It all began with an off handed remark about how much fun it would be for a group of us women to go to Iceland to see the volcano. That resulted in eight of us “Heclingers” (those with roots to Hecla Island) going to Iceland for a two week trip to see Eyjafjallajökull.
Binnie Sigurgeirsson said, “Iceland will never be the same!” and we hadn’t even left Winnipeg!
Iceland Express was offering direct flights from Winnipeg to Iceland in June and with 24 hours of daylight to help us have more time to play, we were off!
Hafnarfjörður welcomed us with their Viking Re-enactment and Feast. We encountered Viking warriors, ate lamb cooked on a spit, tried Viking beer, and bought lots of hardfish! A trip to the Golden Circle was extraordinary as we saw where the Alþing took place and were awed at the wonders of nature like geysers erupting into the air, water boiling out of the ground, and magnificent Gullfoss. We ended the day at Eyjafjallajökull but she had fallen asleep so we ventured as close as possible and took many baggies of sand and ash as souvenirs for those at home.
Edda Arsælsdóttir and Hrafnhildur (Habba) Einarsdóttir were our tour guides and kept us entertained with their stories, knowledge, and picnics in the lava fields as they chauffeured us all over the Island.
We participated in Akureyri’s Independence Parade, toured north to Húsavík for whale watching, had a picnic in the earthquake area at Ásbyrgi, and a salmon and arctic char fish farm tour at Fjöll. A day in Snæfellsnes finding family farms was delightful.
A swim at Mývatnssveit was refreshing; however, we did inhale lots of sulphur from the hot springs. Then a tour of Námaskarð with its boiling mud pots, and a visit to Dimmuborgir, an awesome lava field. Our minds were overtaken with images of trolls, dogs, old women with capes, wolves, and even shapes that resembled some family members. After hails of laughter, we finally came to the conclusion that we were experiencing “sulfur induced hallucinations!”
We were armed with our individual genealogies as the purpose of the trip was not only to see the tourist sights but to find and visit farms from which our ancestors had come from before emigrating to Mikley (Hecla). Each one of us found family farms from Fjöll in the north, Grund in the interior, to Rauðamel in Snæfellsnes.
We also spent time meeting and visiting with relatives. If we thought we had no relatives left in Iceland, Habba, our guide, researched until she found some for us to visit. It was quite an emotional time for many of us who felt like we had come home.
There were so many cherished moments that we would like to share: Lunch with Elin Hurst, former anchor woman for Iceland television, who gave us a copy of the documentary she had made from her trip to Hecla; Gae Lynn refusing to eat pylsa (hot dog) as she couldn’t bring herself to eat baby lambs;
Our rooms smelling like a teen’s locker room because of bags of hardfish; Thai fish, fish soup, hardfish, lobster salad, Viking beer, chocolate covered licorice, and good strong coffee; Almar Grímsson referring to us as Mikleyarmeyjar (young maidens from Mikley) and, finally, the privilege of meeting with Vigdís Finnbogasdóttir in her home for kaffi sopi and chocolates. She will always be remembered for her famous remark, “Please have some more chocolates. There are not enough kilos in this room!” How to endear yourself to a group of women!
Then the finale to the tale of eight Icelandic women as we are about to land in Winnipeg. Iceland Express is hit by lightning. The experience was best described by Doris Benson who said, “I heard the airplane didn’t leave for Iceland until yesterday so it could be repaired after the lightning strike – hmmm – don’t know about the rest of you but I glow in the dark!! and Gae Lynn Labossiere: “Doris, I don’t glow but everything around me turns on when I am near it ... my hydro bill is going to be high this month ... That sure was a fun trip ... now it is back to the real world. My Tim Horton’s double double just isn’t the same anymore ... I need a cup of good Icelandic coffee to get me going.” Bless, bless!
That pretty well sums it up. Wouldn’t it be fun for a group of women to go to Australia
For over 30 years the Icelandic Language and Culture Camp has been responsible for inspiring and encouraging children of Icelandic descent to learn more about their culture.
Before this year’s Icelandic Camp began many changes had taken place. First of all, a new name and logo was introduced. We are now known as Icelandic Camp Íslenskar Sumarbúðir.
You can view our new logo online at www.icelandiccamp2010.com. You can also see our new line of clothing that includes t-shirts, golf shirts and hats.
We also created an executive committee consisting of parents, counsellors and management staff. This committee has been integral in helping promote and run this year’s camp. I want to thank everyone on this committee for all their hard work. We also have many sponsors to thank. Anyone who would like to see who our sponsors are can read the complete list online.
