on 30 September 1899. His childhood hero was Roald Amundsen, and inspired by the tales of Roald Amundsen and the Canadian Arctic, he travelled to the West Coast of Canada and served as navigator on a vessel in the Arctic waters. Larsen became a Canadian citizen in 1924, and joined the RCMP in 1928, the same year he was appointed master of the ship St. Roch.
As his most notable achievement, Henry Larsen completed two voyages with St. Roch through the Northwest Passage. The first was eastbound in 1940-1942, as part of Canada's war effort. It followed nearly the same route as Amundsen’s 1903 expedition. In 1944, Larsen and the St. Roch traversed the passage on a westward course, using a more northerly route through Prince of Wales Strait. This was the third ship crossing of the Northwest Passage, the second east-west crossing and the first to be made in one season (7295 miles in 86 days).
Larsen retired with the rank of superintendent in 1961. The Canadian Coast Guard named an icebreaker, the CCGS Henry Larsen, to honor Larsen
Many Norwegians have upheld the polar traditions of these three great men, and like them, they have sought out the Canadian Arctic.
One of the most notable achievements of modern day polar adventure is the circumnavigation of the North Pole by Norwegian explorers Børge Ousland and Thorleif Thorleifsson. In 2010, they became the first to sail around the Arctic in one, short season. The voyage brought them through the Northern Sea Route in Russia, the Northwest Passage in Canada and across the North Atlantic back to Norway. Ousland and Thorleifsson chose a seemingly fragile trimaran, named Northern Passage, as their vessel to traverse the ice-packed 10 000 nautical miles route. The route that had taken fellow Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen six years to complete 100 years earlier, was completed in a mere 80 days. This was partly due to modern communication technology and using a much smaller boat, but equally important was the drastic reduction in sea-ice in the region.
To find out more about the proud history of Norwegian polar exploration, check out the Fram Museum in Oslo and the Polar Museum in Tromsø.
Norway and Canada during World War II
During World War II Norwegians and Canadians fought side by side to defeat Axis powers. A substantial part of Norway's merchant fleet served in North Sea convoy traffic from Halifax to Britain, supplying the Allied war effort. Simultaneously, the Norwegian air force pilots trained at "Little Norway" in Ontario before returning to the European war theater.
Norway's participation in World War II began with the German invasion on 9 April 1940. The small Norwegian Navy and coastal fortresses sank several German warships. A handful of dauntless Norwegian pilots, hopelessly outnumbered and equipped with obsolete planes, nevertheless played an important part in slowing down the invasion. King Haakon VII and the Government escaped from Oslo and new headquarters and defence lines were set up. The Norwegian Armed Forces retreated, holding back the German forces unaided for three weeks before Allied help arrived. The combined Norwegian and Allied forces were, however, facing an enemy superior in manpower and equipment. In June, after another month of fighting in Northern Norway, active resistance on Norwegian soil came to an end and King Haakon and the Government went into exile in London.
In 1940 Norway, with a population of some 3,000,000, had the third largest ocean going merchant fleet in the world, about 1100 ships. When Nazi Germany invaded the country without warning on the 9th of April that year, 1024 of those ships were at sea. The King and government immediately ordered them all to proceed to allied ports. Not one refused, despite messages from the Quisling government ordering them to return home.
When the King and government escaped to England, they set up a Government-in-exile and took control of all Norwegian ships outside of Norway through Nortraship (The Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission) and put them at the disposal of the Allies. This was a very important contribution since until 1942 Norwegian ships carried about half of the fuel and one third of all other supplies that were transported to Britain. The Norwegian merchant fleet lost 570 ships, and suffered nearly 4,000 seamen dead and about 6,000 sick or wounded.
The Antarctic whaling fleet, with about 2,000 men, came into Halifax in the spring of 1940 to await further orders. In Halifax, the Norwegians set up offices for the Royal Norwegian Navy and Nortraship as well as a hospital, a seamen's church and a seamen's club. In November of 1940 they established a training facility, called Camp Norway, in Lunenburg to train gunners for Norwegian merchant ships. They also bought a hotel in Chester in which they set up a convalescent home for sick and injured seamen. The Norwegian Army also had a small base in Lunenburg from the spring of 1942 to the summer of 1943. Countless Norwegians trod the streets of Halifax and sailed out of this port during the war.
The population of Lunenburg in 1940 was just over 2500. Most of the young men had joined the armed forces or were at sea on merchant ships. As one old-timer said, "The ones left was too young or too old or not fit". According to newspaper reports the Norwegians were very well received by the townspeople and it wasn't long before they were taking part in the social activities of the town. Their Sunday morning parades to Zion's Lutheran Church became a weekly spectacle and they began holding evening benefits in aid of the Red Cross.
