Gimli 18. - 27. October 2005
Exactly 130 years ago the first Icelandic settlers set foot on an unfamiliar land. They named the place "Gimli". Because of this occasion celebrations where planned in Gimli, Manitoba. We where lucky to be invited to sing some old fashioned Icelandic rhyme songs.
The group was named María's Legacy while we dwelled there. María, the grandmother, taught us to sing the old rhymes. She has bee singing rhymes from 4 years old and learned it from her father Jón Lárusson, a great rhyme singer. It is invaluable to hold on the these traditions otherwise so easy to forget in the fast moving modern times.
We where treated with special hospitality and generosity in every way. Keith and his girlfriend Gwen provided us their summer house and an 8 person minivan.
The statue we are standing by is of Eric the Red - discoverer of Vinland (North-America). It towers outside of Keith's house.
No small house! This is Keith's house.
Once every year a walk to the "Rock" at Willow Point is scheduled. This is the spot where the Icelanders drifted a shore 130 years ago. I say DRIFTED because the ship that carried them couldn't reach the shore and it was cold, dark and a blizzard. The captain couldn't see anything. He decided to cut the ropes that connected the raft with all the people. Then he had to count on God and luck. The decision proved correct. One of the women was pregnant and all the people where exhausted after the long and difficult trip. This was late in October and the hard winter coming on.
I felt a bit strange walking this path and something magical awaited us at the Rock. Having read a little about the history of these newcomers from Iceland I begin to understand how hard this must have been. They left Iceland partly because population increases around the year 1900 but also due to harsh winters and poverty. Of course it had to be tempting to travel to this land of abundance. Promises of enough work and large areas for farming. But the Icelanders didn't know how to handle the necessary tasks. They had to learn to grow corn, chop down trees for clearing land and build log houses. In Iceland they where used to build houses using mostly earth and rocks.
The group by the Rock. Rhymes where sung and speeches made in memory of the time when the newcomers first laid eyes on the promised land.
October they came to shore. In November the whole of lake Winnipeg is frozen. Then fish has to be caught through the ice. This was something completely new.
Local Indians proved the newcomers especially helpful. Icelanders learned from them to live in this new and unfamiliar country. Winters are hard in Canada. Frost sometimes as low as -40 degrees Celsius. A single oven was used in each house and they lived in close quarters at first. Two or three families in each log house.
At the walls of Gimli harbor we can see paintings that tell the story of the newcomers.
At first they set up tents. Soon they built simple huts for the winter. During the first night the first west-Icelander was born, Jón Jóhannsson. The boy lived through the hard years that followed. A large number of his descendants are living now.
Later people from Ukraine as well as Poland mixed blood with the Icelanders. They where quite handy and could bake bread in special outdoor ovens.
Day of the Icelanders is celebrated each year. A woman in Icelandic national costume reads poems and everything is made as Icelandic as possible. These paintings are surrounding the outdoors stage and made by Don Martin.
Don Martin and his wife Benna.
We visited the grave of Pálmi Lárusson. He was my grandfathers brother and went west with his family. From him a number of descendants are still in the area and enjoyable to keep in touch with.
Phillis, María the Indian, María, María Rún, Sigurbjörg, Dagný, Jón, Ómar, Álfheiður and Andri.
We felt like we had known these people for a long time. Such a strange bond between us. This woman is an Indian named Maria. Not only do I feel I have known her, but also me and my daughter María Rún look a lot like her.
"Family tree" Dagný, María, Ómar and Andri.
I felt a strange vibration entering the house of Pálmi my grandfathers brother. He built this house and today Lorraine lives there. She is our cousin.
Bobby, Sibba, Darryl and Lorraine mother of the brothers.
Jón and John or Skip, like he is usually called, is also the son of Lorraine. We thought he looked incredibly much like Bólu-Hjálmar our ancestor.
We met this rugged fisherman of lake Winnipeg. Just like our ancestors used to in the older days. Autumns are chilly, then fishing is wet and cold. During winter fishing is done through holes in the ice. The fish they catch in the lake is completely unlike we have here. We tasted golden ey. It is smoked and eaten cold.
All these new customs had to be learned by the newcomers. Often it was difficult but they where too proud to return back home. The smallpox epidemic raged and killed many. Later insects ruined the harvest. Hunger and poverty took over, some only had their pride left. Being here and returning home with the tail between their legs like a beaten dog was not in their spirit.
Skip and his mother Lorraine invited us for trip to Hecla island. There are a lot of interesting things to see there. Mom Maria went everywhere with us. If the path was long and tiring she would travel along in a wheelchair.
We where extremely fond of the "ghost houses" that are allowed to stand until they crumble to the ground.
Skip checking if there is a beer in the marshland. He tried to call a Moose for us. They are very cautious and hear especially well. We could hear a little of their answering calls but couldn't see any.
Grétar Axelsson ran into this beer and sent us this picture.
Deer often come unbelievably close to the road. We where lucky enough to see these beautiful animals just by the main road.
Ran into a few bad smelling skunks on the road. Smell so strong that it can be felt while driving past a skunk with all windows shut, even without stopping. This time we got tempted to stop and Jón couldn't resist picking it up.
We sang rhyme songs in Betel, a retirement home in Gimli. There dwelled Pálmi Lárusson, my grandfathers brother, his last years of life.
María´s Legacy at the gala dinner.
The brothers Ómar Smári and Andri Geir sons of Jón singing about the raven (krummi).
This picture was taken at the gala-dinner where rhymes where sung for all the guests.
Visiting Einar and his wife Rosalind. Einar is a genius in carving out birds. My mother cut out Icelandic hazel-grouse from a sheet of typing paper. Einar watched in awe. Here are two artists that can truly admire each other.
Pheasants are a nice example for Einar's beautiful craftsmanship.
Gétar took us to this charming farm. Everything is so clean and tasteful.
My sister Sibba got to name this delightful calf. Of course it got named Sibba.
Tammy Axelsson Icelandic consul in Canada was the main driving force for this journey. To her and her husband Grétar Axelsson we wholeheartedly bring thanks for their contribution and helpfulness in everyway throughout our stay. Hopefully we can in some way repay the friendship and hospitality of all we met and got to know in the trip.
Finally we had to say goodbye, it is always difficult after such a magnificent tour. I mean we are so wealthy to have all these good people.
Mom gave Tammy And Grétar a painting for all the help. Thanks to everyone from me and mine. This was in a word a great big adventure.