Icelandic immigration

2011-02-16 11:36:06

Sharing a common North Atlantic heritage with Canada, Iceland became one of the few source countries to send more immigrants to Canada than to the United States. It was also one of the few countries whose emigration virtually ceased by 1910. According to the U.S. census in 2000 and the Canadian census in 2001, 42,716 Americans and 75,090 Canadians claimed Icelandic origins. California and Washington State had the largest number of Icelandic settlers in the United States, while Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia had the largest populations in Canada.
Iceland is an island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, occupying 38,700 square miles. Its nearest neighbors are Greenland, about 200 miles to the west, and the Faeroe Islands of Denmark, about 250 miles to the east. In 2002, the population was estimated at 277,906. About 95 percent are Icelandic, mainly descended from Norwegians and Celts, and some 95 percent are Protestant, mostly Evangelical Lutheran. Iceland was an independent republic from 930 to 1262, when it joined with Norway. Denmark incorporated Norway in 1380, and with it Iceland. Direct Danish rule lasted until 1918, when Iceland was granted autonomy under the Danish king. The last ties with the Danish Crown were finally severed in 1944, when Iceland became an independent republic. The Althing (assembly), is the world’s oldest surviving parliament.
A few dozen Mormon converts from Iceland immigrated to Utah after 1854, but no large-scale migration followed. The greatest period of migration for Icelanders was the 1870s. Spurred by harsh conditions, unproductive soil, and a number of volcanic eruptions, several thousand Icelanders settled in Canada, most along the western shore of Lake Winnipeg in what was then the Northwest Territories. With a delay in establishment of territorial government, the Icelanders were given permission to form their own administrative unit known as New Iceland in 1878. Self-government lasted until 1887, when the new Manitoba government took over. In 1878, about 30 families moved from New Iceland to North Dakota, joining fewer than 200 Icelandic immigrants who had settled in Wisconsin and Minnesota earlier in the decade. From their base in Winnipeg, which boasted an Icelandic population of 7,000 during the late 19th century, Icelanders began to spread throughout the wheat lands of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. It is impossible to say exactly how many Icelanders came to North America during the 19th century, as they were usually counted as Danes. It is estimated conservatively that about 10,000 immigrated to Canada and about half that number to the United States. As conditions improved in Iceland after 1900, immigration declined dramatically. In 2001, only 415 Icelander immigrants resided in Canada, and more than half of these arrived before 1970. Immigration to the United States averaged about 130 per year between 1992 and 2002.