Editor’s note: From July 3-17, 2011, 36 friends joined Rosalind and Einar Vigfusson to travel by bus around Iceland’s coastal regions.
One of the friends was Doris Benson and she and Rosalind joined forces to tell their story.
Doris Benson: As all visitors to Iceland, we enjoyed the rugged beauty of the lava fields, the snow-capped mountains and numerous waterfalls. But the lasting memory will be meeting relatives and connecting with ancestral homesteads.
Rosalind: Einar and I have been to Iceland many times. This was to be my 12th trip and Einar’s 10th. Over the years our friends have heard us talk...and talk... and talk some more about Iceland and decided they would like to see it for themselves. I had thought a group of six people would be good – and then it grew to include other friends – and sisters and brothers and cousins of those friends – and friends of those friends until we numbered 38 people in all. We had met everyone but six of the travellers before we embarked on the trip. We had several people on a waiting list as well. I began to work on the trip last November 2010, when I booked the group fare with Iceland Express. I served as unofficial guide – deciding where to stay, where to go. Our bus driver for the second half of our tour was Kent Björnson and he was most helpful as well.
Doris: Rosalind and Einar prepared family histories for the 24 passengers with Icelandic roots and located connecting farms for all. As we followed the circle road around Iceland it was exciting to stop at the homesteads and feel drawn to the land where great-grandparents and other ancestors had left to embark on the voyage that brought them to North America. Photos were taken with farm signposts, others standing beside gravestones in family plots and in some cases, with family members who still farmed the land. Emotions ran high as we celebrated our roots and shared in those of our fellow travellers.
Rosalind: I began working on the family tree information last January. The family trees included going back to ancestors that came from Iceland and the farms they came from. It is a very time consuming process, but very rewarding when you can witness for yourself, the joy and connectiveness that people feel when standing on the same ground as their forebears. The research time involved depends on the availability of historical and genealogical information. The local history books were all a wealth of information. I make special mention of Nelson Gerrard’s Icelandic River Saga. His meticulous family history research work is a treasure. I also made each person a copy of an Iceland map and included where in Iceland these farms were located.
Doris: We did it all: from Lummukaffi in a refitted sheep barn to a performance in Harpa, the elegant new concert house in Reykjavík; from searching for the elusive reindeer near Mount Snæfell, to standing in awe watching thousands of puffins in their nesting grounds at Borgarfjörður Eystri; from the varying lava fields between Mývatn and Egilstaðir to Petra’s amazing stone collection at Stoðvarfjörður; from the horse farm at Flugumýri to the turf houses at Glaumbær; from Valgeir’s royal welcome in Hofsós to a spellbinding tour of the Skógar Museum by 90-year-old Thordur Tomasson; from guided tours at Reykhólt and Hólar to the mega Karahnjúkar Hydro project; from
ATVing across a mountaintop on a 45-person bus to a walk in downtown Reykjavík; from admiring the ever-present lupins to the manicured botanical garden in Akureyri; from pylsas to skyr to fish soups and many other fish recipes that fishers in Manitoba have never heard about.
Rosalind: We wanted to show these people the Iceland that we have come to know. The countryside with its amazing scenery and the wonderfully warm and hospitable people that we know and love. For example one of my cousins treated everyone to a free lunch in Akureyri and offered their home as a resting place should anyone need to avail themselves of that. That same evening another one of my cousins invited everyone in the group to a barbecued roast of lamb with all the trimmings – including Brennivín and Hákarl followed by a singalong evening. Incredible sincere friendship and hospitality. Our group stayed in Hofsós for two nights and were greeted at the entrance to the town by an Icelandic horse escort, one rider carrying the Icelandic flag and the other, the Canadian flag. Valgeir Thorvaldsson boarded the bus and welcomed everyone to Hofsós and to the Emigration Museum. We had a glass of wine and appetizers on arrival, followed by a wonderful dinner and a concert. The Arnason family tour arrived just prior to us and there were over 100 North Americans at Hofsós that night, most were of Icelandic descent. Pretty amazing.
