A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History


Literacy is said to be the lifeblood of the Icelanders. The nation of Iceland has the highest literacy rate in the world, with more books, periodicals and newspapers published per capita than anywhere else in the world. Sigursteinn Oddson was a typical Icelander and brought his Icelandic love of literature -- poetry, books and his Bible -- with him when he came to Canada. Hans Peter Tergesen, too, was part of this tradition. It was his store in Gimli, Manitoba, that became the centre-point of Icelandic contemporary culture, where people gathered with the community newspaper to discuss and debate the news of the day.

One of the most unifying and enduring themes in Icelandic culture is the literature celebrating the sagas and settlement of Iceland. In Iceland's dark ages, the sagas and the skaldic poetry and ballads were a source of inspiration. The sagas are known for their terse, swift narrative, dramatic quality, detailed characterization and vivid portrayal of individual and community life. They emphasize courage, loyalty, friendship and close knit family ties.(25)

The Icelanders in Canada have maintained the literary tradition of their country of origin. For many years they have retained the practice of reading aloud in the evenings, with the subject matter frequently becoming the topics of later conversation.(26)

They have produced many poets and novelists writing in both English and Icelandic. Stephan G. Stephansson is considered by many critics to be the foremost Icelandic poet of this century. Guttormur J. Guttormsson was born in New Iceland in 1878 and did not visit Iceland until 1939. He was best known for the poem "Sandy Bar," a tribute to the Icelandic pioneers. Contemporary Icelandic writers include the late Laura Goodman Salverson, winner of the Governor General's Award, author of The Viking Heart (portraying the hardships endured by the Icelandic pioneers, their aspirations and achievements) and Confessions of an Immigrant's Daughter. She was also the first editor of the Icelandic Canadian Magazine.(27)

It was the Icelandic National League of North America, perhaps the most important association in the history of Icelandic immigrants, that started the Icelandic Canadian Magazine in 194 -- the first English-language Icelandic publication in North America. The League was founded in 1919 to assist Icelanders to adapt to Canada and to preserve Icelandic heritage. Chapters of the league were established in almost every settlement and in the cities with a considerable number of relocating Icelanders.(28)

In 1951 a chair in Icelandic Language and Literature was established at the University of Manitoba. The Icelandic Collection in the University of Manitoba library has a full-time curator and over 14,000 volumes. It was there, in its stacks, that stories like those of Sigursteinn Oddson and Hans Peter Tergesen's are found -- a place where distant Icelandic descendants can become reacquainted with their heritage and re-trace their roots.(29)

A Manitoba Saga, The Icelandic People in Manitoba, by Wilhelm Kristjanson
(Kristjanson, Winnipeg, 1965).

The Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

Gimli Saga, ed. by Paul H.T. Thorlakson
(D.W. Friesen and Sons Ltd, Altona, 1975)

Manitoba 125, A History, Volume II
(Great Plains Publications, Winnipeg, 1994).

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