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The Statue of Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir

Address by the Prime Minister of Iceland, Mr. Davíð Oddsson,
at the unveiling of a statue of Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir
April 2000 - Ottawa, Canada

A thousand years ago, the first Europeans arrived in North America. They spent several years somewhere on the east coast, in what are now the Atlantic provinces of Canada. One of those voyagers was Gudríður Þorbjarnardóttir, the first European woman to give birth to a child in this continent, America. Her child was a boy, who was named Snorri Þorfinnsson. Gudríður Þorbjarnardóttir was a neighbour of Leif Eiríksson the Lucky, and travelled here from Greenland. She was born and bred in Iceland, and after returning from America died there as a nun. But in between she sailed to Europe and walked from Scandinavia to Rome, for an audience with the Pope. She was certainly a woman of exceptional calibre, the first European mother in Canada.

This year Iceland will be celebrating a milestone in world history in Canada and the USA – the millennium of the arrival by Icelandic-born Leifur Eiríksson, Leif the Lucky, with his band of explorers on the shores of North America. We are also celebrating this year the 125th anniversary of the second time that Icelanders made their homes in Canada, when pioneering Icelandic settlers arrived at Gimli on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. To mark this occasion, we will be arranging 150 events of various sorts in Canada: concerts, choirs, puppet theatres, movies and a tour by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. This summer a replica Viking ship, the Íslendingur, will sail from Iceland to L'Anse aux Meadows, the first place where Icelanders lived in North America a thousand years ago, and from L'Anse aux Meadows it will go on to call at ports in Canada and the United States of America. We are staging these celebrations in association with Canadians of Icelandic descent – Western Icelanders, as we call them. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organizers of these celebrations together with the representatives of the Icelandic Government, namely the Leifur Eiríksson Millennium Commission and the Icelandic Consul General in Winnipeg.

So why do we give such priority to Canada? It is not merely to spend a year of pleasant celebrations, but also to underline important facts: for Iceland, Canada is an already growing trading partner. Iceland is a member of EFTA (the European Free Trade Association) together with Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, and a free trade agreement between EFTA and Canada is nearing completion. Icelandic companies have been locating here on a growing scale in recent years, and Icelandair already flies here three times a week, which will soon become five flights a week. Iceland has recently opened a consulate in Canada and I am delighted to announced that we aim to open an Icelandic embassy in March next year, which will mark a turning point in relations between our countries. Last but not least, more people of Icelandic descent live in Canada than in any other country in the world – some 100,000 in Manitoba alone. We want to celebrate with Icelandic Canadians in particular and thank them for all that they have contributed to Iceland and Icelandic culture for many decades, despite the great geographical distances between us. The Government of Iceland values highly the Canadian Government's support for this year's celebrations to commemorate the discovery of the New World a thousand years ago and the beginning of the Icelandic community in Canada 125 years ago. The Canadian Government has also contributed greatly towards encouraging awareness among Icelandic Canadians of their origins and links with Iceland.

And now, Gudríður Þorbjarnardóttir has returned to Canada. We welcome her and Snorri Þorfinnsson to their impressive new home in the Canadian Museum of Civilization, in the presence of 350 Canadian schoolchildren who in the past few months have been learning about Iceland, Gudríður and her son Snorri. I would like to thank them for taking part in this project, and their teachers and the Friends of Iceland here in Ottawa. Today we are opening the website Iceland naturally.com which will enable Canadian children to make instant contact with Icelandic children, across the same ocean that Leifur Eiríksson and his band of explorers sailed centuries ago, on a voyage fraught with perils in those days.

And here are four children ready to do us the honour of unveiling the statue of Gudríður Þorbjarnardóttir, who after her long and hard voyages has returned to Canada a thousand years later. We Icelanders are donating this statue to the people of Canada to remind them of us and our forebears' voyages to the New World a thousand years ago. The unveiling of this statue will mark the start of seven months of cultural celebrations organized by Iceland in Canada in the year 2000.

Góða skemmtun – Celebrate with us.

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