Prime Minister visits ancient Icelandic settlement

The Prime Minister of Iceland paid a visit to the eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia last weekend and payed a special visit to a former Icelandic settlement. The visit was one of the PM’s first official stops on his tour of Canada.

Joined by Brooke Taylor, Canada’s Agriculture Minister, Geir Haarde and his wife, Inga Jona Thordardottir, travelled to Markland, near Upper Musquodoboit, a few days after arriving in the country.

Markland was settled by approximately 30 families from Iceland in the late 19th century and the settlers are still remembered by the Icelandic Memorial Society of Nova Scotia. The society’s chairperson, Eleanor Belmore, is in charge of preparations for the Prime Minister’s visit.

“I’m so close and being a historian myself, I was interested in doing something,” she said.

She explained that Markland’s first settlers came from Ontario. They were promised large tracts of land to relocate in 1875. Once they had established a community in Nova Scotia, others joined them from Iceland.

According to Ms. Belmore, the settlement was ultimately a failure. Settlers were required by the government to clear a total of 10 acres of land over the course of five years in order to validate their claim of 100 free acres of land.

“When they had finished the five years of work, a lot of them just put the farms up for sale and left,” she said. Markland was virtually deserted by 1882 but Icelandic families who looked for opportunities elsewhere in Canada and the United States fared well.

“We feel that we nurtured the beginnings of these people,” Ms. Belmore said. Traces of these settlers from Iceland can still be found in North Dakota and Manitoba. Now they are remembered in Markland only through the cairn in the area, made up of stones from settler’s houses.

Mr. Haarde then journeyed to Halifax and Newfoundland to meet with members of the Icelandic business community and is today visiting Winnipeg, Manitoba.