Icelandic festival takes the Viking by the horns

Annual Gimli celebration sees return to normalcy with some in-person events


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Islendingadagurinn is coming home — but don’t expect a parade.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/07/2021 (676 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Islendingadagurinn is coming home — but don’t expect a parade.

The Icelandic Festival of Manitoba announced last week that it will host a mix of virtual and in-person events in the town of Gimli this August long weekend. After last year’s digital program, it’s a return to some semblance of normal for the festival’s 131st anniversary.

“There was a lot of good things that came up, but festival weekend itself was pretty lonely,” says festival president Jenna Boholij. “The Icelandic flags were still flying but there were no parties and there was no big celebration; it was weird.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Bentley Gray and his dad Scott make their way toward the Viking statue in Gimli.

Boholij has been attending the festival with family her whole life. “I’ve never missed one,” she says. She became president of the organization in 2020, ahead of the event’s first — and hopefully only — virtual celebration amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, the event was forced to pivot to a socially distanced lawn parade in Gimli and online video presentations, as well as a virtual fun run and sandcastle-building contest. The latter was a major hit, with out-of-towners and expats with a connection to Icelandic Fest participating from as far away as the United Kingdom and Australia.

Although the organizers are eager to return to in-person events, some hybrid events, like the sandcastle contest, will likely become a permanent fixture moving forward.

“It exceeded our expectations,” Boholij says of the competition. “It was really cool to see all these people that have ties to the festival who couldn’t make it in a typical year… be able to join in and reminisce on festivals past.”

This year, the decision to host in-person festivities was made at the 11th hour.

“We were hanging in there until the end, because we were really hopeful watching the vaccination (rates) get higher and the cases get lower,” Boholij says. “It was really like the perfect storm.”

While many other summer festivals have been called off for a second year, Icelandic Fest is able to modify its program to fit with current public health restrictions. The festival is a series of small events that take place all over Gimli and usually draw a crowd of an estimated 50,000 people throughout the weekend. Organizers have cancelled events — such as the annual parade — that would see many people congregating in one place in favour of activities that can be done safely from a distance.

In-person events include the Fris-nok tournament (where players launch Frisbees at beer bottles perched on poles), art show, Icelandic fashion show, sandcastle contest on Gimli beach and the traditional program, including the crowning of this year’s Fjallkona (or Maid of the Mountain), 98-year-old Anna Stevens.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files The Icelandic Festival of Manitoba features a sand castle making contest.

There will also be a craft market, food vendors, beer gardens and live music throughout the festival from July 30 to Aug. 2.

“It’s huge, it’s exciting, it’s nerve-racking,” Boholij says when asked how she feels about a return to live events. “This is a first step to getting back to that feeling of normal.”

All events are subject to change based on public health restrictions. The festival is still looking for volunteers — visit to apply and follow updates leading up to the weekend.

Twitter: @evawasney

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Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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