The Making of a Unique Leader
Reflections on reading Vikings on a Prairie Ocean

by Barry StuartBarry Stuart

Yes I did.  I believed when I started to read this manuscript I thought what a nice thing Glenn has done for his family. He has recorded their history. They will be very happy, as will future generations to know their heritage. I’ll happily read his manuscript if that helps a cherished friend and in doing so will learn more about his family. What a surprise was in store for me…and for every reader. I never imagined the amazing insights the pages began to reveal. Even before I finished I was constantly interrupted by inspirations of what must be done with this book…the inspirations were as different as the difference between what I expected to find in these pages and what I did find. I found:

  1. A profoundly important piece of Canadian history.
  2. The people, experiences and values shaping the work of a pioneer


For Every Canadian, certainly any student of Canadian history, this book is a must read .We are a country of many cultures. The many sources collectively composing the character of the country we now call Canada flow from the original First Nations to the latest immigrants. If we understood the individual contributions of each culture, we could acquire a greater appreciation and respect for the important contribution each makes to Canada.  Maybe in Manitoba folks know about the legacy of 19th century Icelandic pioneers. Not me. I believe history is a critical mentor to appropriately participate in the political and social life of your country. I studied History and until Glenn’s book was proud to think I knew the history of my country. Opps…how many other cultural streams have I overlooked!

The legacies of the Icelandic pioneers permeate the character and values of Canada far beyond the borders of Manitoba. Glenn provides a unique perspective by tracking the personal stories of several Icelandic families from their homeland to building their new homes in Canada .The suffering and deprivations driving them from their Icelandic homes were much less than what welcomed them in their initial struggles to build a new Canadian home. They endured and ultimately prospered.  His telling immerses you into their journey in ways that you feel a part of their struggle. You come to understand how a single stubborn cow can determine whether your family will survive.

No matter what immigrant ancestry brought you to Canada, this story of Icelandic immigration will open new windows on the dynamics of your ancestor’s struggles to migrate and settle in Canada, introduce another important perspective on how new immigrants interacted with First Nations, and reveal how Icelandic values and culture blended into Canada.

This book carries into the present the impact of early Icelandic pioneers on the culture and values of Canada, on Glenn’s family and on Glenn’s life and work. In examining the impact of his ancestors and upbringing on the lake on his life, the book reveals intriguing insights on the power of nurturing influences, and on the origins of the values and principles that motivates and directs Glenn’s leadership in pioneering innovative processes to enable multiple parties to reach outcomes and develop resilient relationships in the face of seemingly intractable challenges.

Three primary streams underpin his work: the core values his abiding belief in the power of dialogue, and an Icelandic determination to make things work out

Underlying core values…tucked into the characters, experiences and life within a family that lived off the land [lake, in commercial fishing] readers will discover the core values guiding his life and his pioneering leadership.

Amazing characters populate the stories of his ancestors struggle to settle in Canada, his families involvement in building the Lake Winnipeg commercial fishery and his work in changing the landscape of how decisions are made in complex disputes. All are memorable folks certain to indelibly penetrate every reader’s imagination and render readers wishing they had known these characters. All were mentors, each in their own way  reinforcing and expanding who he is and  continues to become Their stories are more captivating, enriching entertaining and enlightening than any story from the Forsyth Saga or from any popular TV series or major movie   …within this book is an enormous body of inspiring material for movies and books. Someone should translate these stories into a movie, several movies. The many people whose influences shaped him include:

His family, where the pivotal importance of relationships within families, business and in all aspects of life was first introduced. During his early years and throughout his life his parents, and grandparents, profoundly shaped his values. Not just by the example set by their remarkable lives, but through their stories of pioneering ancestors, stories that Glenn shares with humour and abiding respect and stories that remain instrumental lessons he constantly draws on in his work and life. Both his mother and father drilled deeply into his core respect for all others.