Doris: After leaving Akureyri and arriving in Egilstaðir, we heard that the volcano, Katla, was rumbling and threatening to erupt. Located beneath a glacier, Katla’s activity caused a flash flood which had destroyed a bridge on the only accessible road along the southern coast. For two days we toured the Egilstaðir area and waited to hear whether we could make the crossing over the glacial river or if we would have to turn around and retrace our steps. When we received the go-ahead to continue on, we were especially happy for Gunnthora Gisladóttir who was anxious to visit Djúpivogur and to see in the distance the island of Papey, her childhood home, and also to visit her elderly brother in Höfn. The river crossing went well considering the misty rain and the number of people and vehicles needing to be tendered across. Because our bus was too large to ferry across, we transferred all our luggage to another bus on the opposite side of the river. A bulldozer went back and forth clearing a path for the flatbed trucks and rescue-ferry (resembling a tundra buggy) that moved about a mile from riverbank to riverbank. It was amazing to see how organized and how tirelessly volunteers worked to sustain the flow of traffic.All in all, the trip was full of fun and adventures. We learned much about a land that is very different to ours. Most meaningful though, is the emotional pull we feel toward the homeland our people left behind–until you’ve felt the strong tug to your roots you can’t imagine how special it truly is.
Rosalind: Tips for anyone else considering a group trip to Iceland? Book your trip early. A group fare can be a group of 10 or more people. There is no tipping in Iceland, except for the bus drivers. Iceland is a “hot” travel destination and the numbers of tourists are increasing every year. Probably increasing faster than they can build accommodations. We stayed mostly in rural settings and so our lodgings were not four Star accommodations. They were clean and safe but there were not bathrooms in each room in most places. We only hope that all of us, as Canadians of Icelandic descent can reciprocate and receive all visitors from Iceland with the same selfless generosity.
This year’s Icelandic Open Golf Tournament held at Links on the Lake on Friday 29 July had everything that you could ask for in a great day.
There was sun, heat, a golf course in great shape, fantastic food, and most importantly, friends and family.
The Icelandic Open is a wonderful way to begin the penultimate celebration of Icelandic heritage. It has become the unofficial kick off for the Íslendingadagurinn, and it is returning to its former glory. In 2010 there were 108 golfers, and in 2011 there were 128. This could be continued to 144 for a full complement.
Spread the word; tell all your family and friends what a fun day it was. Encourage them to join you for the fun next year.The new “big top” format, using a large tent on the driving range, for the reception immediately following the Golf Tournament provided a tasty finger food buffet catered by chef Stefan of the Mask restaurant. This format allows the Friday evening free to spend with family and friends.
Fundraising events would not be nearly so successful if they were not supported by the generous folks who sponsor these events. The Board of Directors of Lögberg-Heimskringla in conjunction with the organizing committee of the Icelandic Open Golf Tournament want to recognize these sponsors who have time and time again been there with monetary support.
Many of those sponsors have stepped forward many times during the history of the Icelandic Open.Ken and Sheila Palson on behalf of Ken Palson Enterprises Ltd. have been significant contributors at several levels this year as in past years. Another major sponsor, Iceland Naturally, has added their support several times.
Indus Automation Inc. was the lunch sponsor this year. All sponsors at all levels are recognized on the website http://www.lh-inc.ca/ with all the details of their participation.The Icelandic Open is an important fund raising event for the Lögberg-Heimskringla, and all of our participants and sponsors are greatly appreciated. Without the support of the sponsors, the Golf Tournament could not happen. Thanks to all the major sponsors for their contributions. Hole sponsors are also very important to the Icelandic Open.
The majority of these sponsors have been contributors for many years and deserve recognition for their loyalty and support
.Lögberg-Heimskringla exists to keep Icelanders across North America connected with the each other including extended family and friends in Iceland. Lögberg-Heimskringla plays an important role in continuing the heritage and culture of Iceland in the New World.
Lögberg-Heimskringla needs your support to ensure that this will last for many generations to come. Another successful Icelandic Open golf tournament was held prior to the Icelandic Festival in Gimli again this year. The success of the event is due primarily to the Planning Committee co-chaired by Brad Sveinson and Bruce Eyford.
