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This article was published 3/8/2017 (979 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
GIMLI — There are elves living in a garden in the new Viking Park in Gimli.
Don’t believe it? Go there and see for yourself.
Houses for elves — huldufólk in Icelandic folklore — are in among the rocks in the Elf Garden at the foot of the famous Viking statue in Viking Park on 2nd Avenue.
The new park will be unveiled today, but the official grand opening will be held on Saturday at noon during the 2017 Islendingadagurinn — the 128th Icelandic Festival of Manitoba, which is being held on Saturday through Monday in Gimli.
The ambitious and creative plan began in 2014 — the Islendingadagurinn’s 125th anniversary — and was completed to coincide with Canada’s 150th birthday.
"The Icelandic Festival wanted to put something back into the community and the park is definitely a great way to do that," said Kristine Sigurdson, the executive director of the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba.
"It’s fully accessible and has beautiful upgrades but it’s also all about the history and the culture of our community, the Icelanders and the story of Gimli being settled."
The Elf Garden is one of three different gardens, including the Troll Storm Garden and the Breakwater Garden, filled with indigenous plants, grasses and flowers in the newly created space around the iconic statue. The park is fully accessible at no charge to all, including those with limited mobility.
Stone pathways that look like cracked ice wind their way through the park, many of them personalized by community donors with engraved messages or commemorations of loved ones.
The Viking statue itself was already a major tourist site in town, but it has now been enhanced by the new park.
The Winnipeg-based HTFC Planning & Design, the same company that is working on the design of the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden at Assiniboine Park and the Oodena Celebration Circle at The Forks, designed the Viking Park landscape.
In a partnership with the RM of Gimli and the Betel Home Foundation and contributions from community sponsors, the Icelandic Festival raised more than $900,000 to pay for the park.
"It’s for our community and for the people who come to visit Gimli. It’s a beautiful extension of the harbour and it provides a pedestrian experience. That’s where a lot of us feel Gimli should be, a pedestrian-friendly place. You can park your car and (on foot or wheel) see all of the wonderful things that we have to offer," Sigurdson said.
Sigurdson said the festival is proud to note that only $25,000 of provincial government money went into the project.
In addition to the elf houses, Icelandic culture is represented by mythic trolls. According to Icelandic folklore, trolls turn to stone in daylight. The Storm Troll Garden features rocks with troll faces, some carved and some hidden, requiring the visitors’ imaginations.
A heritage wall documenting the community’s history, back-lit at night with LED lighting so it can be viewed anytime, greets visitors as they walk up and has circular benches in front for comfort while reading. The wall also includes a key to Norse runes to help visitors solve rune puzzles carved into the stone pathway. Norse runes are symbols known to have been used for written communication in medieval times and Icelandic history.
The garden area also serves as a reservoir for storm runoff in the community, so it features only plants that thrive in aqueous soil, such as blue flag iris, prairie blazing star, rush honeysuckle, blue fox willow and red osier dogwood.
As for the Elf Garden, the elves may be tough to spot as they are said to be usually invisible. But Icelandic lore says it’s a certainty they will occupy the elf houses and their presence stands for living in harmony with nature.
The Viking statue was placed in 1967 by the Gimli Chamber of Commerce.
— with files from Bill Redekop