White Settler Reserve
New Iceland and the Colonization of the Canadian West
In 1875, the Canadian government created a reserve for Icelandic immigrants on the southwest shore of Lake Winnipeg. Hoping for a better life in Canada, many of the New Iceland colonists found only hardship, disappointment, or death. Those who survived scurvy and smallpox faced crop failure, internal dissension, and severe flooding that nearly ended the project only six years after it had begun.This innovative book looks beyond the experiences of these Icelandic immigrants to understand the context into which their reserve fits within the history of settler colonialism.
Ryan Eyford reveals that the timing and location of the Icelandic settlement was not accidental. New Iceland was one of several land reserves created for Europeans by the Canadian government in the late nineteenth century. Canadian leaders hoped that group settlements of immigrants on Indigenous lands would help realize their ambitious plans for western expansion.
By juxtaposing the Icelanders’ experiences with those of the Cree, Ojibwe, and Metis people they displaced, Eyford makes clear the connections between immigrant resettlement and Indigenous displacement. By analyzing themes such as race, land, health, and governance, he draws out the tensions that punctuated the process of colonization in western Canada and situates the region within the global history of colonialism.
This innovative work will be of interest to students and specialists in Canadian history, colonial and imperial history, Indigenous studies, immigration and ethnic history, and Icelandic history.
[White Settler Reserve] highlights the early and ongoing interactions between the Icelanders and Indigenous peoples, beginning with the pre-existing land claims and including the devastating impact of smallpox, adding greater depth and context to the history of New Iceland and to the history of the settlement of the Canadian Northwest.
White Settler Reserve contextualizes the emigrant story, and triangulates what is sometimes simplified into a binary relationship between settlers and indigenous peoples, lands and humans.
White Settler Reserve exposes one of those corners of Canadiana omitted from official records and federal observances of this 150th anniversary of Confederation. It is shocking and intriguing, the best kind of history.
White Settler Reserve is a sophisticated and persuasive consideration of the interplay of liberalism, colonization, and emigration, and of that ‘dialectic process between the centre and the periphery’ (p.191) that was an integral part of the iconic story of the settlement of the Canadian West.'
Western Canada’s bloc settlements are an understudied aspect of Canadian land policies in the nineteenth century, making Ryan Eyford’s study of New Iceland in Manitoba a welcome addition to the field.
A particularly powerful aspect of White Settler Reserve is the richly detailed portrait it paints of the 'First New Icelanders' who formed communities in this colonization reserve. By bringing their names, experiences, and struggles to this new audience, Eyford has helped to ensure their stories will not be forgotten.
Ryan Eyford has written a fine-grained and richly textured analysis of the ideas, practices, and processes behind the building of a colonial society in the Canadian Northwest. This book will become a key work in Prairie scholarship.
Moving beyond the familiar story of the Métis, Louis Riel, and the Red River Resistance, Ryan Eyford offers up a novel and fascinating account of Manitoba’s early history. By exploring the experiences of a well-known group of settlers – the Icelanders – he reveals a whole new side of the colonial reserve system.
Ryan Eyford is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Winnipeg. He has published articles and chapters in Histoire sociale/Social History, the Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, Sport History Review, and the edited collection Within and Without the Nation: Canadian History as Transnational History.
1 Northern Dreamlands: Canadian Expansionism and Icelandic Migration
2 Broken Townships: Colonization Reserves and the Dominion Lands System
3 The First New Icelanders: Family Migration and the Formation of a Reserve Community
4 Quarantined within a New Order: Smallpox and the Spatial Practices of Colonization
5 “Principal Projector of the Colony”: The Turbulent Career of John Taylor, Icelandic Agent
6 Becoming British Subjects: Municipal Government and Citizenship
7 “Freemen Serving No Overlord”: Debt, Self-Reliance, and Liberty
Notes; Bibliography; Index
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