Gimli welcomes back big crowds for Icelandic Festival


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/07/2022 (304 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The crowd watches participants in the strongman competition Saturday at the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba in Gimli. The 133rd edition of the festival continues through Monday. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press)

GIMLI — Restaurants, stores and the lakefront were teeming with visitors like they used to be Saturday, as the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba returned to full force after two years of COVID-19 disruption.

The crowds in Gimli were an encouraging sight for business owners such as Steina Bessason, who are getting a much-needed boost from the four-day event over the August long weekend.

“It’s a vibration for the town,” said Bessason, as customers browsed items inside her store, Steina’s, which sells clothes, art and decor. “It’s a happy festival and it’s a reconnection (with family and friends) festival.

Peter Hawk, who also goes by Knut Lafskegg, demonstrates a traditional weaving technique. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press)

“It always has been and maybe more so (this year) because of the pandemic.”

Known as Íslendingadagurinn in Icelandic, the 2020 event was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, while 2021’s festival was a hybrid with some in-person events.

Marking a full return to in-person activities, the 2022 version is the 133rd edition of the festival on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg. Held every summer, it celebrates Icelandic culture and heritage.

People enjoy hot summer weather as they take in the sights and sounds of Gimli. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press)

Seeing so many people descend on the town, about 75 kilometres north of Winnipeg, left Bessason brimming with joy.

“It’s a welcome sight to see so many people in town and to have them be aware of what Gimli has to offer,” she said. “They’ve come to enjoy themselves and spread their energy.”

Outside her shop, a steady stream of people made its way to events and attractions such as an Icelandic fashion show, a midway, food vendors and — new this year — a strongman competition hosted by four-time world champion and Icelander Magnús Ver Magnússon.

A competitor takes part in the bag over bar event during a strongman competition. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press)

Under sunny skies and with the temperature approaching 30 C, hundreds of spectators cheered on the competitors, who demonstrated their strength in a series of events, including a vehicle pull, in the shadow of the town’s viking statue.

Ian McLeod, who grew up watching Magnússon compete in televised competitions, took in the event with relatives, as many families gathered at a festival for the first time since 2019.

“It’s a long time coming, for sure,” he said.

Kristin Good, who is originally from Winnipeg and now lives in Cow Bay, N.S., shared her family’s Icelandic heritage with her children — Jacob, 10, Isabelle, eight, and Wilhelmina, five.

Julia Gamble informs visitors about traditional Icelandic cooking. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press)

Between activities, she took them to see a plaque bearing the names of her great-great-grandparents, who were among the first Icelandic settlers in Arborg in the 1800s.

All four were wearing plastic Viking helmets with horns.

“It’s really nice to be able to be out in public and be able to experience a festival again, especially with my family,” Good said before taking her kids to the midway rides.

Festival president Jenna Boholij said past weekends have attracted about 20,000 people to the town of about 2,350.

Brendan Donahue inspects a sword for a sale at one of the festival vendors. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I think the 20,000 figure could be pretty accurate (this year),” she said. “It’s so nice to see it back how it normally is and seeing our guests back in person.”

The festival is a “big boost” to local businesses and vendors who sell everything from vinarterta to fashion accessories.

“It’s nice for everyone to get back to (being) profitable,” said Boholij.

Lynn Greenberg, mayor of the Rural Municipality of Gimli, was pleased after seeing the crowds Friday and again Saturday.

Visitors get their photo taken with four time world's strongest man Magnus Magnusson. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press)

“It gets a lot of people out, and they got a little frustrated with two years of having to stay home,” he said. “It’s a very important revenue producer for all the restaurants and stores.”

The festival continues today and Monday, when Magnússon will serve as a parade marshal.

This year’s theme, Spirit of Iceland/Andi Islands, is inspired by the northern lights.

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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