From a booklet by Gisli P. Norman
Editor’s note: In the next several issues, we will reprint episodes from a 37 page booklet called Trapping Trip to Indian Lake, 1920: A Series in Four Parts.
It is the story of four young Icelandic men from Winnipegosis, Manitoba, who set off in the winter of 1920 into the northern Manitoba wilderness, intent on a rich haul of furs.
One of these young men Gisli Norman, kept a diary. He wrote this obscure booklet based upon the notes in the diary some 63 years later, when he was 88 years of age and living in Denare Beach, Saskatchewan (near Flin Flon, MB). He printed the booklet in very limited numbers and only a handful of copies remain in a couple of Canadian libraries and among relatives. By printing the text in this newspaper in the form of episodes over the next few months, we hope to bring the story to a wider audience.
When he went trapping, Gisli was only 22 years of age and was newly returned from the trenches of France in the First World War. His three Icelandic-Canadian companions were also young men in their early twenties.
Gisli and his companions overcome all manner of dangers, including stampeding caribou, a burning cabin, breaking through thin ice, narrowly escaping spills over waterfalls, dodging attacks from trapped animals. They also encounter new and (to them) unfamiliar people such as the Aboriginal boatmen and Swedish trappers.
Gisli’s booklet fits comfortably into the Canadian literary tradition of northern exploration and northern adventure writing. One of the most acclaimed northern adventure books in Canada was written by the late A. L. Karras of Nipawin, SK, who tells the true story of the eight years he and his brother spent trapping up north, in North to Cree Lake. The northern adventure memoirs most closely related to Gisli’s story were written by two other Manitoba Icelanders: one is Sigfusson’s Roads, by Svein Sigfusson, a legendary builder of northern winter (ice) roads; the other is Helgi Einarsson, from the Lake Manitoba area, whose autobiography, Helgi Einarsson: A Manitoba Fisherman, is a moving family memoir and an insider’s account of the early commercial fishing industry.
These are the four main characters in this northern adventure.
Gisli P. Norman
Gisli P. Norman was born on June 19, 1895 in Iceland to Pétur Jónsson (Norman) and his wife Ingunn. He was four years old when his father and mother and older sister (María aged six) emigrated to Canada in 1900. First they moved to Thingvalla area of Saskatchewan (just north of Churchbridge), then to Foam Lake in 1910. In 1915 the family moved to Red Deer Point on Lake Winnipegosis.
Gisli served in World War I with the 27th Battalion, 6th Brigade, 2 Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force. He took part in battles at Amiens and Cambrai and was wounded. When he returned to Canada, Gisli farmed on what had been his father’s land at Red Deer Point, near Winnipegosis. In 1928, he married Lilja S. Einarson. After their marriage, Gisli and Lilja moved to Vance Island in Beaver Lake Saskatchewan, then to the east shore of the lake (now known as Denare Beach). There they built their log home where they lived for many years, raising six children. In 1994 they moved to Creighton, SK. Gisli died on January 21, 1995 at the age of 99.
Hjalmar Leo Hjalmarson was born in Grafton, ND about 1894, son of Finnbogi Hjálmarson and Ólöf Ólafsdóttir, who emigrated from Iceland in 1887 – first to Winnipeg and then to Grafton, ND. In 1899 the family moved to Winnipegosis. As a young man, he worked at commercial fishing and trapping. During the 1930s, he moved to Flin Flon, MB, where he operated a fishing business and later, a construction firm. He died in 1972.
Oscar Gunnar Fredrickson
Oscar Fredrickson was born in Ontario 1898 to Gunnar Friðriksson and his wife, Guðrún Helga Jörundsdóttir. The family moved to the Winnipegosis area in 1899, living at nearby Red Deer Point for a number of years. Oscar joined the navy in 1918, the same year he married Petronella (Nellie) Crawford, daughter of Björn Crawford and Sigríður Pétursdóttir. His main occupations were commercial fishing and trapping. Oscar and Nellie were parents of two children and grandparents of four. Oscar died in 1971.
Sigurður [Siggi] Oliver
Siggi was born in Iceland February 5 1897, son of Þorsteinn Þorsteinsson Oliver from Eyrarlaekur in Árnessýsla and his wife Vilborg Jónsdóttir from Laugarnes in Kjósarsýsla. The family emigrated to Canada in 1910, moving to the Winnipegosis area at Red Deer Point in 1915. Siggi worked with his parents in fishing and farming until 1918 when he enlisted in the Canadian army. He went to England and was still in training as the war ended. He returned to Winnipegosis in 1919. He spent most of his working life working for the Department of Fisheries. Siggi also served as Mayor of Winnipegosis and Magistrate there. In 1917, he had married Guðrún (Þorsteinsdóttir) Johnson who was also born in Iceland. Siggi and Guðrún had 4 sons and two daughters. He died in 1971.
(If you have any early pictures of these four young men, please send them to us so we can include them in this series.)
Next installment: Episode One
Gisli and his three friends from Winnipegosis ride the Muskeg Express far into northern Manitoba and begin the canoe trip that will take them to their trapping grounds.