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Canadian Cowboy Folklore

The legends of the Wild West era are often associated with American history; however, Canada also boasts a fascinating past filled with legendary folklore and the colourful characters that make these stories come to life. Western Canada is home to many captivating historic places to commemorate this unique era of outlaws, cowboys and the booming Canadian ranching industry.

The Sam Kelly Sites in Happy Valley, Saskatchewan comprise the caves in the Big Muddy Valley, where, according to legend, Sam Kelly and his Nelson Jones Gang hid from American authorities. The tall bluffs and shallow gullies of the Big Muddy Valley proved to be an ideal place for Sam Kelly and his gang to hide out. The tall peaks allowed the bandits to see when authorities were on their trail, giving them enough time to escape. The Big Muddy Valley and the Sam Kelly Caves became a stop on American outlaw, Butch Cassidy's, infamous Outlaw Trail which connected various hideouts and stations starting in south western Saskatchewan and snaking down through the United States to Mexico. Sam Kelly and his Nelson Jones Gang became experts on exploiting these caves, designating a cave for his men and another for their horses. It's even claimed that Kelly returned to live in his famous caves for a few years later in his life. After a career as one of the most lucrative outlaws of the Wild West, Kelly turned himself in to local authorities but, conveniently, there wasn't enough evidence to convict Kelly of a single crime. He then started a new life and began a legitimate ranch in Debden, Saskatchewan along with a few of his pals. The legend of Sam Kelly lives on in the town of Debden, as well as in Canadian folklore - visit these legendary caves and discover the life of an outlaw for yourself!

The ranching industry in Canada's West flourished in the 1880s as Parliament established the grazing lease policy, a leasing system that supported ranchers. As a result, many ranches flourished during this time including Bar U Ranch, established in 1882. Now a National Historic Site, Bar U has remained a successful, working cattle ranch which is now open to the public. Settled among the rolling Porcupine Hills at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Bar U Ranch was one of the first and largest corporate ranches of the West. Infamous American bandit, Harry Longabaugh, better known as the "Sundance Kid," gained ranching experience at the Ranch before returning to the U.S. and becoming a partner-in-crime to Butch Cassidy. Alberta's Old West ranching industry is certainly filled with intriguing characters!

Saskatchewan also has a very interesting and rich history associated with the ranching industry. In fact, the remains of one of the largest ranching barns ever built in North America are found at the Smith Barn Site, a historic place located in southwest Saskatchewan at the fork of the Red Deer and South Saskatchewan rivers. Smith Barn Site refers to the foundation remains of a large barn demolished in 1921. The enormous barn was built by prosperous rancher, W.T. "Horseshoe" Smith, in 1914. Before this, Smith had operated in Great Falls, Montana, along the American-Canadian border where outlaws and bandits on either side engaged in stealing and selling horses. Away from the international border and this illegal activity, Smith's massive barn and the vast acreage of his ranch made it one of the largest operations in the country.

The Canadian Wild West hasn't received the same legendary status as its American counterpart, however, many of North America's most legendary bandits also left their mark north of the border. The steep cliffs, mysterious caves, and shallow gullies of the Big Muddy Valley provided the perfect hiding spot for outlaws such as Sam Kelly, Dutch Henry and the Nelson Jones Gang. It is no wonder, then, that it earned its place on Butch Cassidy's Outlaw Trail. Western Canada's cowboy and ranching industry played a significant role in shaping Canada's history and the legends of the Old West's most notorious outlaws are still alive today.

Strong Ties: Canada-Norway connection celebrated at 50 Sussex

The Embassy of Norway has gifted Canada with the first English translation of Roald Amundsen's Northwest Passage diaries, reaffirming a shared polar past and future 

By Nick Walker - June 2, 2017

At noon on June 1, 2017, the bells in the Peace Tower played "Oppå Fjellet" ("Up in the mountains") by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and other songs over Ottawa in honour of explorer Roald Amundsen's 1903-06 journey through the Northwest Passage. At the same time about 90 metres below, Anne Kari Hansen Ovind, Norway's Ambassador to Canada, presented the first-ever English translation of Amundsen's expedition diaries to the speakers of the House of Commons and Senate - a gift to Canada for its 150th anniversary year - and the volumes were placed in a special location in the Library of Parliament.

