|Author: Dr. Keith Sigmundson, Victoria, BC
It is indeed an honour to be asked to give the toast to Iceland this year. Having attended close to 70 consecutive annual Icelandic festivals, I have listened to several Toasts to Iceland. Most celebrate the individuals of New Iceland, who have distinguished themselves particularly in the field of arts, literature, and the humanities. They often conclude with a tribute to our heritage and our common ancestry. I would like at this time to focus on Iceland and its people in the 21st century.
Having established the first representative democracy in the 900s, we continue to trace the development of its democracy and social standing in today’s contemporary world. It is said that, under the rule of the Danish monarchs in the middle ages, Icelanders were amongst the poorest people in Europe. They were forbidden to sell or trade without the consent of the Danish monarch, who sold the rights mostly to other Europeans. During the 1850s with volcanic eruptions poverty prevailed, leading to the largest mass exodus from Iceland over the next 50 years. There were only 70,000 persons in Iceland, with 15,000 emigrating, largely to the newly established colony identified as New Iceland. By 2006, Canada had over 88,000 descendants from Iceland and the United States of America over 40,000.