On July 25, 2010, 28 children of Icelandic ancestry descended upon Íslenskar Sumarbúðir to learn about Iceland and their heritage. They were met by four counsellors: Kenley Kristofferson, Britany Maguet, Guðmundur Hafliðason and Samantha Thorvaldson.
When the campers were all settled and assembled for their first meal they were introduced to their Activities Director Christine Schimnowski and the Camp Director Brad Hirst. As the children made their way through the lunch line they met Laura and Maria Bear, the camp cooks for the first half of the camp.
The campers were placed into four different groups: Oðin, Þor, Freya and Baldur. Throughout the week these groups learned how to carry on a conversation in Icelandic, they read sagas about the Norse Gods, sang Icelandic songs, cooked pönnukökur, and learned about some of Iceland’s most famous people.
The campers visited Gimli three times during the week. Once for ice cream and the other two for educational purposes. On these treks they were able to visit the New Iceland Heritage Museum, the famous Viking Statue, the Gimli municipal hall, see Snorri and Snæbjorn and watch a mock Viking battle. Not only were the campers busy with these activities but they were also able to enjoy the traditional camp activities such as swimming and having bonfires.
The most unusual aspect of the little cemetery tucked away off a grid road in the Vatnabyggð area of Saskatchewan is not immediately obvious.
However, in the Icelandic Holar Cemetery, where, in 1945, the committee members fought bitterly against the idea of holding sessions in English rather than Icelandic, there is only one Icelandic headstone inscription.Jon J. Stefansson (July 24, 1865 – March 24, 1934) is remembered completely in the Icelandic language.
His simple inscription, translated, reads “In memory of.” By contrast, when the headstone was designed for Johann Borgford, who was buried at Holar in 1910, these words were carved in English:
“No pain or grief/no anxious fear/can reach the peaceful/sleeper here.” The old cemetery is still active, the final resting place of at least three generations of local Icelandic families.
It is tended by volunteers who gather at least once a year – more, in this year of the unceasing rain – to mow the grass, clip the edges, sweep the graves, and re-arrange bouquets of artificial flowers. This year, in honour of the 100th anniversary, 17 members, another three generations, gathered beside the tombstones after the work was done to share coffee, anniversary cake and ice cream.Information about the cemetery is easy to find.
The record-keeping, from the beginning, was meticulous. Names, date of death, cause of death, are all recorded. The original minutes, in Icelandic until 1946, have been translated by Bina Stefanson Fraser.
Although Holar is known as an Icelandic cemetery, there are a few non-Icelanders buried there – at least three babies, and “an Irish settler, name unknown,” buried in early April, 1910. The family of one of the babies, little Mary Helen Marincl, served on the cemetery committee, something no woman was allowed to do until Helen Helgason cracked the gender barrier in 1989.
That was also the year the committee made a decision that could be a model for all out-of-the-way rural cemeteries. They created a grave’s map. The idea had long been discussed. In 1933, John Hallson suggested that the secretary make a map of the cemetery and mark on it the names of the people buried there. Six years later, Helgi Eyolfson said that graves should be better marked so visitors could find the plots. In 1965, there was discussion about determining who was buried in the unmarked graves. Finally, in 1989, Harold Torfason asked for a register at the gate, and it was built.
It’s a plywood frame set on posts. Copies of historical documents and a hand-printed list of the graves with matching key, on paper, are protected by plexiglass. Any plot can be found almost instantly, a gift to visitors when there might be nobody within miles to ask. The first plexiglass yellowed and had to be replaced. The lettering, which was done by hand by Helen Helgason, also had to be redone. “We didn’t think to use light-resistant ink
Ed. note: We are pleased to publish the first three pages of David Arnason’s new novel, Baldur’s Song.
I’ve heard him read this selection twice now, once at the Aspire Theatre where the audience was made up of many of his family. The room rocked with laughter as people recognized themselves. David is a talented reader so his reading adds much to the story, but the words on the page will, I hope, bring you the same delight I’ve had when I’ve heard them read.
David has had, is still having, a stellar career. He’s been a writer, editor, publisher, academic, mentor, administrator and that probably leaves out some things. His publications are many. He is part of the group who have made Gimli, Manitoba a recognized location on the literary landscape of Canada.