The Board of Directors wishes to recognize their joint efforts including the work of their committee members. The numerous volunteers who take on so many of the duties that make the day the fun day that it has become further enhance the actual event. Volunteers make the Icelandic Open happen. They man the registration table, hand out the T-box gifts, put up the signage, put up the tables for the buffet, run the special events at the Holes, pass out vínarterta and pönnukokur at the LH Hole, help the photographer by listing names, events etc, sell tickets for the raffles and draws and of course the Mulligans
Whatever task is at hand, a volunteer is there getting it done. All the things that make a function enjoyable are accomplished with the help of volunteers and we salute them. Thanks to every one of them.
Both Brad and Bruce have not only worked to organize the Icelandic Open but both of them have been major sponsors. Their efforts have increased participation and added more fun to the day. Brad’s Idavoll Bungalow Condominiums by Character Homes has made significant contributions as has Bruce through Investors Group.
Joanne Gullachsen was born and raised in Gimli Manitoba from Icelandic origins, as was typical of many farm families in central Manitoba.
The memories born from these beginnings make up the body of her artwork, recalling the times spent in the milk house, watching her grandmother churn butter or enjoying a picnic under her father’s hay rack. Each painting depicts a moment which is historically specific to Manitoba’s pioneer beginnings, but also speaks of a time when family was the cornerstone of the farming community.
At the country school where Joanne attended, she recalls a teacher who placed special emphasis on drawing and painting, which instilled in Joanne an early interest in art. Joanne’s father shared her love of art as well, and she would often watch him sculpt small animals he would then gift to his children.
Joanne began painting her recollections of farm life in the late 1970’s while she was living in British Columbia, but it wasn’t until 1984 that she began to paint in earnest while teaching in the Far North, the long cold winters affording her plenty of time to reflect and paint. During this time, one of her artworks entered into a Juried Art Show in Arborg, MB was chosen to represent Central Manitoba at the National Gallery in Ottawa.
Joanne insists that her paintings be as close to her memory as possible, right down to the colour palette. This results in paintings that are set in bright vivid colours, while others take on a more ethereal atmosphere, giving the viewer insight into the cognitive and emotional responses to memory, personal to the artist, yet sympathetic to our basic human process.
Joanne Gulachsen’s show will open at the Mayberry Fine Art Gallery in Winnipeg on September 24.
Reprinted with permission from the Mayberry Fine Art Gallery
W.D. Valgardson Editor’s note: This is part 3 of the 5 part series on Bayard Taylor’s trip to Iceland in 1874. The odd spellings are those of Bayard Taylor himself, and have been left in for the sake of authenticity.
“The Bishop, Committee, and other officials waited at the bottom of the garden, until summoned by a chamberlain in a red coat, when they too disappeared behind the Governor’s door. I now turned to inspect the crowd, and found to my surprise that the women were much more picturesque figures than the men.
Many of them wore square bodices of some dark color, a gown with many pleats about the waist, with bright blue or red aprons. Nearly all had a flat cap – or, rather, a circular piece of black cloth – on the top of the head, with a long black tassel on one side,hanging from a silver or gilded cylindrical ring, an inch or two in length.
These rings are precisely like those which the women of Cairo wear over the nose, to hold the veil in its place. Some of the girls had their hair braided, but many wore it loose; and I saw one maiden whose magnificent pale yellow mane suggested a descent from Brynhilde.
“The men showed only two colors – the brown of their wadmal coats and trowsers and the ruddy tan of their faces. Few of them are handsome, and their faces are grave and undemonstrative; but they inspire confidence by the simple strength expressed in the steady blue eye and the firm set of the lips.
There were plenty of tawny or piebald ponies with manes like lions, in the streets. I suppose many healths must have been drunk during the day, for the old Norse habit still flourishes here; but I saw only one man who was somewhat unsteady on his legs, while he managed to keep his face sober.
“In the afternoon, under the guidance of Herr Magnusson, we made a number of visits. Bishop Pjeturson first received us, and with a gentle, refined courtesy becoming his station. Conversation was carried on in French with himself, in English with his son, and in Danish with his wife.
A bottle of champagne was produced, and the kind hosts touched glasses with us, in welcome to Iceland. We explained our object in coming, told of the interest felt by our countrymen in this rare historical anniversary, and claimed kinship of blood on the score of the early relationship of Goth and Saxon, and our own later infusion of the Norman element.