The same tunes were playing at 50 Sussex later that evening as the Norwegian embassy joined The Royal Canadian Geographical Society in a celebration not just of the Canadian release of the journals, but also of the countries' historically strong diplomatic ties as pioneers in polar exploration and science, and as modern Arctic nations and policymakers.

"It is essential to understand the past, but also to prepare ourselves for the future," said Ovind to the 100 people gathered at the Society's new headquarters. "The Arctic is undergoing immense change. Equally important is engaging with the representatives of local and regional authorities and Indigenous Peoples, and ensuring sustainable economic development."

In fact, while the fresh translation - a multi-year undertaking that began with the painstaking transcription of the original 1,200-page handwritten record — chronicles Amundsen's successful three -year expedition to become the first to navigate the Northwest Passage, the most valuable legacy of the voyage is the crew's friendship with and dependence on the Netsilik Inuit families of the central Arctic.

The translated record of this reciprocal relationship, explained Geir O. Kløver, director of the Fram Museum in Oslo, Norway, means that a truly rare insight into the day-to-day life of the Inuit at the turn of the century is now available to Canadians and a much larger audience. Combined with his scientific background, Amundsen recognized that traditional Inuit knowledge was crucial to his success locating the North Magnetic Pole and transiting the Northwest Passage, and even aided in his survival.

This gift being made by Norway to Canada, then, is a gift of knowledge, much of it transferred by the Inuit to Amundsen and his crew.

"Amundsen's strong and respectful relationship with the Netsilik Inuit helped him bring honour to his country," the Honourable Nellie Kusugak, Commissioner of Nunavut, told the 50 Sussex audience. "I am very proud of the kindness and wisdom showed to him by the Inuit. Just so, when we were small [growing up in Rankin Inlet] and more and more southerners were coming up North, my father used to say to us that we were to welcome them. That they were our responsibility."

Amundsen did not forget this hospitality - nor the skills he acquired in Canada's Arctic, which he later applied to his South Pole expedition. "This gift being made by Norway to Canada, then, is a gift of knowledge, much of it transferred by the Inuit to Amundsen and his crew," said John Geiger, CEO of the RCGS. "It speaks to geography, to exploration and to important lessons that needed to be learned then, and now, from the Inuit."

Iceland Highlights

Iceland, a Nordic island nation, is defined by its dramatic landscape with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields. Massive glaciers are protected in Vatnajökull and Snæfellsjökull national parks. Most of the population lives in the capital, Reykjavik, which runs on geothermal power and is home to the National and Saga museums, tracing Iceland’s Viking history.

Capital: Reykjavik
Population: 0.333 million (2017)
Currency: Icelandic Króna
Queen: Guðni Th. Jóhannesson
Official language: Icelandic

The monarchy of Iceland was created by the Act of Union of 1918 which transformed the former Danish overseas possession of Iceland into an independent sovereign constitutional monarchy. Iceland adopted a new constitution following the referendum in 1944 which abolished the monarchy.

Iceland is a refreshingly unconventional destination. Icelandic nature is unspoiled, exotic and mystical with its spouting geysers, active volcanoes, tumbling waterfalls, towering mountains, other-worldly lava deserts and sparkling iceberg-filled lagoons. Iceland’s fjords, glaciers and highlands present visitors with some of the most beautiful and enchanting landscapes they will ever see, as well as a feeling of utter tranquility.

Another unique sight is Surtsey, Iceland’s newest island, formed by a 1963 volcanic eruption off the country’s south coast. More recently, the spectacular eruptions at Fimmvörðuháls and Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, and 2014 eruption of Holuhraun renewed the country’s nickname as the “Land of Fire and Ice”.

