Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A Gimli landmark

Pioneer Icelandic church one of the oldest in Manitoba

  • Print

At the corner of Third Avenue and Second Street North in Gimli, not far from the wondrous and vast Lake Winnipeg, stands one of the oldest Icelandic churches in Manitoba.

Gimli Lutheran Church was established by Icelandic settlers soon after their arduous journey from Iceland to the western shores of Lake Winnipeg. This year it is celebrating its 135th anniversary.

It is likely the first Icelandic Lutheran congregation formed in Manitoba.

The first sermon preached in Icelandic in Canada was delivered in Gimli in August 1876 by Rev. Páll Thorláksson.

Thorláksson was the first pastor to arrive in Gimli. Rev. Jón Bjarnason arrived the following year. The two men travelled constantly, and often on foot, to serve their congregations that were scattered throughout New Iceland, the region along Lake Winnipeg stretching from Boundary Creek to north of the Icelandic River.

Carpenter Gudmundur Olson built the first church in 1889 at a cost of $625. Half was paid in cash and church members contributed the remainder in labour.

A second church went up on the corner of Third Avenue and Second Street North on land donated by Gudmundur Solmundson. The local fisherman had hauled the lumber for the little church by oxen and boat.

The church was attended almost entirely by people of Icelandic origin and its services were in Icelandic until about 1949. With the arrival of Pastor Haroldur Sigmar in the early 1950s, changes gradually happened. The dynamic pastor delivered his sermons in English, drawing in residents of non-Icelandic origin and people of other denominations. The congregation grew.

Sigmar led the way for the third and current church, which was built on the same site. Completed in 1953, it was designed to reflect the community it served, a fishing town. According to the Gimli Saga, a history of the Gimli community, the church's "architecture suggests a ship, and a beautiful stained glass window at the rear of the nave pictures Christ in a fishing boat, calling his followers to become 'fishers of men.' "

Sigmar also introduced the Fishermen's Festival, held to commemorate the departure of the fishermen for the northern waters of Lake Winnipeg at the beginning of June. Services were broadcast on CKRC radio station during the 1950s.

Today, anywhere from 80 to 110 people attend services at the historic church that has only just recently seen the addition of a full-time minister.

Pastor Les Skonnord arrived at Gimli Lutheran in November 2011 after pastoring for about 10 years in Nova Scotia. Originally from Saskatchewan, Skonnord loves Gimli and is familiar with the Interlake region, having served in Moosehorn in previous years.

"It is an older congregation," says Skonnord of the Gimli church, but there are young children, too. "It is a good wholesome mix but Icelanders are very prevalent."

It is very much a community church, he adds, sometimes used for concerts and always open to the community. The Women's Resource Centre and Evergreen Basic Needs are two local organizations that started off meeting in the church. The Betel Home Foundation grew out of the efforts of devoted Icelandic pioneer women of the Lutheran faith.

Religion was essential to the early Icelandic settlers, says Skonnord. They "realized the need for spiritual guidance and solace in the hardships of the settlement days and spirituality was very important to them... there was a ferment of spiritual thinking and an interest in theology that continues to this day."

"We just celebrated the 135th anniversary... we had cake, we had neighbouring churches in, we invited people... We recently put a new steel roof up and have gone through and painted the whole interior and we have an optimistic view of the future."

One longtime member is noted Canadian author W.D. Valgardson, who hails from Gimli. "I was born, baptized, confirmed in the Gimli Lutheran Church," he says. "I expect that my funeral service will be held there."

Now living in Victoria, Valgardson left Gimli in 1957 but returns for summers. "Like a butterfly, I flit in and out," he says.

"The church was a major force in my early life. My mother taught Sunday school and belonged to the Lutheran Ladies' Aid. I was the head of the Luther League. I seriously considered becoming a Lutheran minister and to this day harbour some regrets that I didn't. Instead, I became a writer and got a larger pulpit.

"The Gimli Lutheran Church did cause me to think about morality, gave me a moral compass, a set of ideals, a way of thinking. It caused me to think about questions larger than what is the latest fashion," says Valgardson, who was influenced not only by his Lutheran upbringing, but also his Icelandic heritage.

"In the past, I've said that if you remove one aspect of society, such as the church and its teachings, it will be replaced by something else. In Canada, today, that replacement has been by secular institutions. Are we really better off with our morals and values being created by fast food outlets, banks, the entertainment industry, etc.? I think not. The church, like any institution, has its faults and many terrible things have been done in the name of Christ, but Christ didn't do them."

Valgardson sums it up while reflecting on his blog on the changes in the little church over the years: "I know it doesn't sound all that exciting but when I'm in Gimli, come Sunday, my feet just lead me down the sidewalk to the church. When I leave, my steps seem lighter."

girard.cheryl@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 J15

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Paul Maurice addresses media at end of 13/14 season

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Geese fight as a male defends his nesting site at the duck pond at St Vital Park Thursday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 08- May 10, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A Canada Goose cools off in a water pond Monday afternoon at Brookside Cemetary- See Bryksa’s Goose a day Challenge– Day 27-June 25, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

  • Africa edition

    Africa is one complex and gloriously unmanageable 'theme' to choose to kick off our 2012 series, Our City Our World, which is why it took up the whole newspaper on Jan. 18.

  • China edition

    Hard-working Chinese immigrants, once banned, have risen to the highest echelons of Manitoba.

  • Germany edition

    German immigrants have played a surprisingly large role in the development of the province.

  • Iceland edition

    Arriving in Manitoba in the 1870s unprepared for a brutal winter, Icelandic settlers and their descendants have left their mark on our province.

  • Italy edition

    Industrious Italians rose from peasant roots and adapted to Canadian society by mastering L’art d’arrangiarsi (the art of getting by).

  • Latin America edition

    It used to be the only time Prairie folks met Spanish-speaking people was when they vacationed down south. More often now, they're the people next door.

  • Middle East edition

    When the first Middle East families immigrated to Manitoba, mosques were unheard of and even yogurt was exotic. But now all that has changed.

  • Philippines edition

    A booming Filipino community nearly 60,000 strong has transformed Manitoba.

  • South Asian edition

    As the city's Indo-Canadian population experiences dramatic growth, its pioneers recall their warm Winnipeg welcome.

  • Ukraine edition

    Scarred by Holodomor, the Ukrainian community helped shape Winnipeg's cultural mosaic.

  • United Kingdom edition

    Manitoba's history is built on a foundation provided by settlers from the U.K., who came here seeking better lives.

Related Items

Poll

What are you most looking forward to this Easter weekend?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google