Little Norway Park, opened in 1987 by Norway’s King Olaf V, is located along Little Norway Crescent at the foot of Bathurst Street and the lake-front. In the administration building at Toronto Island Airport, Norway’s military and air force flags are mounted on each side of a historical plaque dedicated to the 3,200 men of the Norwegian air force who trained in Canada in the 1940s.
During the Second World War, a landing strip and buildings near the airport were used as a recruit school and physical training facility until camp Little Norway was built on the mainland opposite Toronto Island. It was the first foreign air force training camp granted by the Canadian government. Today, a Norwegian flag and a granite boulder with memorial inscriptions mark the place where Little Norway’s post office, hospital, schools, barracks, mess halls, and military stores once stood.
Long before, Norwegians had made their mark in Canada. Some 500 years before Columbus, Norsemen discovered and attempted to settle on Canada’s shores. The earliest known instance of European settlement in North America is a Norse site on the shores of Newfoundland. L’Anse Aux Meadows is the only authenticated Norse site found in North America. Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad began excavating the site in 1961. The Northwest Passage was traversed from 1903 to 1906 by sailor Ronald Amundsen. Henry A. Larsen, of Norwegian birth, was the first Canadian to travel the Passage from east to west, in 1940–1942.
Major Norwegian settlements developed in the Canadian West between 1886 and 1929, largely made up of settlers who had migrated from the United States. Toronto’s Norwegian community is a combination of descendants of early western pioneers who left the Prairies to seek careers in the cities, and others who came from Norway seeking jobs in Ontario’s industries. These post–Second World War settlers were mainly from professional and clerical backgrounds.
Some Norwegian Air Force personnel immigrated to Canada, settling either in Toronto or Muskoka, where the “Little Norway” training camp was moved in 1942. A memorial stone at the site of the camp was erected 40 years after the camp’s closing.
Many of Toronto’s early Norwegian settlers were members of the Scandinavian-Canadian Club, founded in 1935, and the now defunct Nordic Society. Members preserved their culture through the celebration of holidays, cultural events, arts and crafts, and sporting activities such as cross-country skiing, orienteering, handball, and tennis.
Of the approximately 2,000 Torontonians of Norwegian descent, many are involved in business in the fields of contracting, manufacturing, plumbing, education, IT, business, and real estate.
CONSTITUTION DAY on May 17 honours the day Norway adopted its constitution. In Ontario, the holiday is celebrated on the nearest weekend with a cultural program consisting of a dinner, speeches, and a dance.
DAY OF LIBERATION on May 8 marks the day in 1945 when the Second World War ended in Norway. On this day, Norwegian War Veterans, members of the Norwegian Club and Scandinavian–Canadian Club lay wreaths at the memorial stone in Little Norway Park, at Bathurst Street, finishing with a reception at the Scandinavian–Canadian Club.
SUMMER SOLSTICE. On the weekend nearest June 24, Norwegian Canadians join together with other Scandinavian groups to celebrate the summer solstice. Midsummer Day events include dancing and singing.
WINTER SOLSTICE. Since prehistoric times, Scandinavians have celebrated the winter solstice. According to the Julian calendar, this date was December 13. The celebration of the return of light to a northern country now coincides with the commemoration of Saint Lucia, who suffered a martyr’s death in 300 A.D. for her Christian beliefs. Before being pierced by a soldier’s sword, she miraculously withstood the flames of the pyre where she was sentenced to be burned to death. She is believed to appear every December 13 in the early morning, dressed in virginal white, with a blood-red sash from her martyr’s death and wearing a crown of candles, symbolizing the flames that did not touch her. In Toronto a young woman wearing a crown of candles appears on the steps of Queen’s Park followed by an entourage of white-clad attendants. Toronto’s Lucia is chosen by Swedish organizations and the Scandinavian-Canadian Club, who jointly arrange the annual entourage.
CHRISTMAS EVE, December 24, is the most important day of the festive season for Norwegians. They may leave a bowl of rice pudding out for Julenissen, a gnome-like creature who is said to live in the barn and take care of the animals’ well-being, if the farmer is good to him. In towns, Julenissen, like Santa Claus, is believed to leave presents for children under the tree. Some Norwegians carry on the custom of feeding birds and animals, as they are revered for having witnessed Christ’s birth.
THE SCANDINAVIAN-CANADIAN CLUB OF METROPOLITAN TORONTO, (Tel. 416-782-4604, 91 Stormont Ave), publishes a newsletter 10 times a year.
NORWEGIAN CLUB, (www.thenorwegianclub.org). This social and business club established in 1984 aims to maintain elements of Norwegian culture in the city, organizes festivities for Norway’s national holidays, including Constitution Day and St. Hans (Midsummer’s Eve). Dinners held during the year feature typical Norwegian food. President: Knut Larsen.
THE DOWNSVIEW-NORWAY, ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FORCE (RCAF) ASSOCIATION, (Wing 451, 91 Stormont Ave). Founded in 1981 by a group of Norwegian veterans.
THE SCANDINAVIAN-CANADIAN CLUB OF METROPOLITAN TORONTO, (Tel. 416-782-4604, 91 Stormont Ave). Holds Sunday afternoon family gettogethers once a month, and organizes hiking and canoeing expeditions, ski weekends, and theatre outings. Norwegian language classes are held at the centre. The club celebrates all of the Scandinavian countries’ national days with a dinner dance and features speakers from the various countries. It helps organize the Saint Lucia Pageant every year, and holds a bazaar at Christmas and Easter each year with handmade goods and imports from Scandinavian countries. Arts and crafts classes are held monthly.
NEEDLES AND KNITS, (Tel. 905-713-2066, 15040 Yonge St., Aurora). Owner: Tove Gilie, specializes in Norwegian knitting techniques and finishing, wool, novi needles, pewter buttons, and clasps. Knitting classes every week.