She shouldn’t have done it. She shouldn’t have lain with him there in the sweet meadow, the sun low in the sky, the music still ringing in her ears. So what if he had played on the violin while everyone danced, so what if he sang like angel? She was only seventeen and he was the father of five children, so what if her blood had flooded her body like a disease, she should have said no, I can find my own way home, thank you. She should have said I am sorry, sir, what you ask is impossible. The nineteenth century had tipped on its fulcrum and they were sliding towards a new century, but there was still plenty of time. She could have said no.
But she didn’t. It’s a curse on the whole family. We can’t say no. When somebody invites us to pleasure, we forget what we were doing, we forget all our plans, and we’re thrashing in the bedclothes or crushing the flowers in the sweet meadows. There was plenty of warning. The gulls were crying out danger, the terns were calling beware, beware. The heat of the blood is no excuse, but we make it our excuse again and again.
And that’s what Thorunn did in the Icelandic dawn when the century was gathering itself for disaster. She forgot she could recite whole sections of the Bible, that her father was the priest at Tjorn, that her mother had warned against such a moment. So this is love, she thought, and she slipped out of her dress as if it had no buttons, as if it had been designed to be thrown carelessly on the grass. Even the starlings were upset. They flew out over the fjord so that they would not have to watch, they flew right past the swans nesting near the mouth of the river, they flew north in the direction of the Arctic Circle, which hovered just on the edge of the horizon.
Ah, but when it was over she was sorry, you want to say, she had learned her lesson, but it was nothing of the sort. It’s a curse on the whole family, this inability to feel proper guilt, to learn from our mistakes. We should be wearing sackcloth and ashes, some of us should learn how to pray properly, somebody should ask for forgiveness. But we don’t. At least Thorunn didn’t. She danced home as happily as if she had won first prize in the confirmation class.
And she did it again. The very next night. She slipped out of doors when she should have been sleeping and lay with Arngimur again, just beyond the church in plain view of her father’s bedroom, in plain view of her own grandmother’s grave. And the next day, when she should have stayed in her room and begged the Lord’s forgiveness, she told her sister everything, she told Petrina Soffia who was only fifteen how love happens, the mechanics of the things. She said it all aloud in the barn when they were feeding the new calf, when anyone might have been listening.
It’s a curse on the whole family. We can’t keep anything to ourselves. We have to blab it all out, to tell each other things that should never be spoken aloud. We have no secrets, none of us, and no shame. Don’t tell us anything, we will tell everyone else, we don’t even whisper. You may as well publish your secret in the newspaper as tell it to us.
And so by the end of the week everyone in the valley knew. Thorunn was so happy about being in love and so amazed with the simple dynamics of lovemaking she told everything to Petrina Soffia. And Petrina was so amazed at her sister’s discovery that she told Nanna and Inga, and even their little brother, Bjorn, who was only five years old. And Nanna told Disa and Inga told Margaret, and Bjorn who didn’t understand asked Thorunn, who kissed him and said not to worry, everything would be fine.
That’s another problem. We all believe that everything can be cured with kisses. There’s no use telling us kisses are part of the problem that kisses might be the whole problem. We kiss each other when we meet and we kiss each other when we part, and we sometimes kiss perfect strangers. I’ll tell you more about that later.
And of course everybody in the valley knew in no time. This is a valley that can’t keep secrets. Secrets slide down the slopes of the mountains. Elves whisper the secrets to the cattle. The wind from the fjord blows nobody any good.
So by the time that Arngrimur’s wife found out, Thorunn’s belly had begun to swell. The swans on the pond kept their dignity. They nodded their heads and looked at their reflections in the water. The glacier in the south end of the valley moved one more notch toward the fjord. Half the people in the valley packed their bags and moved to America. Arngimur bowed his head like a swan and stayed in his house.
Thorunn looked at her reflection in the water and she liked what she saw, the rounding of her belly. She was without shame. When Argrimur walked by on the road she waved to him, and she laughed a laugh that haunted him for nine years. He woke in the night in his bed, and the laugh rattled him so he couldn’t sleep, and he had to get up in the dark and breathe deeply one hundred times before he could sleep again. For nine whole years.
Did I tell you that we’re all plagued by ghosts? Every last one of us, even here in America. It’s like this. There were so many ghosts in the valley, there wasn’t room for them. And so many people left for America, there was nobody left for the ghosts, so they went to America too, though not until 1883.
In 1845, Ida Pfeiffer made a trip to Iceland by herself. There was outrage in some places at the idea of a woman travelling alone in such an isolated, difficult place. Since early childhood she had wanted to travel, and with her children grown, she decided to travel, to keep a diary and, if possible, to have her diary published.
