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Norway and Canada – strong ties across the Atlantic

This year marks the 75th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between Norway and Canada, the same year that Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation. This provides a good opportunity for reflecting on what shaped our relations then, and what will be essential for the future.

Of course, the relations between Norwegians and Canadians run much longer than 75 years. My own family’s experience with my granduncle, who immigrated to Canada nearly 100 years ago, is but one of many such stories over the course of a millennium. Today, there are more than 450 000 Canadians of Norwegian descents.

Similarly, Norwegian explorers over several centuries were drawn to the vast area of the Canadian Arctic and the physical and scientific adventures it represented. Thepolar explorationsby men such as Roald Amundsen and Otto Sverdrup were also important in forming a clear Norwegian national identity – just as they provided Canadians with newfound knowledge about parts of their own country.

Norwegian independence was also closely connected to the wish to protect our economic interests through an independent foreign service that could cater for the needs of our merchant fleet. The fact that a Norwegian honorary consulate was established in the important shipping port of Montréal already in 1906 is a case in point.

Shared outlook on peace and security

However, formal diplomatic relations were not established until 1942. This was at the height of the Second World War, when Little Norway camp in Muskoka, Ontario provided training facilities to thousands of Norwegian air force personnel.  Meanwhile Camp Norway in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, became a safe refuge for the Norwegian merchant navy from where they continued to support the Allied war effort. The ties that were forged during the difficult war years left a lasting legacySome 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. and contributed to Norway and Canada’s closely shared outlook on international peace and security.

Ever since, security policy and economic cooperation has continued to have center stage in our bilateral relations. Norway and Canada are both founding members of NATO, the UN and the Arctic Council. Over the years, we have cooperated closely in international operations, in the development of a rule-bound global order and in safeguarding the Arctic as a peaceful region characterized by international cooperation.

Innovation and creative industries

In the economic sphere, Norwegian companies are involved in Canadian offshore oil and gas exploration as well as aquaculture production, thereby contributing to the Canadian economy. It has been estimated that close to 55 000 Canadian jobs are created by Canada’s economic relationship with Norway. In fact, Canada exports more to Norway than all other Nordic countries combined.

Today we have close cooperation in a wide range of fields, from climate, energy, innovation and culture. The fact that we have both been selected as guests of honour at the Frankfurt International Book Fair, Norway in 2019 and Canada in 2020, represents a great opportunity for our cultural diplomacy and an occasion for forging ever closer ties between our creative industries. This was also highlighted during the official visit to Canada by Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit in November last year. Just as Canadian writers such as Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Madeline Thien are finding a Norwegian audience, leading Norwegian writers such as Karl Ove Knausgård, Jo Nesbø and Åsne Seierstad are gaining popularity among Canadian readers.

The Arctic and oceans continue to bind

Looking towards the next 75 years, what will our cooperation entail? One area is our Arctic connections. Knowledge development continues to be essential in our approach. The signing by the Arctic States earlier this year of the new agreement on enhancing Arctic scientific cooperation is a case in point. Equally, the new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS), due to open this year, represents an opportunity for strengthening already existing polar research collaboration. Similarly, while Norway recently launched a new Arctic strategy, Canada is in the process of formulating a new Arctic policy framework. The focus on engaging representatives of local and regional authorities and indigenous peoples is a common theme, likewise the need to ensure sustainable economic development for the people of the north.

Oceans is another tie that continues to bind. As the two countries with the longest coastlines in the world, Canada and Norway have both strong interests to defend and a great responsibility to ensure that future generations continue to reap the benefits of clean and productive oceans. The Norwegian seafood industry exports the equivalent of 35 million meals worldwide every day and represents one of Norway’s largest export sectors. Over the last year, Norway has launched both a strategy for our ocean-based industries and a white paper on oceans in our foreign and development policy, while Canada has launched an Ocean Protection Strategy.  This provides a good basis for strengthening cooperation on everything from oil spill preparedness and response to sustainable fisheries and the fight against micro plastic pollution and ocean acidification.

Core values and new fields of cooperation

These, together with security policy, are recognizable areas of our bilateral relations. But a changing international environment will also require our cooperation to evolve in new fields. As fossil fuel-dependent countries we both need to transition to a low-carbon economy. In a world of increasing migration we need to ensure safe borders while learning to see diversity as a source of strength. In a time when international norms are under pressure we can work together to strengthen the multilateral system and respect for international law.

Circumstances change, but our core values stay the same. Nearly 100 years after my granduncle crossed the Atlantic I am struck by how much Norwegians and Canadians have in common, whether that be in our close relationship with nature or our approach to foreign policy. It is a good foundation to build on in the next 75 year and beyond.


Written by Norway’s Ambassador to Canada Anne Kari H. Ovind.

An earlier version of this article was published in The Hill Times on 17 May 2017