A nod to Norway

Newly formed club will help newcomers settle in, celebrate Norwegian heritage

Lillian Simmons lsimmons@cbncompass.ca
Published on May 3, 2011
Working to build the Norwegian Club of Newfoundland and Labrador are (from left) Eileen Mortensen, Egil Earl Mortensen, Kristine Vik and Svein Eide. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

From gas and oil to fishing industries, bakeapples to breathtaking scenery, over the years Norway and Newfoundland have shared many things in common, including their people.

Indeed, the ties between the two go back more than 1,000 years when Norsemen set up a colony at L’Anse aux Meadows, circa AD 998.

But despite the similarities and kinships, there’s always an adjustment period for new families settling in. Newfoundlanders, in particular, can attest to appreciating a face from home, or a voice that carries even a hint of a familiar dialect.

A St. John’s couple is hoping to ensure that Norwegians settling into this province feel more at home. Norway native Egil Earl Mortensen and his wife Eileen (née Butler of Botwood) are seeking members to form a Norwegian/Scandinavian club.

The couple married in 1975 and lived in the province throughout the 1980s before moving to Bergen, Norway. But their ties to Newfoundland are strong.

“With my wife’s family, a mother-in-law that is as good as my own mother and friends that we had here, and our kids (Paul, Michael and Peter) dreaming of the time we spent having a boilup, fishing and hunting with their uncles, we dreamed of coming back,” Mortensen said.

“But the employment situation was better in Norway.”

Welcome back

They were able to return to the province in 2005. Mortensen commuted to Norway from 2006 to 2010 when he began working for Exxon Mobil.

It’s not their first experience with setting up a club. During their time in Norway, the Canadian consul in Bergen, Karin Pittman, asked the couple if they would be interested in setting up a club for Canadians. With Pittman’s help, they started the Canadian Club of Western Norway after a Canada Day celebration there in 2000.

“We loved to see the enjoyment of the kids and families when we had Canada Day celebrations, the Terry Fox Run and Thanksgiving dinner. We miss that and would like to do it again,” Mortensen says.

He’s amazed at the similarities in Norwegian and Newfoundland cultures, and can think of only one real difference.

“Your Christmas Eve is our Christmas,” he said.

“In Norway, all the kids get their Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve — Santa can’t be everywhere at once.

“So, there isn’t a big difference in the culture. In fact, there is so much similarity, it’s incredible. Newfoundlanders and Norwegians get along well together. There are Newfoundlanders in Norway going back and forth on project visits. One project I was working on had quite a few people from IKM and Aker working over there.”

And in the fisheries, too, there are ties and  tradeoffs.

“Most Norwegians are supportive of the sealing industry,” he said.

“Many people don’t know the problems seals create with cod stocks.”

The club

The idea to start a Norwegian club in the province came about after the Mortensens were invited to Norway’s national holiday celebrations last May 17. There they met Karin Pittman’s parents, Berit and Vic Pittman of Shoal Harbour, who suggested they set up the club in Newfoundland.

One of the first events will be a celebration of Norway’s national holiday. May 17, National Day, commemorates the signing of the country’s first constitution in 1814 and the reclamation of Norway’s independence from Sweden in 1905.

“In Norway, we usually have parades and activities in every little town and city,” Mortensen said.

“The 17th of May is absolutely a children’s day, when they can eat as much hotdogs and ice cream and pop as they can get hold of, and there are different activities like sack races and games for kids.”

The Mortensens had been hoping Norwegian Ambassador Else Berit Eikeland might be able to attend the celebrations this year at Bowring Park. They spoke to the ambassador during her visit to St. John’s on March 29.

“She mentioned that she may be able to attend if we could hold our celebration on May 15. I have since learned that she has other engagements and will be coming back later this spring. But we hope there is still a chance for us to get our ambassador to come to our celebration,” he said.

The festivities will be held at the  Bowring Park Bungalow on Sunday, May 15. Fifty invitations have been sent out. Admission is $20 for adults, $10 for students and free for kids under 18 with family members.

“There will be food, drinks and as always, ice cream, hotdogs and soda for the kids,” says Mortensen. “I have to commend Barbara Squires from (Norwegian energy company) Statoil, who has arranged earlier May 17th celebrations, and helps us immensely now, as well.”

Mortensen figures there are about 30 Norwegians living in the province.

“And I know 50 people are coming this fall to work — some with Hebron,” he says.

So far, about half a dozen people have expressed interest in forming the club. Mortensen says anyone who is Scandinavian or who has a connection to Norway is invited to join.

“We’ll probably meet monthly, particularly if a lot of people are coming here to work. So they won’t be totally astray, we’ll try and help them get situated,” he says.

For more information on the National Day celebrations or the Norwegian Club of Newfoundland and Labrador, email egil@mortensen.ca