‘Gifting it forward’: Iceland donates books to college, library in Iqaluit

Initiative celebrates 75 years of diplomatic relations between Iceland and Canada

The “world champions” of book publishing had a gift for Canada on Tuesday – books.

Iceland’s ambassador to Canada, Hlynur Gudjonsson, donated a collection of more than 30 of them – all translated into English, ranging from children’s stories and Icelandic sagas to poetry – to the Nunavut Arctic College and the Nunavut Public Library System in Iqaluit on Tuesday.

Presented by Iceland’s Ambassador Hlynur Gudjonsson of the Nunavut Arctic College Library and the Nunavut Public Library System, the books span a range of genres from children’s stories to poetry and Icelandic sagas. (Photo by Meral Jamal)

It was part of an initiative by the Icelandic Embassy in Ottawa to celebrate 75 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries, dating back to when ties were strengthened after World War II.

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The collection, donated in a ceremony at the college, includes work by an equal number of male and female writers, which Gudjonsson says was intentional and reflects Iceland’s commitment to gender equality.

He said Iceland publishes the highest number of books per capita in the world, a testament to the importance of storytelling and literature to its culture.

“We’re world champions … there’s no other nation that publishes that many books per capita and that’s just in people’s blood,” he said.

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College President Rebecca Mearns said Nunavut and Iceland have similarities in the importance that Nunavummiut and Icelanders place on oral storytelling and lore.

“It’s an interesting connection between Nunavut and Iceland with the oral tradition of all these stories that have been passed down and now in print,” she said.

Gudjonsson added that historically in Icelandic culture, people would recite stories from the Bible or sagas for entertainment in the evenings.

Nunavut Education Minister Pamela Gross and Joanna Quassa, Minister of Culture and Heritage attend a special event in Iqaluit where Iceland’s Ambassador to Canada, Hlynur Gudjonsson, donated more than 30 Icelandic books to the Nunavut Arctic College Library and the Nunavut Public Library System donated name of Icelandic Embassy in Canada. (Photo by Meral Jamal)

“Storytelling is really part of the Icelandic DNA,” he said.

The books presented to Nunavut’s college and library system were accepted by Territory Secretary of Education Pamela Gross, Secretary of Culture and Heritage Joanna Quassa, and Deputy Secretary of Culture and Heritage Teresa Hughes.

The Icelandic Embassy in Ottawa made a similar donation to the Whitehorse Public Library in June, and another will be made in Yellowknife in the coming months.

They reflect similar gifts of Canadian literature made this year by the Embassy of Canada in Iceland to the Reykjavík and Akureyri public libraries there.

Gudjonsson described the book exchange of the messages as the process of “passing on”.

The first Icelanders set foot on what is now Canada more than 1,000 years ago when Norse explorer Leif Eriksson and his crew arrived at L’Anse aux Meadows.

Today, Canada is home to the largest population of Icelandic immigrants and descendants, with more than 100,000 Canadians reporting Icelandic ethnicity in the 2016 census.

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