The presence of the Norwegians also had a significant effect on the economy. Here were hundreds of men, most of them young, with money in their pockets which they couldn't send home, so they spent it locally. When the whalers received their final shares of the sale of the whale oil, they had plenty because their shares were based on the selling price of the oil and it had increased quite considerably due to the war. It is said that they bought so many cars that they cleaned out the car dealers in the area who had to get more sent from Halifax to meet the demand.
However, the Norwegians caused remarkably little trouble. Hugh Corkum, former Chief of Lunenburg's two-man police force, devotes a chapter of his memoirs, On Both Sides of the Law, to them and cites no really serious incidents except for some drunkenness and dance-hall fights. The police took on four part-time men as auxiliaries and, together with the Norwegian Navy shore patrol, seem to have maintained law and order quite well.
In general, the Norwegians fit in well and the newspapers of the time report various social events either at or sponsored by Camp Norway. Perhaps the single biggest event in the town’s history was the visit by Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Martha in February, 1941, which was extensively reported on in the local press.
There were also quite a few weddings. After the war, many of those couples went home to Norway but we understand that most of them came back to the South Shore. Some of the local people, particularly young women, kept up correspondence with the Norwegians after they left the camp. They sent them parcels of what was called comforts. As further evidence of the good reputation of the Norwegians and the high esteem in which they were held, the town council and the business sector held a farewell dinner at Camp Norway when the camp closed in 1943. In the House of Commons, MP J.J. Kinley asked that something be done to officially commemorate their service in Canada, adding "When we said goodbye to those Norwegians we felt that we were losing good citizens....".
In 1994 a week-long Camp Norway reunion took place where about 100 veterans from Norway and a considerable number from Canada and the U.S.A. attended. Included in the many events that took place during the reunion was the unveiling of memorial stones in Lunenburg, Chester and Liverpool.
The veterans received a very warm welcome, and many old acquaintances and friendships were renewed. The towns, the Provincial government, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Royal Canadian Legion, the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, the Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and others too numerous to mention made sure it was a memorable event.
Also during World War II, many young Norwegians trained to become pilots and air crews at "Little Norway" in Ontario, before returning to the battlefields of Europe to fight side by side with Canadian and other Allied troops.
After active resistance on Norwegian soil came to an end in June 1940, the Norwegian Government-in-exile already had plans for reorganization of the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Plans for a training center in France were abandoned with the fall of France. Instead, negotiations were begun with Canadian authorities resulting in the establishment of a main training centre in Toronto: "Little Norway". By August 1940, the site was chosen, and by November the camp opened.
Throughout the war, thousands of Norwegians escaped to join the Norwegian Forces in Great Britain. Most escaped through Sweden, or by way of the North Sea, some around the world via Russia, India, Africa and South America. Hundreds of them continued to Camp Little Norway to train to become pilots and aircrews before returning to the battlefields of Europe.
The first Norwegian unit went overseas to Iceland in April 1941. The first all-Norwegian fighter squadron with complete air and ground crew arrived in England in June 1941. A steady stream of airmen received their training at Little Norway, and returned to Europe to fight with distinction alongside Allied forces throughout the war.
Training was initially conducted using combat planes, some 20 million dollars’ worth, purchased from the United States before the war. They did not reach Norway in time to be used in the first months of the war. Instead, they were delivered to Little Norway. They comprised Fairchild PT-19 elementary trainers, Curtiss fighters, Douglas attack bombers and Northrop patrol seaplanes. They were later joined by Harvard trainers purchased with some of the 400,000 dollars received under the "Wings for Norway" fundraising campaign which received contributions from various Nordic associations, including some 100,000 dollars from Swedish-Americans, Norwegian expatriates, Canadians and Americans.
In 1942 a second training centre was established at Muskoka Airport, 120 miles north of Toronto. Once the Royal Canadian Air Force purchased the Toronto training centre, "Little Norway" was transferred to Muskoka, although the original aerodrome was still at the disposal of the Royal Norwegian Air Force.
Some 3,300 officers and other personell of the air force were trained at the bases in Toronto and Muskoka. The Norwegian Royal Family visited Camp Norway several times, and the headquarters, a building in typical Norwegian log style, was named “Little Skagum”, in reference to one of the Royal residences in Norway.
In 2007, a memorial building was opened at the site of Little Norway in Muskoka. At the opening, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said “The Little Norway Memorial Building is a war memorial erected to prevent history from forgetting. It is also a memorial that expresses the lasting gratitude of the people of Norway and the Norwegian government – to Canada for her assistance to our nation when we needed it the most”.