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Emil was born on October 10, 1918 in Wynyard, Saskatchewan to Paul Bjarnason and Halldóra Guðrun Jónsson. Emil attended elementary school up until grade 10 in Wynyard, and completed his high school in Vancouver at John Oliver High School. He won a Royal Institution Scholarship to go to the University of British Columbia. During his summers he worked for the American Can Company, packing tins. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1940 and won a scholarship to attend a Master’s program at Queens University. At the age of 50, Bjarnason enrolled in a doctoral program at Simon Fraser University.
Emil worked with the Dominion Bureau of Statistics in Ottawa, and during the Second World War was seconded to the Department of Labour Mobilization to be the chief statistician to conduct mobilization statistics. After the war, he resigned from civil service and moved to Vancouver to establish his own labour consulting service, the Trade Union Research Bureau. He served as director and president of his company for 44 years. As a life long Communist from a family of communists he dedicated his life to the betterment of working people world wide. Emil distinguished himself for his research on behalf of many unions including the International Woodworkers of America (IWA), the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), Mine Mill and Smelter Workers, United Fishermen and Allied Workers (UFAWU), and many locals of both the Firefighters and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). In 1973 he co-founded the Dogwood Foundation for Socialist Education to further the dissemination of labour-left works and ideas. He was also a member political organizations such as the Peace Council, the League for Democratic Rights, and became a co-founder of the Canada-Cuba Friendship Association in 1961.
During his career, Bjarnason published many pamphlets on topical economics and upon retirement wrote about his family genealogy back to the 900s. He wrote two more books, The Whole Truth, humorous episodes from his youth and a bilingual translation of some of the Icelandic Saga. Bjarnason was also the associate editor of the Icelandic Canadian Club of British Columbia (ICC of BC) newsletter for ten years and has contributed pieces to the Icelandic Canadian, and Lögberg-Heimskringla. He was awarded a Life membership in the ICC of BC. He died on October 12, 2006.