Valgerdur, a grandmother, whose life story is as incredible as it is inspiring .Her ability to readily adapt to whatever fate delivered is astounding .She moved from a remote part of Iceland to one of the world’s great centers of learning, Cambridge, then back and forth between England and Iceland until as young pioneering woman in what was then a very remove wilderness home on Hecla Island on Lake Winnipeg. She would marry Stefan, an outstanding young man with a big heart and always in a big hurry. He had powered himself from poverty to prosperity as one of the first commercial fishermen, and then as an entrepreneur building one of the first fishing companies on Lake Winnipeg.

Valgedur survived numerous challenges and tragedies, and throughout her life, remained a pivotal support for friends and family through the rise and fall of the family businesses and the early deaths of five of her six children. Her life and that of her husband, Stefan, remains a reminder for Glenn of what constitutes courage and commitment to critical life goals.

Doc Thompson, the old fashioned family doctor specializing in common sense, whose sense of service to his patients surpassed obvious risks to his life .His indefatigable care for his patients was repeatedly demonstrated through heroic journeys by dog team to attend to their needs. He never sought thanks or recognition for his work. Selfless service to others marks all parts of Glenn’s life.

Lord Dufferin turns up here as he does in most pioneering stories of the latter part of the 19th century .His visit to Iceland in 1855, and his later role in the lives of Icelandic pioneers will be to many as it was to me, another of many surprises permeating this book. His genuine interest in and curiosity about others coupled with a steadfast service to the emerging nation made a lasting impression on Glenn.

Commercial fishers, living with and through risk, they endured severe deprivations, and despite enormously hard work experienced more failure than successes. They persisted past danger and formidable odds to ‘stand on their own two feet’. These men and women tied their fate to Lake Winnipeg, a lake you will discover in their stories could be as generous in its bounty as it could be merciless when sudden winds sent killing waves to sink large and small craft. The lives and experiences of these people that Glenn grew up and worked with provided significant lessons evidenced in Glenn’s tenacity and in his repeated involvement in fishery issues across Canada. Glenn’s ability to see beyond his university education to respect those who learned invaluable wisdom and common sense from a hard life and his capacity to squarely confront with positive energy every challenge life imposes was instilled initially among the commercial fishers he knew. This notion is summed up in his own words ‘I learned never to underestimate whom you are speaking to and what they may have to contribute.’

Professional Life….In the midst of his involvement in the first complex multiparty cases in the 70’s, he recognized neither the courts nor parliaments could offer constructive pathways to practical and sustainable outcomes. This recognition sparked the beginning of Glenn’s inspiring leadership in designing innovative processes for collaborative approaches. He was very soon widely acknowledged as one of the foremost pioneers in this new field .His work as a practitioner, author and teacher has informed and inspired others all over the world. This book provides a unique behind the public eye perspective on some of the early high profile controversial Canadian cases The impact of Manitoba’s northern hydro electric development  on the Cree, and the  Dryden pulp mill mercury contamination are examples of Glenn’s work that broke new ground for constructing successful responses to complex public and private issues, as he says, “building processes for problems, not forcing problems into ill fitted processes.”

In his telling of these stories you will meet legendary and captivating characters who worked with and mentored Glenn. Glenn’s mantra you can only get to a good place in a good way was a primary influence on his work from the very beginning. He recognized adversarial decision making processes are ill suited to producing the innovative solutions and constructive relationships essential to make any outcome sustainable. For Glenn, a critical measure of any successful process is the quality of relationships the process produced. People involved will need to work and live together in a good way if the essence of any agreement is to endure and be adaptable to ever changing conditions.. He has worked in all Canadian jurisdictions and in other places. His teachings and work are known throughout the world.

The impact of his Icelandic ancestors and life among the hard working men and women in remote fishing camps and in their small towns is readily revealed in the telling of his pioneering leadership in this new field.

The long parades of characters that permeate his professional life, whether famous or infamous, were all in one way or another mentors.  Many became his “dear friend”. All, in their interactions with Glenn reveal a different part of the making of a peacemaker. All were aware Glenn was on a very special journey to find a different way to resolve deeply imbedded differences., and reach innovative outcomes A sampling from this parade includes;

Darcy McCaffery partnered with Glenn to work through one of the most difficult early environmental challenges facing Canada in the 1970’s…the Churchill Hydro Development project. Glenn’s insider perception of this case is profoundly important to all seeking to better understand what is required to design a process that can successfully embrace challenges of similar complexity. Before their part in this case was finished they both were bonded to the Cree people and left in their wake extraordinary responses to the extraordinary challenges they faced. Darcy’s intelligence and flamboyance continues to hold Glenn in awe… ‘A man larger than life itself …a legend in his own time.’