Thanks to this subterranean activity, a boundless supply of geothermal heat is available to be harnessed for thermal spas, inexpensive heating for homes and renewable energy creation. In fact, Iceland is the world’s second largest user of geothermal energy, producing slightly more than the United States and trailing only China.

The Icelandic countryside is dotted with habitats of elves and trolls and every region has a multitude of myths and legends, many of which are kept alive by monuments and plaques.

Most people that visit Iceland go in the summer, but there’s a whole other side to this place in the winter months. (It is called “Iceland”, after all.)

In the deep of winter, Iceland is known for its limited sunlight which, coupled with the island’s northerly location, makes it one of the best places on earth to see the northern lights, also called aurora borealis. October through April, when weather conditions are favorable, you can see these kaleidoscopic displays light up the dark winter sky, a phenomenon not to be missed.

Iceland more than makes up for this lack of sunlight during the summer time – the period of May through August provides long days with bright nights, and the midnight sun is especially prevalent in June. Thanks to these endless summer days, visitors can enjoy outdoor activities at any time of day - even teeing off at a golf course at midnight!

Finland (from Scandinavian Classic Desserts by Pat Sinclair)

Finland has many similarities with the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway and Denmark but isn’t technically part of Scandinavia. From the Middle Ages to 1809, a period of over 600 years, Finland was actually a part of Sweden and still has a large number of Swedish-speaking residents. During one if its many wars, Sweden lost Finland to Russia; Russian Czars ruled until the Russian Revolution in 1917. Much Swedish and Russian influence is still seen today. In 1917 Finland fought and won independence from Russia. After the Nazis and Russians became allies, Russia attempted to conquer Finland again, but during the Winter War, Finnish white-camouflaged ski troops fought them off. At the end of WWII, Finland landed in the Russian sphere of influence until the U.S.S.R. dissolved.

Sparsely populated, Finland is a land covered with forests and lakes, even in the capital of Helsinki. One third of Finland lies north of the Artic Circle, where the winter months are very cold and dark. But in the summer months of June and July in the extreme north, the sun doesn't set. Summers are short, but the days are warmed by the Gulf Stream.

Norway Highlights

Norway is a Scandinavian country encompassing mountains, glaciers and deep coastal fjords. Oslo, the capital, is a city of green spaces and museums. Preserved 9th-century Viking ships are displayed at Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum. Bergen, with colorful wooden houses, is the starting point for cruises to the dramatic Sognefjord. Norway is also known for fishing, hiking and skiing, notably at Lillehammer’s Olympic resort.

Capital: Oslo
Population: 5.292 million (2016)
Currency: Norwegian Krone
Queen: Harald V of Norway
Official language: Norwegian

The Danish Monarchy is over 1000 years old, making it the second oldest continual monarchy in the world still existing today. The first monarch in the monarchy can be traced back to is Gorm the Old (d. 958 ac). Originally the monarchy was elective, but in practice the eldest son of the reigning monarch was elected. Later a Coronation Charter was signed by the king to restrict the powers of the Danish monarch. Absolutism was reintroduced in 1660-1661, when the elective monarchy was transformed into a hereditary monarchy. Male primogeniture succession was laid down in law in the Royal Decree of 1665. On 5 June 1849 the constitution was altered to create a constitutional monarchy for Denmark. The Act of Succession of 27 March 1953 introduced the possibility of female succession, which enabled the current reigning Queen, Magrethe II, to accede the throne.

Norway’s current monarch is King Harald V (born 1937), who came to the throne in 1991 upon the death of his father, King Olav V. King Harald and Queen Sonja (née Haraldsen) have two children, Princess Märtha Louise (born 1971) and Crown Prince Haakon Magnus (born 1973). Although Crown Prince Haakon is the younger child of King Harald, he takes precedence over his sister because of the order of succession in place at the time of his birth. This law was amended in 1990 to allow the eldest child to inherit the throne regardless of sex, but the change was not made retroactive.

