Sunshine and a surprise visit from Princess Katejana and Prince Wilhelm marked another entertaining Hecla Island Parade on July 31.
In the spirit of a homecoming weekend, islanders, friends and visitors enjoyed the creativity and humour expressed in the various floats and other participating entries.
In remembrance of their pabbi, afi and lang afi, the Grimsi Grimolfson family constructed a replica of the former Hecla Island Ferry. Captain Grimsi was recently honoured with the Hecla Causeway being named after him.
There were superheroes, Hecla Missile Riders, Ho(l)mes on Hecla, takes on the show, Jersey Shore and many others. The parade was followed with a BBQ in the village.
Children’s activities, a craft sale in the hall, and an exhibition of Ben Kjartanson’s paintings and Greg Palsson’s bird woodcarvings offered something for everyone. A “Hecla’s Got Talent” contest drew several entertainers out from the crowd.
Hecla Island in the summer is always a good idea – but on Parade Day, everyone says, you get an added bonus.
W.D. Valgardson victim of random vandalism
Joan Eyolfson Cadham
But was it random, W.D. Valgardson wondered after his car was trashed in Gimli during Íslendingadagurinn. The author and former editor of Lögberg-Heimskringla is left wondering. “Was it personal. Like it was my car so it got trashed? Or, was it because it had a B.C. license plate and envy played a part, or hostility to outsiders. Or it was totally random. I expect it was random, although the fury vented upon the license plates was exceptional,” he said.
To save looking for a parking spot on Monday, Valgardson left his new Ford Escape parked on 5th Ave., across from the the park. Sometime Sunday night some people ripped off the windshield wiper arms, tried to rip off the gas tank cover, attacked the license plate holders, breaking them into pieces, tried to destroy the license plates, pounded the driver’s side of the car with a wooden beam, and let the air out of the rear driver’s side tire.
Valgardson has not met the vandals, but the police have. “When I went to the get the car, I saw the damage,” said Valgardson. “But, I also saw a business card from an RCMP officer. It said, ‘We caught them.’”
He has the windshield wiper arms replaced and will get the body work done back home in Victoria, B.C. “The Ford dealership in Gimli was great. They were very busy but managed to squeeze my repair work in between a couple of jobs. Great service,” he said.
Valgardson has been told that the vandals will have to pay the deductible, pay a fine, and reimburse the insurance company. Until they do that, they can’t have Manitoba driver’s licenses.
“I hope that’s true,” he said. “Personally, I’m all for a public flogging.”
Fjallkona visits with Betel staff and residents
Not many are aware that, immediately following the parade, the Fjallkona returns to Betel through the rear entrance for the official photographs with all the visiting dignitaries while the residents of Betel are escorted to the dining area of the main floor to await her arrival. It is not clear whether this is more anticipated by the Betel staff or the residents.
Fjallkona Vi and her attendants circulated among the residents trying to make sure that they spoke to everyone of them as do the dignitaries attending the festivities. Vi stopped to speak with Ray Valgardson, mother of Bill Valgardson, our previous editor, among the many assembled. When the staff identified those residents who spoke Icelandic, Vi made certain that she addressed them in Icelandic as well, to their mutual delight.
Many of the residents during the visit were able to give their visitors brief vignettes of their past including Dorothy Bailey who had served two years as Wren during WW II. A former French teacher from Winnipeg Beach, presently unable to speak but with the warmest brightest eyes, was delightful as was another lady who had been employed at the University of Manitoba. Interesting to note that several residents were former staff members of Betel. Vi, her attendants and the visiting dignitaries all enjoyed meeting and speaking with the many interesting individuals who are part of the fabric of our past and whose contributions make up the threads of our future.
August the Deuce
I hadn’t been to Mountain since I was 16. The Lutheran minister had bundled a group of us into his car and driven us to Mountain for a conference. I have no recollection of it. Just a vague memory of stopping at the border.
I didn’t remember the broad fields covered in crops, fields with rich soil. I didn’t remember the long stretches of empty road, the farms so distant from each other. However, as I drove this time, I thought this is where the pioneers came when they left New Iceland. To these vast expanses of good farmland.
I passed through Cavalier, then found Mountain. I arrived early, the trip went more quickly than I’d expected. I drove slowly through the town. Mountain is small, small enough that everyone, including children wave to a stranger. Everywhere in town, there were people working, preparing, getting everything ready for the following day.
I asked the young woman in the community center cafe for a double cheeseburger, hold the bun. Okay, she said. In place of the bun, I got a mound of potato chips to go with the best hamburger I’ve eaten in many years. My companions were farmers in blue jeans, ball caps, with faces darkened by sun and rain.
