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Norwegian Settlers

Charlie Foss, Norwegian settler, Calgary, Alberta, ca. 1890-1894. Norwegian settlers began arriving in Alberta around 1892, but they had been leaving their homeland long before. Crop failures, overpopulation, and economic crises had caused unemployment and misery. In Norway, an underprivileged class had emerged with less access to education and other opportunities. During the nineteenth century, many Norwegians had participated in religious and political movements, including the pietistic movement begun by Hans Nilson Hauge, which stressed the importance of adult education, political activism, and personal piety, and was supported by the Lutheran church. Hauge's followers were eager to find a place to live that would endorse their ideals and, as a result, many crossed the ocean to North America - a place esteemed by many to be the "land of freedom."

The first attempts to attract and keep Norwegian settlers in eastern Canada was a failure. Despite the free land offered and the Norwegians' willingness to move, the lack of proper roads and employment meant that most settlers moved from Newfoundland down to the States.

A Gathering of Norwegians at Spokkeli home in Camrose, Alberta, ca. 1912. L-R back row: Mrs. Edmund Thompson; Edmund Thompson; Lars Bjaaland family to right of verandah. L-R front row: I.Z. Hills; Mrs. I.Z. Hills; John Spokkeli; Myrtle Hills (child); Mrs. John Spokkeli; unknown; unknown; Mrs. John R. Lavick; Doctor John R. Lavick; next 5 unknown. Pastor Berg, extreme right, leaning on rail. Edmund Thompson arrived in central Alberta in 1893, one of the first Norwegian settlers in the area, and one who influenced many of his kinsmen to follow his example. He worked for many years as a land guide in the latter part of the 1890s, and actually guided the first residents of Bardo, Alberta to their homestead in 1894. Evan and Ludvik Olstad, brothers from Norway, came to what was to become the village of New Norway with other relatives and friends in 1892. Another large number of Norwegian settlers arrived in the area surrounding present-day Olds and Wetaskiwin in 1903-1904.

In May of 1904, Ole Bakken built a small store with an upstairs dwelling near Stoney Creek, and by 1905, the new village of Sparling was beginning to form, with a harness shop, a hotel, and a "Stopping House."

When the village became a town, the name of Camrose, meaning, "a hill of roses," was approved.

Many other Norwegian settlers continued to come to Alberta throughout the early part of the twentieth century, and they were buying land to support their growing families. According the Census of Canada, there were only 304 Norwegians in the area in 1901 but, by 1911, there were 5,761 people in the province who had been born in Norway.

See also:

[back] [New Communities] [Adventurous Albertans] [First People and Settlers]

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.