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This article was published 14/5/2019 (383 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba's Icelandic community marks an important milestone this week, highlighted by a Winnipeg convention expected draw an estimated 300 attendees.
Iceland President Gudni Th. Jóhannesson and Canadian-born first lady Eliza Reid are expected in the city Thursday through Sunday as visiting dignitaries for the 100th anniversary of the Icelandic National League of North America, a continent-wide organization founded in Winnipeg in 1919.
The centenary at the downtown Fairmont hotel will feature music, sagas and cultural events. Presentations are to range from subjects as diverse as history and textile design; displays will include artifacts from ancient manuscripts to modern publications and information about genealogy and Icelandic studies.
Musicians, including local artist Sol James, Lisa Sigurgeirson Maxx from British Columbia, and Icelandic troubadour Svavar Knutur, are booked for performances.
"This is as large a convention as we would typically get, but I don't know what was happening 75 years ago when people were more engaged," said the league's second vice-president, Stefan Jonasson of Winnipeg, referring to the deep roots of Icelandic descendants in Manitoba, now six generations removed from the first migrants.
Organized mostly by the second generation of Icelandic North Americans, the league was formed a century ago partly from a desire to have a secular organization to represent their interests, and as an alternative to church groups, Jonasson said.
The timing coincided with the aftermath of the First World War, when Icelandic-Canadian veterans were returning home and Iceland's securing home rule, though not full independence, from Denmark.
People had been talking for years about creating an umbrella organization for the Icelandic community and it just came to fruition at that point because of some of these outside factors. There was also a strong desire to preserve the Icelandic language and to build relationships between Iceland and the second and third generation here," said Jonasson, a Unitarian minister, newspaper editor and one of the centenary organizers.
The largest single group of Icelandic people to settle in North American arrived in Manitoba in 1875, establishing themselves along the western shore of Lake Winnipeg, then just beyond the provincial boundary, in an area since known as New Iceland.
Despite hardships, the migrants put down roots, founding the lakeside town of Gimli. Successive waves of migrants settled in the area through 1914.
Decades of work have established the culture on this continent while still burnishing bonds with the land of their ancestors, Jonasson said Tuesday.
Manitoba is home to several Icelandic cultural institutions, including the most important chair in Icelandic language and literature outside of Iceland (located at the University of Manitoba), as well as the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba (Islendingadagurinn) and the New Icelandic Heritage Museum in Gimli.
Jonasson is the editor of Logberg-Heimskringla, the oldest ethnic publication in Canada — published continuously since 1886.
"There (are) still many activities with an Icelandic connection even though we're dealing with, in many cases, six generations since the immigration. There's still a great love of Iceland," Jonasson said.
"And, of course, there is a great mystic about Iceland. A tiny country on the top of the world which produces amazing literature, wonderful music, and has a rich and an ancient culture."
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Updated on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 at 5:51 AM CDT: Minor corrections.