Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/8/2011 (3023 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
According to Icelanders, every person of Icelandic descent in the entire world today can trace his or her ancestry back to Jon Arason, the last Catholic bishop of Iceland who was martyred, if we can use that expression loosely, in the 16th century.
Bishop Jon was beheaded in 1550 AD, along with two of his illegitimate sons. It took, according to legend, seven blows of the axe to sever his head, which perhaps goes to prove that the Icelanders of his day — the victorious Danish-leaning Protestants — were no better as headsmen than they were as theologians.
The fact that he had several sons is not really surprising. There are hardly any Icelandic Catholics in the world today and, just as in the 16th century, they are no better than they have to be. It may seem strange, however, that all the Icelanders in the world today — 450,000 would be tops, even pushing it a bit — could be descended from one technically celibate 16th-century bishop, but that's the way the story goes.
And it may well be true. A person of Icelandic descent who wants to trace his ancestry through an Icelandic genealogist may well be asked "Who do you want to traced back to?" because with such a small population base, just about anything is possible. When the Age of Settlement in Iceland ended in the late 10th century, there were about 30,000 people there. When the Age of Emigration began in the late 19th century, there were still only about 30,000 people there, which might indicate that either this is a nation with a very Protestant approach to sex or that it is a country that had endured for 900 years more than its share of natural and political catastrophes.
Populations don't usually stay stagnant — they either rise or fall according to the circumstances around them. Iceland today has about 10 times the people it had 150 years ago, which is just slightly more people than live in Saskatoon.
Outside of Iceland, the largest concentration of people with Icelandic blood is in Manitoba — New Iceland, as the old-timers call it — although you will hardly ever notice them outside of the August long weekend when they dress up funny, get drunk and party at Islendingadagurinn in Gimli. We are — in the interests of full disclosure, I am a member of that most invisible of invisible minorities, an Icelandic-Canadian Catholic — according to sociological studies, the most easily assimilated people in the entire Western world.
That is a not particularly desirable distinction, especially in a world where borders are dropping and identities drooping. It is, however, becoming a necessary reality in this new world.
This new world is one where populations in Western nations are dropping — don't blame me; between us, my wife and I have seven children that we publicly admit to and she's not even Catholic, so we've done more than our share — whereas in Asia and Africa populations are booming.
In Canada today, there are about 34 million people. At the present reproduction of 1.67 children per woman, that's not even replacement rate. By 2050, according to the Globe and Mail, we will have a mere 48 million people, as compared to China, which will have 1.4 billion people living on less land than we have, or Mali, which will have 42 million people living in a desert not much smaller than Saskatchewan or India, which will host 1.8 billion people in a nation that is smaller than China, which in turn, as we already know, is smaller than Canada.
Clearly there is a certain disproportion here. One reason is that the birth rate in what we used to call the Third World but which now, out of political correctness, we call Africa, is astonishingly higher than it is here, than it is in China or than it is in India.
African women produce about six kids for every one that a Canadian woman delivers.
If Canadian, American and European women produced 6.44 children, as women in Somalia do, the world would start to get to be a pretty crowded and hungry place. Canada, however, is still pretty wide open.
As things are, sometime in October or late fall, the world's seven billionth person will be born. The odds are that he or she will not get any prize — we're starting to wonder if we'll even be able to feed the kid. Judging by our past record, we probably won't. This child is more likely to be borne by a starving mother on a refugee trail out of Somalia, or as a result of rape in Congo or civil war in the Arab world than it is to be born in St. Boniface hospital and headed home to the wide-open, well-fed spaces of suburbia.
There is clearly something wrong with this scenario, and any child of an immigrant to Canada can tell you what it is. When the Icelanders were starving, Canada opened its doors. They were, like Somalis seem to be today, ignorant immigrant people who couldn't speak English. Canadians were not wrong then, and we should not close the doors now. More than ever, those doors need to be opened wider.