I found the Melsted’s B&B. It’s a mile or so out of town. “You can’t miss it,” I’d been told. It was true. It is two stories, made of stone, built by an Icelandic couple in 1910. It has a large front porch with a swing at one end, at the other a table and four chairs. The side yard is surrounded by hedge and the walkway to the front door was lined with blooming day lilies. In the yard is a statue of a young couple with their arms around each other.
The interior has been kept in its original condition and is filled with antique furniture, dolls, even a Christmas tree
What impressed me is that just after I got into my room, Lonnette Kelley, brought me a glass of water and ice. “I thought you might like this,” she said. Mountain hospitality.
In the early evening, I wandered about the graveyard beside the Vikur church. The printing on the headstones has faded but enough is there to understand the family tragedies of the early settlement. Children dead at an early age.
The church itself is the oldest Icelandic church in America. It was built in 1884. It’s a beautiful church and, later, when I gave a reading from my new book of stories, What The Bear Said, I was charmed and pleased to be reading in this historic building.
The next day, we gathered for the parade. Garry Oddleifson was there and Gail Einarson-McCleery and Judy Wilson, and our American cousins from Minnesota. We sat on benches on a tourist tram and returned the enthusiastic waves from the crowd lining the streets. The parade was surprisingly large. Obviously, August the Deuce isn’t just a Mountain celebration. People come from all over to help them celebrate.
The day was filled with fellowship. There were the Icelandic Mountaineers, the Icelandic Minnesotans, the Icelandic Manitobans, plus others who had come to celebrate, all mixed with Icelanders from Iceland.
I couldn’t stay for the fellowship dinner, or go on the heritage tour, or kick up my heels at the old time dance. I wanted to see KN’s grave, to visit the Icelandic park, to spend more time meeting people. Maybe next year.
Something that stays with me. In this small town are many stately houses. I admired them, was amazed by them. It’s obvious that Mountain prospered. Only prosperity could build Melsted House and these other large, fine homes that were built shortly after 1900. Thinking of the people who left Iceland in poverty, who struggled in New Iceland, who went to the Dakotas with few resources, I thought, good for you. There has to be a story there. Maybe we’ll be able to uncover how these homes were possible at such an early time and share it with our readers.
It was hot. Really hot. Maybe not hotter than hell but close.
The folk dancers from Iceland tore up the turf in front of the stage. Their feet flew but I kept watching their faces, waiting for them to turn beet red, then pale white before they collapsed. They were wearing woollen outfits. The sun beat down. Every seat under the white tents was taken. Heat or no heat, the hard core Íslendingadagurinners weren’t going to miss the action.
Inside the pavilion it was hot, hotter than outside. Everyone working inside learned what it must be like to be a rotisserie chicken turning on a spit. The sound of water bottles being emptied rippled through the air. Sweat stains marked the underarms of every shirt and blouse.
The crowd inside the hall was smaller than usual. Thank goodness. More people and the steam from all the bodies would have risen like a cloud into the air as everyone inside sizzled. You could have fried an egg on my bald head.
There were vínarterta for sale. I bought a half. By the end of the day it was limp but it still tasted good. There were photographs of historical places and people for sale for five dollars. Cousin Dilla was in her Icelandic costume at a table displaying artifacts and selling mysuostur. The first time I encountered mysuostur was at Judge Walter Lindal’s. I was a teenager. I was hungry. I piled it on brown bread. I took a bite. My face froze. My hand froze. I sat there unmoving, with everyone smiling and watching my reaction. I thought the mysuostur was peanut butter. Until I bit into it.
Penny Ross was selling her novel, Cave of Journeys. It’s her first novel. Íslendingadagurinn is great for the fact that it provides an audience for our community’s beginning authors. I started out selling my first book at Íslendingadagurin in 1975. I’m still at it 37 years later. The Icelandic literary tradition is a major part of our heritage and the support shown at the Festival is a practical example of keeping the tradition alive.
Lorna Tergesen was selling books by people of Icelandic descent plus books by Icelanders. Jónas Thor joined us for awhile. However, he had to stop autographing copies of his new book on the Jon Sigurdsson statue and rush away because he has at least thirteen irons in every fire and has more than one fire burning at a time. There is a rumour that fifty percent of the Icelandic population was simultaneously on a Jónas Thor tour this summer. If Jonas had been in charge of the immigration from Iceland, the whole movement would have gone like clockwork.
Vi Hilton looked regal in the Fjallkona costume. She was born to the position.
Sure would be good if whoever is responsible for the pavilion would put in a new electrical box and wire the place for ceiling fans. It would be easy. The walls are open studs. The town benefits hugely from having the Icelandic Festival. Maybe the town and the Icelandic Festival committee could get together and pay for an upgrade. Otherwise, another summer like this one and they’ll be serving parbroiled volunteers on brown bread instead of rúllupylsa.