Canadian, Icelandic universities team up for migration conference

“Emphasis is placed on history, languages, literature, and experiences of the Icelandic immigrants and their descendants in the conference programme,” says Birna Bjarnadóttir, project manager at the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages. (Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages)
Canada’s University of Manitoba and the University of Iceland’s Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages at will team up later this month for a conference looking at migration.

The conference will take place in Reykjavik and focus on the experiences of Iceland’s immigrants to Canada and their descendants by looking at history, language and literature.

It will also examine the experience of asylum seekers and refugees in Canada and Iceland and the political, legislative and philosophical discussions around things like immigration.

One of the presentations will focus on an extensive study on the Icelandic language and Canadian culture.

Gimli, Manitoba in 1922. The community was founded by a group of Icelandic immigrants at the end of the 1800s who had originally settled in the Canadian province of Ontario but saught better land in western Canada. (Library and Archives Canada)

“Literature will play a major role in the programme,” said Birna Bjarnadóttir, project manager at the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, in a news release.

“There will be talks on one the key pieces in Icelandic contemporary literature on the lives and fate of Icelandic Canadian immigrants at the turn of the century 1900 and the history of Icelandic playwriting in North-America.”

The Indigenous experience in Canada

Bjarnadóttir says focusing on the Indigenous experience in Canada will also be an important part of the conference, with examinations of First Nations literature as well. 

“It is safe to say that language and literature gives us a way into this vast subject,” she said. 

“Another issue that will be discussed is the status of the Indigenous people of Canada and their perpetual migration, with a view to the contemporary attempts to reconsider the cohabitation of the First Nations and the descendants of European settlers.”

Peter John Buchan, head of the department of Icelandic language and literature at the University of Manitoba, says the relationships between First Nations and the Icelandic community are an important part of understanding Manitoba’s history. 

“The Indigenous population had close ties with the Icelandic community,” Buchan said in an interview with Eye on the Arctic.  “The connection was very important right from the beginning.”

Feature Interview:
Peter John Buchan, head of the department of Icelandic language and literature at the University of Manitoba. (Courtesy Peter John Buchan)

For more on the Manitoba-Iceland connection and the history of Icelandic migration to Canada, listen to Eye on the Arctic‘s interview with Peter John Buchan, head of the department of Icelandic language and literature at the University of Manitoba:

History of collaboration

The  University of Manitoba and the University of Iceland have a a long history of formal collaboration, going back to the mid 1900s when fund raising was done on both sides of the Atlantic for the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Icelandic and the Icelandic library.

Manitoba was a hub for Icelandic immigration starting in the late 1800s. There, an initial group of around 100 Icelanders established “New Iceland” in 1878 in what is now known as Gimli. 

A picture of Lögberg-Heimskringla, the Manitoba newspaper that covers the Icelandic community in North America. (Courtesy Stefan Jonasson/Lögberg-Heimskringla)

Migration, The 9th Partnership Conference, University of Manitoba / University of Iceland will run from August 29-30.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Peter John Buchan as John Peter Buchan. The current version has been corrected.
Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Notable book recommendations from across northern Canada, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Foreign residents acquiring Finnish citizenship in record numbers, YLE News

Greenland: `Enough of this postcolonial sh#%’ – An interview with Greenlandic author Niviaq Korneliussen, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Arctic language survival – Iceland to the rescue?, Blog by Takeshi Kaji

Norway: Immigration curbs population decline in Norway’s northernmost county, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Population in northwest Russia continues to slide, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden:  Sami Blood: A coming-of-age tale set in Sweden’s dark past, Radio Sweden

United States: Why are people moving away from Alaska?, Alaska Public Media

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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