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This article was published 10/2/2009 (4726 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Tales of cash-strapped Icelanders seeking refuge in Manitoba's "New Iceland" have made headlines for weeks, but Birgir Robertsson is among the first to travel from his economically hard-hit country to the community on the shores of Lake Winnipeg looking for work.
"In Iceland, it's (a) very strange time now," said Robertsson, who arrived in town last week after emailing back and forth with Jon Axelsson, a native Icelander married to Gimli mayor Tammy Axelsson.
Last fall's economic meltdown hit hard in Iceland, where an estimated 11,000 out of just 300,000 people are unemployed and a new coalition government took power recently after the previous government collapsed.
Robertsson said he pursued a new life in Gimli because of its longtime relationship with Iceland.
The 46-year-old spent 25 years working as a chef and baker in Iceland and Norway. He said he sees opportunity for the same sort of work in Gimli, possibly running his own bakery.
Getting used to the flat terrain will take some time after living in a mountainous country, said Robertsson, but he's happy with his welcome so far.
"People are very friendly, all the people whom I have met," he said. "I'm looking forward to live here, if everything goes well."
One local hotelier who recently pledged to bring over Icelanders as employees said if Robertsson is interested, he has an open offer. Corporate Hotels owner Michael Bruneau said he'd gladly sponsor Robertsson to work as a chef at his Misty Lake Lodge in Gimli.
Robertsson will fly home Friday to sort out the paperwork necessary to get him back to Manitoba as a labourer, rather than a tourist.
But with a new provincial program in the works to bring over more unemployed Icelanders, he could be the start of a new wave of immigrants.
"I'm getting emails and phone calls from Iceland," said Bruneau, who put out his call for potential employees from the hard-hit country last week.
Bruneau said he's already spoken with a Manitoba-born banker who spent his life in Iceland is now looking at finding work in Winnipeg in light of the bank collapse in his home country. An Icelandic architect was also recently in the province checking out possible job opportunities, he said.
Jon Axelsson, who's been helping Robertsson get his bearings in Gimli, said newcomers who come to the resort town will find plenty of support.
"There are lots of other Icelanders from Iceland, and all of us are ready to help," he said.