Sivert and Anna Westvick came to Canada in 1912. She was a farm girl, he was a fisherman and a carpenter. They had booked passage on the Titanic but had to change their plans because Anna was pregnant. They'd heard about the rich black soils of Alberta and about Norwegian-Canadian communities with promising names like Valhalla, "home of the gods." When Anna and Sivert finally made their journey it was no accident that the small town they chose as their destination on the Alberta prairies was called New Norway.
The migration of Norwegians to North America began in 1825 when the first shipload arrived in New York. Over the next 75 years, an estimated 500,000 Norwegians landed at Québec, the gateway into America's central states. The United States received almost all the immigrants from Norway during this period.(1)
Very few Norwegians stayed in Canada prior to 1900. This was despite Canadian efforts to recruit them. As early as 1873 Canada placed advertisements in almost every newspaper in the Scandinavian countries. Pamphlets and circulars were printed in the languages of these countries and widely distributed. They heralded, "LANDS AWAITING FOR THE SETTLER TO GO IN AND OCCUPY THEM," "FERTILE HOMESTEADS FREE TO ALL IN THE CANADIAN NORTH-WEST."(2)
Special emigration officers were sent overseas to woo potential Norwegian settlers but they met indifferent response. Previous hardships and the failures of Norwegian settlers in Québec had been widely publicized and had generated a lasting opposition to the idea of immigrating to Canada. (3)
It wasn't until the turn of the century that Norwegians accepted Canada as a country of opportunity. The American frontier was receding and land was running out. Canada became "the land of another chance." The progressive policies of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and his Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton, aimed to stop the long-standing practice of giving away prime land to privileged speculators and aggressive railway companies. From 1897, Canada's immigration policy was in high gear. American fever had subsided and Canadian fever was catching. Norwegians were coming to Canada.(4)
From 1886 to the turn of the century, the building of the Canada Pacific Railway and the opening up of the West to homesteaders attracted Norwegian settlers. They were lured not only by the offer of free land but also the freedom to establish and maintain their distinctive Norwegian ethnic institutions such as churches and schools.(5) The major Norwegian settlements took root in the West between 1886 and 1929.
From 1900 to 1914, there was a great influx of Norwegians from both the United States and Norway. Over 18,000 came from Norway alone. During the next 15 years 21,574 Norwegians arrived from Norway. The 1931 census reported 93,243 people of Norwegian descent in Canada. Of these, 39,241 were born in Canada, 32,551 were born in Norway, and 21,451 in the United States.(6)
The Great Depression and WWII reduced the number of incoming Norwegian immigrants to 1,376 from 1930 to 1945. From 1945 to 1959, 9,196 arrived. Between 1960 and 1975 only 4,615. Currently, the numbers immigrating from Norway are very low and continue to decrease. A recent estimate indicates that there are over 60,000 Canadians who claim Norwegian origin.(7)