She accomplished all her goals. Her books, written in German, were widely translated. She sugar coats nothing in her travels.
She talks about kindness and meanness, honesty and dishonesty, cleanliness and filth.
She describes the rigors of sea-sickness and long days in the saddle. Her book, now reprinted in a modern version, A Visit to Iceland and the Scandinavian North, can be ordered over the Internet. Although her portrait of Iceland and Icelanders thirty years before the emigration to North America began isn’t always flattering, everyone of Icelandic background should read it. It explains a great deal of why our ancestors left Iceland for the uncertainty of North America.
I was shocked by some of the things I read but, when I finished, I had a better understanding of why Jón Sigurðsson (June 17, 1811 – December 7, 1879) dedicated his life to the cause of Icelandic independence. Ida Pfeiffer visited Iceland in 1845. Jón was then 34. He knew intimately the conditions in which Icelanders were living. He knew that until Icelanders could create their own laws, keep and spend their own taxes, they would always live in poverty.
Ida lands at Havenfiord (sic). Here, she sees houses that belong to merchants. They are, she says, like houses in Europe. Everything comes from Copenhagen. There are mirrors, cast iron stoves, beautiful carpets, sofas, neat curtains, sofas, even musical instruments. It is then a shock when she describes how the Icelanders live.
“From these handsome houses I betook myself to the cottages of the peasants, which have a more indigenous, Icelandic appearance. Small and low, built of lava, with the interstices filled with earth, and the whole covered with large pieces of turf, they would present rather the appearance of natural mounds of earth than of human dwellings, were it not that the projecting wooden chimneys, the low-browed entrances, and the almost imperceptible windows, cause the spectator to conclude that they are inhabited.
A dark narrow passage about four feet high, leads on one side into the common room, and on the other to a few compartments, some of which are used as storehouses for provisions, and the rest as winter stables for the cows and sheep. At the end of this passage, which is purposely built so low, as an additional defence against the cold, the fireplace is generally situated.
The rooms of the poorer class have neither wooden walls nor floors, and are just large enough to admit of the inhabitants sleeping, and perhaps turning round in them. The whole interior accommodation is comprised in bedsteads with very little covering, a small table, and a few drawers. Beds and chests of drawers answer the purpose of benches and chairs. Above the beds are fixed rods, from which depend clothes, shoes, stockings, etc.
A small board, on which are arranged a few books, is generally to be observed. Stoves are considered unnecessary, for as the space is very confined, and the house densely populated, the atmosphere is naturally warm.“Rods are also placed around the fireplace, and on these the wet clothes and fishes are hung up in company to dry. The smoke completely fills the room and slowly finds its way through a few breathing-holes into the open air.
“Fire-wood there is none throughout the whole island. The rich inhabitants have it brought from Norway or Denmark; the poor burn turf, to which they frequently add bones and other offal of fish, which naturally engender a most disagreeable smoke.“On entering one of these cottages, the visitor is at a loss to determine which of the two is the more obnoxious – the suffocating smoke in the passage or the poisoned air of the dwelling room, rendered almost insufferable by the crowding together of so many persons.
”The contrast between the homes of the Danish merchants and the Icelanders could not be starker. “The whole commerce of Iceland thus lies in the hands of Danish merchants who send their ships to the island every year, and have established factories in the different ports where the retail trade is carried on.
“These ships bring every thing to Iceland, corn, wood, wines, manufactured goods, and colonial produce, etc. The imports are free, for it would not pay the government to establish offices, and give servants salaries to collect duties upon the small amount of produce required for the island. Wine, and in fact all colonial produce, are therefore much cheaper than in other countries.
“The exports consist of fish, particularly salted cod, fish-roe, tallow, train-oil, eider-down, and feathers of other birds, almost equal to eider-down in softness, sheep’s wool, and pickled or salted lamb. With the exception of the articles just enumerated, the Icelanders possess nothing; thirteen years ago, when Herr Knudson established a bakehouse, he was compelled to bring from Copenhagen, not only the builder, but even the material for building, stones, lime, etc; for although the island abounds with masses of stone, there are none which can be used for building an oven, or which can be burnt into lime: everything is of lava.”
We celebrate Jón Sigurðsson every June 17. But the next time you are in Iceland, no matter what time of year, make his statue a top destination. Pay your respects. The prosperity you see around you is, in large part, due to his success in bringing independence to Iceland.