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Village of Riverton makes history 0

Michel Forest

Statue of Sigtryggur Jónasson located next to the Icelandic River. The monument honoring the “Father of New Iceland” was unveiled after a ceremony and a plaque unveiling inside nearby Riverton-Hnausa Lutheran Church on Oct. 20.

Statue of Sigtryggur Jónasson located next to the Icelandic River. The monument honoring the “Father of New Iceland” was unveiled after a ceremony and a plaque unveiling inside nearby Riverton-Hnausa Lutheran Church on Oct. 20.

The citizens of Riverton gathered by the river and in Riverton-Hnausa Lutheran Church in large numbers on Oct. 20 to witness the unveiling of a plaque as well as a statue honoring Sigtryggur Jónasson as “The father of New Iceland” and a “Person of national historic significance.”

The two-hour long ceremony was divided into two parts: the unveiling of a plaque sponsored by the federal government, followed by the unveiling (outside near the Icelandic River and new footbridge that is being built) of a statue of Sigtryggur Jónasson.

The crowd of several hundred people included the mayor of the Village of Riverton, Colin Bjarnason, Harley Jónasson (president of Icelandic River Heritage Sites, Inc.), Dr. Rick Wishart (Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada), Gimli’s Senator Janis Johnson and MLA Peter Bjornson, among many others.

The Mayor of Riverton began by welcoming everyone to such a memorable occasion for the town upon which he was followed by Harley Jónasson, who gave a brief history of the life of the “Father of New Iceland.”

Sigtryggur Jónasson (born Feb. 8, 1852 – died Nov. 26, 1942) was a community leader and politician in Manitoba and was instrumental in establishing the Icelandic community in Manitoba. Today he is considered to be the “Father of New Iceland” and his reputation as a legendary Icelandic pioneer is unmatched across today’s Interlake region.

Jónasson was born to a farm family at Bakki in Oxnadalur, Iceland and moved to Canada in 1872 and, in 1875, he helped to establish an Icelandic reserve called New Iceland in Keewatin District, Northwest Territory, including the area around present-day Gimli. Jónasson was also instrumental in the founding of Framfari (Progress) in 1877, the first Icelandic-language newspaper on the North American continent.

During a major exodus from New Iceland in 1879-1881, Jónasson established a sawmill and transportation company at Icelandic River (today Riverton) in partnership with Fridjon Fridriksson, thus providing employment and stabilizing the settlement. In 1881, New Iceland was incorporated into Manitoba and in 1887 its residents adopted their first municipal government.”

This was followed by a few remarks by Joanne Kristjansson of the New Iceland Heritage Museum, which initiated the project to create the plaque commemorating Sigtryggur Jónasson.

The statue portion of the ceremony included remarks by Johnson, Bjornson as well as Mr. Atli Asmundsson, Consul General of Iceland in Winnipeg.

In his extended closing remarks that included several vignettes on the life of Jónasson, Nelson Gerrard (v.-p. of Icelandic River Heritage Sites) rightly commented that “Without Sigtryggur Jónasson, there would have been no New Iceland… and in the great scheme of things, none of us here today would exist. History would have taken a different course and everything would have unfolded differently in both Iceland and Canada.”

michel.forest@sunmedia.ca

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