Going strong Islendingadagurinn returns to Gimli this weekend with viking battles, cultural workshops and a new competition featuring feats of strength
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The spirit of Iceland returns to Gimli in full force this weekend.
Islendingadagurinn, the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba, kicks off Friday and runs to Monday with a full slate of programming and some burly new events for the first time since the pandemic began. (Last year’s scaled-down event was a mix of virtual and in-person activities owing to public health restrictions.)
“I think it’s gonna be a really huge, good festival,” says president Jenna Boholij. “We have more special guests than ever attending, a full event schedule and… lots of things that haven’t been around for the last couple of years are back now.”
Returning to the fold during the four-day festival are the annual parade, Sunday fun run, cultural pavilion and viking battles, among other events.
New this year is a strongman competition organized by Icelandic powerlifter and four-time World’s Strongest Man title holder Magnús Ver Magnússon. Festivalgoers can watch professional athletes from around the world heave boulders, lift trees and pull heavy natural objects under the shadow of the viking statue on the Gimli harbourfront. All of the materials used in the events have been sourced from the Interlake.
Competitors in the MVM Classic were selected through an application process and the winner will get a chance to compete in a world championship qualifier later this year.
“If you were going to compete professionally in the World Strongman events, this is your track,” Boholij says. “The community here is thrilled because there’s never been anything similar opportunity-wise to be able to advance (locally).”
The competition will become a permanent fixture of the festival going forward.
Without travel restrictions, organizers are able to once again host delegates from Iceland, including the minister of foreign affairs of Iceland, the ambassador of the embassy of Iceland and the consul general of Iceland in Winnipeg.
Icelandic singer-songwriter Prins Póló will also be coming to town for a night of alternative folk music on Sunday.
For the first time in her presidential term, Boholij was able to travel to Iceland earlier this year to meet with government representatives in that country — a longstanding Islendingadagurinn tradition.
“It’s a real honour; there’s just a huge co-operation between our governments and our countries — Iceland and New Iceland,” she says.
During the trip she was talking to a restaurant server in a small fishing village who knew all about Gimli as a hotspot for Icelandic immigration. “It’s something everyone knows about — it’s so wild.”
This year’s theme, Spirit of Iceland or Andi Íslands, is a nod to the northern lights, which are prevalent in both locales.
The festival’s annual fashion show has been moved to the Gimli Theatre to accommodate larger crowds and the cultural workshops at Gimli Park Pavilion have been expanded to include Huldufólk house-making (tiny homes meant to attract the “hidden people” of Icelandic myth), pönnukökur-making (Icelandic pancakes) and language lessons.
Local musicians VVonder, Lev Snowe, Dill the Giant, House of Gold Diamonds, Sage Helgason-Stoyanowski and others will perform live sets Friday through Sunday.Competitors battle one another with a sponge filled sack, while sitting on a soap covered beam over Gimli Harbour during a past Islendingadunk competition.
The Vingólf Beverage Gardens will be in full swing with plenty of locally distilled Crown Royal whisky and Brennivín, a fiery Icelandic spirit also known as “black death,” made more palatable with the addition of lemonade. Attendees will have the opportunity to “get dinged” on Saturday afternoon with a ceremony that requires dressing up in a viking costume, eating a piece of dried fish and downing a shot of Brennivín while chanting. Food vendors and midway rides will also be set up throughout Gimli.
Pre-pandemic, the free festival typically drew crowds of an estimated 50,000 people to the small lakeside town 80 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Boholij expects to meet or surpass those attendance figures this year.
“It just seems like everybody wants to come out,” she says. “People are looking to get back to a little bit of normalcy.”
Visit icelandicfestival.com for more information and a full schedule of events.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.