SGS Celebrates Graduate Student Winners of Federal Tri-Council Awards - Jay Lalonde

Author: Andrea

Posted on Jan 25, 2023

Category: Student Stories , Money Matters

Profile of: Jay Lalonde

Award Received: SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship

Awarded for the project: Model Settlers, Dirty Foreigners, and Colonial Agents: Icelandic Settlers in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada's Immigration Policy, 1850-1900

Faculty: Arts

Department: History

Project supervised by: Dr. Angela C. Tozer


For every settlement recorded and celebrated by colonial bureaucrats and historians as a success, there are many others that have been forgotten. One of them, Markland, was an Icelandic settlement in the Musquodoboit Valley, NS, between 1875 and 1882. It only ever appears briefly, however, in the existing literature as “another failed settlement.” This settlement’s “failure” seems to have been caused mainly by the unwillingness of the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia governments to support Icelandic settlers, after the first groups in Nova Scotia needed more government assistance than originally assumed. The histories of the Markland settlers—many of them described by themselves in Icelandic letters and newspaper articles—reveal much about the varied nineteenth-century immigration experiences, but also contribute to larger interconnected narratives of colonization and migration. Icelanders left for America because their access to land in Iceland had become severely restricted. However, they then assumed the role of colonial agents in their new homes and thus contributed to the appropriation of Indigenous living spaces and helped enforce settler colonialism on the ground.

My project consists of two interconnected parts: a microhistory of the surprisingly varied immigrant group and their lived experiences of migration, and a macrohistorical examination of immigration policy and the social and political historical context in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada at the time, as well as their links to global capitalism and empire. I trace the Icelandic presence in these spaces and focus on the information it can provide about changes in immigration policy and in support for immigrants from roughly 1850 to 1900, and I focus in particular on identifying the links between Icelandic immigration and colonial policies: what role did the Icelandic settlement play in the disenfranchisement of the Mi’kmaq and in limiting Mi’kmaq access to their living spaces? How did the Icelanders fit into the hierarchy of immigrants within settler colonialism? And, perhaps most importantly: was the failure of the Markland settlement and the Icelanders’ departure caused by a change of policy and lack of governmental support for ethnic settlements? Or, conversely, did the fact that the settlement did not develop according to officials’ expectations cause the change of policy, effectively ending organized immigration to Nova Scotia?

Examining the Markland settlement shows how Atlantic Canada regulated its population through both explicit and implicit immigration policy, resulting in a significantly different ethnic history and narrative than those of the Prairie Provinces: while ethnic bloc settlements have never been associated with Atlantic Canada the way they are with the Prairies, this case shows that they could have been, and that provincial officials supported this immigration pattern until the late 1870s. Immigration and colonial policy have been largely studied as separate fields; the role of immigration (especially group migration and bloc ethnic settlements), however, has been essential in enforcing and reinforcing the ideology and practice of settler colonialism, as Icelandic immigration to Mi’kma’ki in the late nineteenth century and its links to these larger structures demonstrate.