Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A biased and snarky list of things Icelandic (and non-Icelandic)

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Stuff you thought was Icelandic



The layered prune torte, made by people of Icelandic descent all over North America, was only a passing fad in Iceland at the time of the largest emigration in the late 1800s. It soon disappeared from Iceland. It continued to be made and enjoyed here, however, and has even become a proper English word in the Canadian dictionary.


Icelandic brown bread:

This hearty, molasses-y brown bread is a staple in Icelandic homes in Manitoba. It's also impossible to make in Iceland, as molasses is unavailable in most grocery stores. What it may be is a North American adaptation of Icelandic rugbrauð (directly translated as "rye bread") which is a thick, soft, dark brown bread with a cake-like consistency.


The Republic of New Iceland:

The Icelandic settlement of New Iceland was, sometime after its integration into the expanding province of Manitoba, incorrectly dubbed a "republic" in hindsight, as if it were an independent state within Canada. The unfortunate error stuck. While it's true New Iceland had its own self-regulation, including a constitution, it was more properly a reserve or colony within Canada and never a sovereign state of any kind. It's also somewhat insulting to refer to it as a republic, when the Icelandic nation was still fighting for its independence from Denmark, which it did not fully achieve until 1944 -- as if to imply the original Icelandic settlers in Manitoba in the 1870s formed a republic when they knew very well their home country could not.


Horned viking helmets:

Please tell me you knew viking helmets didn't have horns. The reason they didn't is that the smooth, rounded conical helmets they really did wear would deflect blows away from the head; horns would have caught the impact and caused more injury. Ceremonial helmets, which were ornamental and meant only for show, found in viking graves, sometimes did have horns.


Stuff you didn't know was Icelandic


The word "egg" is derived from Old Norse, which is the same as Old Icelandic. Our word for what hens lay is one version; but the verb "to egg," as in "to egg someone on to do something" comes from the Old Icelandic verb að eggja.


Sargent Avenue:

This was once referred to as "Icelandic Main Street" due to the high population of Icelandic descendants in the area. The area surrounding it is also home to First Lutheran Church, an early Icelandic hub.



No points if you guessed Gimli was Icelandic, and maybe you even knew Gimli's name comes from the paradise that will follow the end of the world in Ragnark in Norse mythology. Just as poetic, though, is the town of Bifröst's name, which is taken from that of the rainbow bridge connecting our world to Asgard, home of the Norse gods.


Snow White:

Winnipeg cartoonist Charlie Thorson, who worked for Walt Disney, drew inspiration from an Icelandic waitress at the Wevel Cafe he was smitten with when he created Disney's iconic Snow White. He also designed an early version of Bugs Bunny (and also named the character).


The Winnipeg Free Press newsroom:

Despite recent passings of journalists such as editorial board member Tom Oleson and longtime photo editor Jon Thordarson, Icelandic blood still courses through the veins of Free Press staff, including night editor Stacey Thidrickson, art director Gord Preece, graphic artist Leesa Dahl, web staff Karen Ditchfield and David Jón Fuller and wine columnist and sometime copy editor Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson.

-- David Jón Fuller

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 J5


Updated on Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 8:14 AM CST: corrects Icelandic spellings

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