Two Winnipeggers who have Icelandic roots have received the nordic island country’s highest honour.

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Opinion

Two Winnipeggers who have Icelandic roots have received the nordic island country’s highest honour.

Iceland President Guoni Thorlacius Johannesson awarded Stefan Jonasson and Judy Bradley the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Falcon last month. The order recognizes individuals for outstanding contributions in their fields.

Cindy Jonasson</p><p>Iceland President Guoni Thorlacius Johannesson (above) awarded Judy Bradley and Stefan Jonasson (above right) the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Falcon last month.</p>

Cindy Jonasson

Iceland President Guoni Thorlacius Johannesson (above) awarded Judy Bradley and Stefan Jonasson (above right) the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Falcon last month.

"I’m still recovering from the surprise," says Jonasson, a newspaper editor and Unitarian Universalist minister from St. James, who was told five days before the award was presented that he would be receiving it. "I was worried that I had not heard right."

"It is truly an honour," adds Bradley, a retired educator who lives in southwest Winnipeg. "It’s something I will always treasure, and I hope I can live up to it."

Jonasson and Bradley have made significant contributions to Manitoba’s Icelandic community through their professional lives and volunteer efforts. Jonasson, whose paternal grandfather emigrated from Iceland to Canada in 1913, works for Logberg-Heimskringla, an Icelandic community newspaper.

Brandis Jonasson photo</p><p>Order of the Falcon recipient Stefan Jonasson.</p>

Brandis Jonasson photo

Order of the Falcon recipient Stefan Jonasson.

A lifelong volunteer, Jonasson serves as first vice-president of the Icelandic National League of North America (INLA), which is headquartered in Gimli. He volunteers as the church and clergy specialist for a genealogical service called IcelandicRoots, and he leads tours to Iceland on a voluntary basis.

He has visited the country more than 15 times, most recently in December 2018, when Iceland celebrated the 100th anniversary of its independence from Denmark.

Additionally, Jonasson serves on the board of regents at the University of Winnipeg, and on the St. James Scholarship Foundation’s board.

"The things that make our community worth living in are often the result of volunteer work, so I try to give half a day or a day of my time each week to volunteer activities," Jonasson says.

For Bradley, volunteering is a way to fulfil a goal she set for herself after more than 40 years of teaching and then working as the general secretary of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, where she was the first woman to hold that position.

"When I retired, I promised myself I would fully immerse myself in my culture," says Bradley, whose great-grandparents emigrated from Iceland to Canada.

To that end, Bradley’s volunteer commitments include serving as president of the Icelandic Canadian Frón, the league’s Winnipeg chapter.

The group offers three levels of Icelandic language classes, raises funds to support young people who are interested in exploring their Icelandic heritage and hosts several cultural events annually.

Born and raised in Gimli, Bradley volunteers at Íslendingadagurinn, the community’s Icelandic festival, each summer. "I hope I can make a difference, and work to maintain the culture and language connected to Iceland," she says.

Bradley and Stefansson were invested into the Order of the Falcon on May 19 when Johannesson was in Winnipeg with Canadian-born first lady Eliza Reid to attend the INLNA’s 100th anniversary convention.

Johannesson also invested Beverly Arason-Gaudet of Edmonton and Donald K. Johnson of Toronto into the order. The order was created in 1921. Since then, fewer than 75 Canadians have been awarded the honour.

The connection between Iceland and Manitoba began in the late 19th century and early 20th century when thousands of Icelanders moved to Canada and the U.S., with many of them settling in this province and establishing Gimli.

During a ceremony at Winnipeg’s city hall, Johannesson noted this special connection.

"It makes us Icelanders proud (and) privileged to feel and sense that here in Canada and also the U.S., we have these descendants of Icelanders who immigrated, who cherish and value the connection with the old land, who cherish and treasure their cultural heritage," he said.

If you know a special volunteer, please contact aaron.epp@gmail.com.