Phil Fontaine thislong-standing friendship began when Glenn was a young economist working at the University of Manitoba in the multi disciplinary Center for Settlement Studies. This work connected him to Phil long before Phil had become a national leader. From that time to now Glenn have been god friends and often worked together. Many cherished friendships with First Nation leaders stem from several important cases Glenn was either representing their interests giving quiet leadership as the “man in the middle of a difficult issues” [Maggie Hodgson, Robert Josephson Chief Mark Wedge and Roy Macdonald] This book covers a very small part of the enormous body of work he has done with and for first Nations. His respect for and admiration of First Nation people began as a child in remote Lake Winnipeg commercial fish camps. These experiences  have shaped his values and guided his actions throughout his career

Leon Mitchell, his much older and wiser dear friend and mentor, was another relationship that began in the midst of a difficult and critical environmental case…the Northern Flood Committee. Within the first few years out of law school he became deeply involved in Environmental and First Nation issues. Leon, a man with deep experience drawing from his early childhood days in Winkler Manitoba, a remarkable carrier as a labor lawyer, then as an adjudicator, and throughout recognized champion of social justice, who himself struggled every day with a chronic disability that saw him walking with the help of two canes from his twenties till his death in the early 80’s. He was appointed by Government to mediate this case. The long intense negotiations spread over 4 years exposed Glenn to Leon’s relentless dedication and patience in finding pathways through an overwhelming maze of issues Through Leon he was introduced to many of the major emerging dispute resolution organizations and activities across the US, where Leon was already identified as pioneering figure in this emerging world.

Emmett Hall…former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and one of the leading figures in the establishment of Canadian Medicare was appointed at age 82 as counsel to the federal government to address the extensive mercury contamination stemming from the Dryden pulp and Paper corporate operations worked with Glenn then representing affected First Nations. During the long struggle to create an historic agreement, Emmett Hall became a friend and mentor. Emmett’s impact on Glenn is reflected in the stable of Emmett stories he frequently draws on to explain why certain steps and principles are essential in creating ways to tackle barriers to important agreements.

Dr. Gerald Cormick…a Canadian based in the US came into Glenn’s life in the early 80’s. From their first meeting they became friends and colleagues, with their working collaboration beginning in 1985 where the taught together for many years delivering intensive week long courses in Environmental and Resource Dispute Resolution. Jerry had been pioneering similar new ways to address complex issues. His work was already widely recognized as opening new possibilities for more constructive decision making for complex and highly politically charged issues. Their work together has shaped every stage of development in this field. Their story has many chapters to go, as they remain active in shaping the evolution of this new field.

Glenn describes what he does as leading without owning and as the man in the middle of very difficult conflicts… ‘I peddle optimism as I have nothing else to sell’

This book has many streams running through it. Each stream could stand alone as a must read for many. The intermingling of these streams provides an intriguing perspective on the interactions of many influences on the dynamics molding the evolution of people, communities and ideas.  This book offers as innovative an approach to understanding history as Glenn’s work has offered an innovative approach to understanding constructive ways to address complex, difficult issues. A primary part of his innovative approach stems from creating space for reconciling without eliminating the tension between independence and interdependence.

As a wise and prescient man, he remembers and draws on a very rich life permeated by mentors from all walks of life in responding to any one who seeks his help. In this book many of these rich influences are revealed. The cumulative impact on his life from the people and experiences that fill his life is best described in his own words:


….My role is to work with others to solve problems, to help them search for ways live together in spite of their differences, not change them or make them better. If they become “better”, and I become “better”  in the process of so doing, that is for the better….but I believe  the most basic tension that we must reconcile, not eliminate , is “independence and interdependence” …for everything flows as a individual and as a collective.