Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
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This article was published 19/5/2017 (1218 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
HNAUSA — During an intimate moment with her husband at the opening of the Hnausa General Store on May 12, co-owner Donna Austfjord’s eyes start to well up.
A teardrop the size of a blueberry escapes, finds a ledge briefly on her right cheekbone, then careens down like a bobsled.
"I want a place where people can go meet and get to know one another and be able to say, ‘Do you have a shovel I can borrow and never return?’" she says of their new general store.
If heart sells, store owners Brian and Donna Austfjord might be in business for awhile.
The Austfjords are resurrecting the concept of the rural general store. Hnausa hasn’t had one for about 30 years, back when Stef Stefanson sold everything from nails to musical instruments and kept a pool table and even a little movie room.
"He’d be smoking an old rollie out the side of his mouth and he’d give credit to everyone," Brian said.
Stefanson’s boarded-up buildings and rusted old fuel pump across the road from the Austfjords’ Hnausa General Store stand as a reminder of those days.
The Austfjords — the name means east of the fjords — are into Icelandic history, and the store will reflect their heritage.
That starts with the peculiar flag that flies out front that is an amalgam of the Icelandic and Canadian flags — a cross with half a maple leaf pasted to one side.
The flag is Icelandic-Canadian or Canadian-Icelandic — it’s a, ‘You first,’ ‘No, you first’ thing, depending on your preference.
Donna designed the logo and it was made into stickers Brian posted around his workplace.
Then she put it on a flag, and that flag was raised.
Then they started putting it on everything from tuques to sweaters to baseball caps to T-shirts and selling them out of their home.
"The flag reflects the people who brought us here," Donna said.
"We’re not trying to replace the Canadian flag. We want a flag that represents our pride in Canadian and Icelandic heritage."
Now, they’ve invested in a new store that displays their full line of Icelandic-Canadian apparel and souvenirs.
The Austfjords are both Icelandic and grew up in Hnausa, located on the west shore of Lake Winnipeg between Gimli and Riverton.
Brian is a go-to guy on many historic matters, which is saying something considering history maven Nelson Gerrard lives down the road.
"That is going to be our attraction: the history of the Icelandic settlement," Brian said.
There is also a cork board where people can pin up their old photos of the area.
The Austfjords said they plan to have a history centre in the back with vintage Icelandic reference books and online resources for tracing one’s ancestry.
It will be for all ancestries, not just those of Icelandic heritage.
"I decided if we do this, we have to have fun," Brian, 56, said.
Hnausa is not so much a village or hamlet today as it is a crossroads. There was once a train station, school and post office.
They have all returned to nature and only a handful of people still live in Hnausa proper.
About 250 people reside in the surrounding community.
That gets multiplied several times over when cottage season starts.
Then there are all the communities between Riverton and Gimli.
The Austfjords carry much of the standard small grocery store fare, from snack foods to tinned foods to condiments.
There’s a popcorn machine and a nacho cheeser and a coffee-brewing machine.
It also has a bait shop for anglers.
There are nice touches, such as the dark Icelandic bread from the Arborg Bakery.
The store is a work in progress, and the Austfjords are eager to hear what customers want, Brian said.
May 12 was the opening, but it could have easily been called Hug a Customer Day because everyone who walked in seemed to get one.
"This is a soft opening so we can get rid of the glitches," Donna said.
The grand opening will be in August.
Just getting the store open on time took a mighty effort.
"We were still spreading gravel (in the parking lot) until midnight," Brian, whose full-time job is supervising commercial construction sites, said.
A commemorative stone out front may sum it up best.
It’s engraved with an Icelandic phrase that was probably uttered many times by the first Icelanders who settled here in 1875: "Fram, fram, aldrei ad vik ja!" (Onward, onward, never give up!)
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