There is no Icelander – no Scandinavian, indeed – but knows and is proud of the race from which he is descended.“Our next call was on Herr Thorberg, Governor of the Southern Syssel (District) of Iceland. Madame Thorberg spoke English with fluency and elegance, – in fact, we have discovered that the Rejkiavik ladies generally speak English and the gentlemen French.
Then we visited, in turn, the Professor of Theology, the Dean, and the Rector of the University. The latter gentleman had heard of the collection of volumes for Iceland made in America – mainly through the efforts of Prof. Willard Fiske of Cornell University, – but stated that, with the exception of a case of publications of the Smithsonian Institute, nothing of it had yet arrived.
The duplicate volumes, when they come, are to be sent to Akureyri, the northern capital.“It was stretching the hospitality of the gentlemen almost too far to visit them toward the close of a day so important and exciting for them; but nothing could exceed the genial warmth and kindliness of our reception.
I notice something of the same quiet dignity, which is a characteristic of the upper classes, also among the common people. It must be a chief feature of the Gothic blood, for it exists in the same form in Spain and some provinces of Sweden.
Such men will take your pay and serve you faithfully, but you must never forget to treat them as equals. The impression which the Icelanders have made upon me, thus far, is unexpectedly agreeable. I am convinced that I should find the ways of the people easy to adopt, and that, once adopting (or at least respecting) them, I should encounter none but friends all over the island.
“As for Rejkiavik, it is far from being the dark, dirty, malodorous town which certain English and German travellers describe. The streets are broad and clean, the houses exceedingly cosy and pleasant, the turf of the greenest, the circle of the fiord and mountains truly grand, and only the absence of any tree suggests its high latitude.” If you would like to read Bill Valgardson’s blog site, Google: saltspringicelander.
Overlooking the harbour, watching a white sailboat skimming the calm evening-dusky-blue waters, the fifth floor setting of Johnson Hall in the Betel Waterfront Centre was a perfect setting for the Pharmasave Music on the Rooftop.
In their first appearance together, the newly formed group Teegan opened the evening. The group included Teegan Walker from Gimli, Peter Frejek from Matlock and Sean Irvine, Marco Antonio Fiore, Peter Kowalchuk, and Alanna Fast, all imports from Brandon University.
This is a group that will do well on the jazz scene. Their set showcased their individual talents and versatility with various instruments. They were well received by a full house audience.
Richard Gillis introduced Björn Thoroddsen of Iceland and the other members joining them, Gilles Fournier, Scott Senior, and Will Bonness, before they performed their first number Dennis’ Inn followed by Ghent written by Björn and very Spanish in flavour and Anhelo written by Richard, again with a Spanish accent depicting in English – longing.
Changing the flavour, the next selection Visur based on Icelandic folk songs, was written by Björn who, it was declared, had done unspeakable things to the original melody”. Perhaps, but it reflected the remarkable talent of the writer.
Richard indicated that he has found that including local talent ensures a goodly number in the audience and he proved his theory with the inclusion of Teegan, Aurora Pieluck and Carly Welham.
Aurora [Rori] Pieluck first sang, I Want to Hold Your Hand followed by Oh Darling which she called her powerhouse song. A self-assured performer who is well known in the Gimli area, Aurora will continue to pursue her future in music.
Continuing the international flavour, the group presented Morgana’s Revengea medieval thematic then the Icelandic Krummi svaf í klettagjá (The Raven in a Gully Slept), Djolu, based on simple measures from Zaire with underlying rhythmic patterns, and Beagle Blues, written by Richard for his pet beagle.
Carly Welham delighted the audience with I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water and a plaintive, evocative Summertime. Her hometown audience expected and received a solid performance by this young talent.
The main group returned with Incantation and a then a sweet love song Querido in Portugese before all the performers gathered for the finale All the Things You Are.
The annual presentation of music on the rooftop annual presentation closed with a spectacular presentation of fireworks over the harbour.
Gimli Celebrity concert draws full house
The Celebrity Concert was held at the Gimli Composite High School on July 31 in front of a full house who awarded both local opener, Ari Jakobson and the headliner, Tom Jackson, with standing ovations.