The main attraction in Norway is the country itself, landscapes and nature. Norway has an abundance of fjords, islands, coastline, forest, lakes, mountains and waterfalls. Even the
national anthem mentions the "ruggedness" of the country in the first lines: “Rising storm-scarr’d from the ocean, Where the breakers foam. ....”

Fjords are the perhaps Norway’s most famous attraction.

The unique Arctic landscapes of the Lofotens are a dramatic fusion of sea and mountain, beautiful in their starkness. In summer, you can follow scenic paths across expanses of moorland, past hidden lakes and along glorious stretches of coast bathed for several weeks in the extraordinary light of the Midnight Sun. In winter, enjoy bracing strolls along the beaches, marveling at the snow-clad mountains behind you.

Nothing can quite prepare you for the staggeringly beautiful natural phenomenon of the aurora borealis, as explosions of iridescent greens, pinks, yellows and blues flash and soar across the night sky in an incredible, almost surreal, display of celestial pyrotechnics. Deep within the Arctic Circle, the island city of Tromsø offers probably the best chance to see the Northern Lights anywhere in mainland Europe.

If there is one reason to choose Norway for a winter holiday besides the unrivalled snow
record, it is because cross-country skiing is an integral part of Norwegian culture. Given that it is something of a national sport, it is no surprise that the cross-country networks stretch quite literally for miles (Fefor boasts 200 kilometres of trails and Sjusjøen 300 kilometres) and are superbly maintained and way marked. Furthermore, they are not just designed for dedicated enthusiasts but instead offer something for everyone.

To appreciate how northerly and remote the Svalbard archipelago is, it’s worth consulting a globe. Put your finger on the North Pole and trace a line downwards in the direction of mainland Norway and you’ll find it not far below the limit of permanent pack ice. Exploring this wilderness by dog-sled and snowmobile is a true adventure, enhanced by the knowledge that you are in the northern most reaches of Europe.

Denmark Highlights

Denmark is a Scandinavian country comprising the Jutland Peninsula and numerous islands. It’s linked to nearby Sweden via the Öresund bridge. Copenhagen, its capital, is home to royal palaces and colorful Nyhavn harbor, plus the Tivoli amusement park and the iconic “Little Mermaid” statue. Odense is writer Hans Christian Andersen’s hometown, with a medieval core of cobbled streets and half-timbered houses.

Capital: Copenhagen
Population: 5.695 million (2016)
Currency: Danish Krone
Queen: Margrethe II of Denmark
Official language: Danish

The Danish Monarchy is over 1000 years old, making it the second oldest continual monarchy in the world still existing today. The first monarch in the monarchy can be traced back to is Gorm the Old (d. 958 ac). Originally the monarchy was elective, but in practice the eldest son of the reigning monarch was elected. Later a Coronation Charter was signed by the king to restrict the powers of the Danish monarch. Absolutism was reintroduced in 1660-1661, when the elective monarchy was transformed into a hereditary monarchy. Male primogeniture succession was laid down in law in the Royal Decree of 1665. On 5 June 1849 the constitution was altered to create a constitutional monarchy for Denmark. The Act of Succession of 27 March 1953 introduced the possibility of female succession, which enabled the current reigning Queen, Magrethe II, to accede the throne.

Denmark has 7,000 kilometres of coastline and numerous beaches and some of the most beautiful stretches of coastline and the best beaches are to found on South Zealand and Møn.

Denmark is an island nation and there are thousands of ferry routes between the islands and between Denmark and other countries.

Danish churches, and in particular village churches, house an impressive wealth of visible murals and frescos. Around 1,800 of Denmark’s 2,400 churches date as far back as the Middle Ages and church frescos have been uncovered in over 600 of them so far. This is estimated to be the highest concentration of surviving church murals anywhere in the world.

Copenhagen is one of Europe’s oldest and most popular cities. It’s also one of the cleanest and most metropolitan. It’s hardly surprising that the city is often cited as the world’s most bike-friendly city. With cycle lanes and flat streets, the appeal is obvious, but the real joy of cycling here is the sheer variety of bikes on the streets.

