Author: Stefan Jonasson

Canada and Iceland are celebrating the 75th anniversary of direct diplomatic relations, which commenced when Iceland appointed Ambassador Thor Thors to serve as ambassador to Canada on September 19, 1947. He was also Iceland’s ambassador to the United States and permanent representative to the United Nations. Thor Thors continued to serve in all three roles until his death on January 11, 1965, an extraordinarily long tenure in diplomatic circles.

Canada was the eleventh country with which Iceland established formal diplomatic relations. Interestingly, Iceland established diplomatic ties with Canada before its Nordic neighbours Sweden and Finland.

“Iceland Establishes Legation in Ottawa” read a small and easily missed headline on the front page of The Winnipeg Tribune on September 27, 1947. “Iceland has established a legation in Ottawa and has appointed Thor Thors, Icelandic minister to Washington, as minister to Canada as well, Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced Friday [September 26]. While Mr. King made no mention of the possibility of a Canadian legation in Iceland, it was understood this was under discussion by the external affairs department. Mr. Thors, [who] will have dual functions in Washington and Ottawa, was appointed as Iceland’s first minister to the U.S. in 1941 after serving as consul general in New York.” 

Heimskringla covered the story in its October 1 edition and Lögberg followed on October 2. While Heimskringla praised Thor Thors, noted the importance of the move to the Icelandic community in Canada, and imagined improved trade relationships, Lögberg focused more on the state-to-state relationship between the two countries and expressed its confidence that Canada would reciprocate by appointing an ambassador to Iceland.

The Tribune followed up with a bolder headline on January 21, 1948, when it announced: “Icelandic Minister Presents Credentials.” Ambassador Thor Thors, who the paper described as “a keen-eyed man in a striped suit,” had met with the Governor General of Canada, Viscount Alexander, the day before.

“We have to return to Washington at the end of this week, but we’ll be travelling back and forth as business warrants,” the new ambassador told Canadian Press. Referring to Canada as “the country of the future,” he added, “it has been my privilege to observe at many international conferences how highly appreciated is the voice of Canada, how fortunate its influence and wise its leadership on every occasion.”

“Iceland has had little to give to other nations,” he acknowledged. “It must therefore be a matter for excuse if we pride ourselves that to Canada, more than any other nation in the world, have we given what to us has meant a great sacrifice and at the same time been a source of great pride. Iceland has been giving Canada many good citizens.”

The following day, The Tribune carried a large picture of the ambassador with his wife, Jóhanna Ágústa Ingólfsdóttir, and their daughter Margrét. The caption noted that while Jóhanna had been to Quebec and Manitoba, it was Margrét’s first visit to Canada. “'We have been in Winnipeg two or three times,” said the ambassador. “Many Icelanders are there, and I hope to pay another visit in the not too distant future.”

On April 8, 1948, Canadian Press reported: “Establishment of Canadian legations in Finland and Iceland was announced today by the external affairs department but without any enlargement of ministerial representation. … Edward J. Garland, minister to Norway since 1947, will also be minister to Iceland.” However, it took nearly a year before Garland was officially appointed as “Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary” to Iceland on March 16, 1949, and he presented his credentials to President of Iceland Sveinn Björnsson on August 11 that year. He continued to serve in this post until August 19, 1952.

Early in his tenure, Ambassador Thor Thors attended the 30th annual convention of the Icelandic National League, which was held in Winnipeg in February 1949. Following the convention, a banquet was held in his honour at the Royal Alexandra Hotel, which was attended by many of the community’s leading figures, including Lieutenant Governor R.F. McWilliams, Premier Douglas L. Campbell, Mayor Garnet Coulter, and Dr. A.H.S. Gillson, president of the University of Manitoba. It wasn’t often that an ambassador came to the city in those days.

“The ideals of democracy are equally dear to Canada and Iceland,” the ambassador said in his address at the banquet. Declaring that Iceland’s entry into the United Nations “marked the last step in a long struggle to have Iceland’s independence and sovereignty recognized by the nations of the world,” he observed that Canada and Iceland had come to work closely together in that forum and that, even without prior consultation, they had “always been in agreement and voted together.”

In future issues, Lögberg-Heimskringla will chronicle the evolution of relations between Canada and Iceland and profile some of the key figures since the two countries established direct diplomatic relations 75 years ago.

Donations Creating Community

To Make your gift by phone
Please contact us Toll Free: 1-866-564-2374

Paper Subscription
Paper Subscription *paper subscription only*

Subscription to Lögberg-Heimskringla Published 24 times a year the 1st and 15th of each month.

Online Subscription
Online Subscription *Online subscription only*

Online subscription to Lögberg-Heimskringla Published 24 times a year.