Emcee Lovisa Davidsdottir introduced the opening performer, Ari Jakobson, originally from Arborg but now a resident of Gimli, as the son of Lynne Erickson and Otto Christensen. He is the son of the late Gestur Jakobson, grandson of Borga and the late Bjarki Jakobson and Steini and Louise Erickson.
Taking his first number, Adolpho, from the Broadway production of The Drowsy Chaperone, Ari presented himself as a Latin Lothario in a grey tuxedo with cream satin lapels, cream bow tie, cream trousers and white shoes. He delivered his interpretation in a strong baritone, vamping his way through the song with a 1920s flair to the particular delight of some young female fans in the audience.
He continued with a Dean Martin song Ain’t That a Kick in the Head and a medley of The Girl From Ipanema and Fly Me to the Moon, followed by Georgia on My Mind, ending with Michael Buble’s I Just Haven’t Met You Yet.
Ari’s very assured stage presence brings to mind the cliched term, up and coming rising star, but it suits this young performer perfectly. Rosalind Vigfusson confirmed that, as a member of the original Icelandic Youth Choir that she directed, he had been as much an absolute delight as he is now.
Tom Jackson walked on unannounced, clad in a classic white jacket with black embroidery on the left front and blue jeans. He opened with a corny joke warmup reminiscent of the early burlesque theatrical productions then switched to philosophic poetry/prose delivered in his deep bass voice, rumbling from a soft whisper to firm proclamation. Simply seated with his guitar on a centre-stage stool, Tom sang the classic Desperado followed by a song written for and about his brother Bernie, a pool player. At the time he was writing this song and others early in his career, he explained, he did not understand the term plagiarism so may have erred in that regard with this song, I’m a Beer-drinking, Song-writing Man and the following 4-line song, There Ain’t Nobody Gonna Take You Away From Me.
Water is Mother Nature’s life blood Tom said, as he described his policy of conservation and peace, which follows the teaching of First Nations Elders.
Following Ain’t No Use in My Crying, written by Paul Anka and made famous by Buddy Holly, Tom was joined by Kansa City Dave Cramer and Craig Bignell for a piece written by Hoyt Axton, Sweet Misery. Tom has sang that song in a performance with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The trio continued with Dance with the Devil Howling at the Moon and Ain’t Nothing Like Your Love Sets Me Free.
He served up his trademark style of recitation to a beat provided by Craig Bignell for Louisiana Dream and Hands of Stone, Heart of Glass, followed by a very understated I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying, his poetry/prose presentation that we can put an end to war.
Back to songs, he sang Day After Day and Morning Too and then Save the Last Dance for Me before closing with a statement on water accompanied by the soulful mourning sounds of Dave Cramer’s harmonica: “We all need blue water, we all need to lead the way, I am just a poor boy that my story is sadly told. Love is a rose but you better not pick it, it only grows when it’s on the vine, a handfull of thorns.”
His encore piece was the classic oldie, Tennessee Waltz, which delighted the audience, many of whom remembered it as a favorite at the old time dance in the Interlake community dance halls.
Drífandi and Vefarinn appear in Riverton
Riverton has become a designated stop for visitors from Iceland with the Jonas Thor Tour groups, and the Riverton Community Hall was the ideal venue for both the Karlakórinn Drífandi and Vefarinn who performed for an appreciative audience on August 3.
Harley Jonasson as emcee introduced special guests Almar Grímsson and his wife Anna Björk, Choir director Drífa Sigurðarsdóttir and 21 year-old pianist, Leif Kristján Gjerde.
The 26 members of the Karlakórinn Drífandi (The Male Choir Drífandi) led by Drífa opened with Fljótsdalherað and continued with Þótt þú langförull legðir, Úr útsæ rísa Íslandsfjöll, Ég vil elska mitt land, then the traditional Eld gamla Ísafold before continuing the program with Ísland, Þér landnemar, Hver á sér fegra föðurland. Their final song in this set was Ég bið að heilsa with soloist Úlfar Trausti Þórðarson. Sung in harmony with much strength, it was a very dramatic and powerful presentation.
The dance troupe Vefarinn (The Weaver) from Akureyri swept onto the dance floor in full Icelandic þjóðbuningar wearing the traditional sauskin skór (sealskin shoes). This style of folk dancing is sometimes referred to as vikivaki in which the dancers provide their own music by singing the songs as they dance. Sometimes the songs describe the steps of the dance patterns but at times they tell a story or, you could say, weave a pattern.