Sliced rye bread (rugbrød) topped with cold meats, smoked fish, cheese or pate - this open-faced sandwich known as smørrebrød has been a lunchtime staple for the Danish.

The nation’s most famous pastries were originally invented by Viennese chefs during a nationwide strike by Danish bakers in the mid-1850s. A century-and-a-half later, and the wienerbrød is still the sticky treat of choice.

Separate studies have ranked Danish people as the happiest in the EU (2007 Cambridge University study), and happiest people in the world (2006 Leicester University study) or 2nd happiest in the world (World Database of Happiness 2000-2009).

The world famous building toys Lego are from Denmark.

Valborg - the Lowdown on Sweden’s Bonfire Night


Every year on the 30th of April Sweden is set ablaze in revelry of the emerging spring. The celebration known as Valborg causes communities throughout Sweden to unite in spirit and gather around massive bonfires, singing songs to welcome spring to these northern shores. It’s a celebration for people of all ages and the best part is - it’s free. Just show up and get ready to interact more with Swedes than you have through the entire winter.

In many places, especially university towns, Valborg celebrations are known to start off in the afternoon or even morning with picnics in the park or country side, generally with champagne and beer in abundance. Who can argue with that?

But it is as the sun goes down that Swedes really get into the spirit of the day and gather at one of the various designated bonfire sites to sing folk songs, dance, drink and watch fireworks. In most places the varm korv (hot dog) vendors will be close by to satisfy any mid-party cravings. Guaranteed these bonfires are the biggest controlled fires many people have ever seen up-close, but not to worry, firefighters are at the scene to start and stop the blaze.

History of Valborg

Historically Valborg is derived from the Viking fertility celebrations that took place around April 30th, where the arrival of spring was celebrated with bonfires at night. The actual purpose of the fires was to scare off witches and evil spirits. A practical use for the bonfires was also to scare off predators such as foxes before the livestock were let out to graze on May 1st. In the Middle Ages, the pagan Spring ritual became associated with Saint Walpurga who was declared a saint during this time of the year.

Today, however, Swedes tend to look at this holiday as a chance to welcome Spring and light evenings back after a long winter. And there is certainly a point to that!


As you would expect, Finland hosts plenty rock and heavy metal festivals - but also the tangomarkkinat - the world’s biggest tango festival, in Seinäjoki each July. Up to 100,000 attend - although the "tango-free zone" still has plenty of rock for non-aficionados. Check out the website at:

Recommended Reading

Kaare Askildt was born in Norway and came to Canada in 1968.  She has written a book called The Heedless Norseman and her second book is due to be published late September or October.  Check out her website at:

The Danish Poet

A Norwegian-Danish love story
By Torill Kove

Narrated by Liv Ullmann
Academy Award and Genie Award in 2006 for best animated short film.

Buy the DVD at

Recommended Reading

This book that may be of interest to Scandinavians. The book is Storied Landscapes: Ethno-Religious Identity & the Canadian Prairies by Frances Swyripa. It is advertised as a new history of Ukrainian, German, Doukhobor, Scandinavian, and Norwegian groups in Saskatchewan. It is available at your local bookstore or online retailer.

Nobel Peace Prize

The Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes bequeathed by the Swedish industrialist and inventor Alfred Nobel. It is awarded for outstanding contributions in peace. The prize is awarded by a committee of five people chosen by the Norwegian Parliament. Four of the five present committee members are women (Norwegian women).

Each year, the Nobel Committee invites qualified people to submit nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2010, there were 237 nominations, out of which 38 are organizations. This is the highest number of nominees ever.

The first woman ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was Bertha von Suttner, in 1905. She was a peace activist and close friend of Alfred Nobel and may have influenced his decision to include peace as a category.

The Peace Prize is presented each year on December 10 (the anniversary of Nobel’s death). The Ceremony is held at the Oslo City Hall in the presence of the King of Norway. The Nobel laureate receives a diploma, a medal and a prize worth about $1.4 million US.

Unlike the scientific and literary prizes, the Peace Prize is often awarded for recent achievements (rather than past) and is thus more open to criticism.