Skirts flew, eyes sparkled, spirits were high as the light-footed troupe created pattern after pattern. Krummi, a song about a raven, translated itself into a lively dance that had the audience tapping their toes. Sailor’s Dance had a pair of dancers acting as a fisherman and his wife in a delightful, energetic dance reminiscent of a Sailor’s Hornpipe. After a set dance, somewhat like a reel or square dance, the audience was treated to the Saturday Dancing Man, a humorous tale about a couple of lovers. The finale, Vefarinn, is one of the oldest of folk dances in Iceland, in which the patterns of the dance emulate the weaving of fabric on the loom, truly a fascinating to watch.
Most of the singing by the Karlakórinn Drífandi was a cappella but there were some pieces with Leif Kristján providing the accompaniment. Highlights of the second set included White Cliffs of Dover/Yfir bænum heima in Icelandic and English, a finger-snapping light and lively Litla sætan ljúfan góða and the romantic Katarína. In response to a standing ovation the choir came back with a medley of Kvöldið er fagurt and Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.
3,000 Invade Mountain
J. Peter Johnson
The population of Mountain North Dakota is 120. That number includes the 37 residents of Borg Memorial Home. On July 30, 3,000 people invaded Mountain to celebrate community, family, and Icelandic culture.
Huge Icelandic flags flew side by side with Old Glory from houses and businesses throughout the town. Every vacant lot and every park was converted to a parking lot. Friendly volunteers ushered vehicles into neat rows.
Lawn chairs lined both sides of Main Street. They were occupied by friends and neighbours from far and wide, late comers standing behind and kids in front, all eagerly awaiting the parade. The kids fidgeted with empty ice cream buckets and plastic bags, impatiently anticipating the showers of cellophane wrapped candies which would soon rain down on them.
The crowds were delighted with the procession of dignitaries, Shriners, merchants, giant tractors, antique tractors, horseback riders, family reunion groups, a pretty little girl leading a pet lamb, antique cars, and many more floats paraded by for more than half an hour, with participants throwing handfuls of candies to eager children who scooped them up like seagulls over a school of fish.
After the parade, people migrated toward the beautiful Vikur Church, the oldest Icelandic Lutheran church in North America, where the Ladies’ Aide fed hundreds of celebrants.
Visitor Steingrímur J. Sigfússon will have a special memory of the 2011 Deuce celebrations. He visited the Genealogy Center and talked to George Freeman and J. Peter Johnson. His great – grand parents had emigrated to North Dakota but he did not know for sure where they had lived. He provided their names and within just a few minutes, we were able to tell him where they were buried at the Gardar Cemetery. Steingrímur was then able to go see the graves of his great grandparents and many of their descendants who are buried at the Gardar Cemetery.
Icelandic folk dancers attracted about 200 enthusiastic fans on an impromptu stage set up on Main Street, while a number of vendors set up kiosks near the church to sell Icelandic woolen goods, Bill Valgardson autographed copies of What the Bear Said, and vendors sold T-shirts with slogans such as: Icelandic – Intelligent, Independent, Irresistible, Made in America – With Icelandic Parts, and Party Like an Icelander.
Heard around the town: “I haven’t seen you for thirty years.” “Where are you from?” “Seattle”, “New York”, “Minot”, “Florida” “Victoria”, “Fargo”, “Iceland”, “Cavalier”, “Toronto”, “Texas”, Moorhead” and dozens of other locations across North America. “Have you been to Iceland?” “Isn’t it beautiful?” “The people are so friendly.” “What part of Iceland did your ancestors come from?”, “I feel so at home in Iceland.”
A giant Viking half apologized. “I am only Norwegian.” Response, “We are all Icelanders today.”
More than 6,000 visitors, including 300 from Iceland shared the events of this festival. Only a few knew that The Deuce is a celebration of Jon Sigurdsson’s bringing a new constitution from Copenhagen to Iceland on August 2, 1847, a milestone in the progression toward Icelandic Independence. All 6,000 basked in the brilliant North Dakota summer sun, and all basked in the North Dakota friendliness and hospitality.
Well done Mountain, the Deuce is an Ace.