Norwegian Military Tattoo

The Norwegain Military Tattoo is internationally famous for its quality and streamlined production. It has been held every second year since 1994 in the capital of Norway, Oslo. Since 1996 the shows were presented indoors.

You can view the 2004 Norweian Military Tattoo on YouTube at

Norway - Find the Deceased

Renathe-Johanne Wågenes from the island of Askøy in Bergen has photographed graves. Always interested in history and genealogy, she came up with the idea in 2004 of collecting pictures of all graves in Norway in a special database. Nearly two million names have been registered so far, and more than 800,000 graves have been stored with photo on the web site. Since August 2005, more than 25 million searches have been made into the database. The goal is to collect a complete record of all graves all over the country’s cemeteries. The database can be found here.

Norwegian Name Days

In Norwegian culture, a person’s name day is a day of the year that according to an almanac is dedicated to their first name. The tradition of celebrating a name day comes from the early Christian church, evidently to reduce the significance of celebrating birthdays, which was considered a heathen practice.

Name days had little meaning in Norway during the 1900s, while growing in popularity in Sweden. This generated a certain amount of attention in the Norwegian media during the 1980s, and in 1988 a new calendar was published that included name days.

For every date in the year except January 1st, February 29th and December 25th, two names were chosen, based on statistics for names from the period 1900-1982. About 125 of the names from the old name day calendar were reintroduced on the same dates as before.

Today the tradition is well-known in Norway. You can look up your own name day here.


Astrid Lindgren, Swedish author, wrote the Pippi Longstocking series. Pippi is extraordinarily strong, being able to lift her horse one-handed without difficulty.

Selma Lagerlöf, Swedish, was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. She wrote The Wonderful Adventures of Nils for the National Teachers Association. It was commissioned as a geography reader for the public schools. Nils and a goose fly over all the provinces of Sweden.

Tove Jansson, was a Finnish author whose mother tongue was Swedish. She was a novelist, painter, illustrator and comic strip author. She wrote the Moomin books for children but her Moomintroll cartoons are also much appreciated by adults because of their sophisticated humour and deep sense of freedom. A quote from one book, “Life is like a river. Some people sail on it slowly, some quickly, and some capsize.”

Mauri Kunnas is a Finnish cartoonist and children’s author. His most famous children’s book series is Koiramäki (Dog Hill). He has also written books about Santa Claus who lives in Finnish Lapland.

The Sons of Norway Foundation in Canada Post Secondary Scholarship

The Sons of Norway Foundation in Canada Post Secondary Scholarship of $600 is available.  For information, please phone Eldon Norum at 373-0148.


Tivoli is a famous amusement park and pleasure garden in the middle of downtown Copenhagen. Stepping inside the impressive main gate is like entering a wonderland. Here you’ll find an enchanting park-like setting brimming with tradition and history and filled with super-modern amusements and activities. Tivoli is also home to gorgeous gardens, ancient trees and the Tivoli Lake. When night falls, the fountains, flowers and old buildings in the Chinese garden are illuminated by 110,000 lamps and lights.

Tivoli has fun for everyone, from a cozy carousel ride to a free fall from 60 metres high. It boasts Denmark’s biggest roller coaster as well as one of the world’s oldest roller coasters.

For more information and pictures of Tivoli, check out this website.

Read the ancient Sagas online.

The "Heimskingla" or "The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway" by Snorri Sturluson can be found at

Scandinavian embassies in Canada and links from them can be found at:

Norwegian Embassy
Swedish Embassy
Finish Embassy
Danish Embassy
Icelandic Embassy

Newsletter from Norwegian Embassy Available....
Go to the Norwegian Embassy website, click on Newsletter at the left side and enter your email address to receive the Newsletter.

Join Now!

Come and meet new friends at the Saskatoon Scandinavian Club. The SSC is strictly a social club made up of members who, either came from, or whose ancestors came from one of the five Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

If you are interested in joining the Club and would like more information, please use this contact form. Download our membership application form here.

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