Icelandic Settlement in the Quill Lakes Area

Fonds name: 
Icelandic Settlement in the Quill Lakes Area
Accession number: 
R-A1871 to R-A1882
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Summaries of interviews
Interviews conducted in 1979 under a contract of the Saskatchewan Archives Board. This project was originally begun by Archives staff as a study of Scandinavian settlement in Saskatchewan. However, when the vastness of such an undertaking was realized, the project's scope was narrowed and Endl Crane, Sound Archivist with the programme, began research on Icelanders in the Quill Lakes area. Although there were a considerable number of potential informants willing to share their reminiscences, time restraints limited the project to seven interviews, two of which were conducted in Icelandic and English. Interviews took place with ten individuals who have farmed in the communities of Elfros, Wynyard and Leslie. They not only reflect how an Icelandic heritage has survived in these areas but describe early life there, some of the first settlers and how these communities have developed. Several informants were born in Saskatchewan, others were born in Manitoba where their parents had come when they immigrated from Iceland, and still others had themselves come from Iceland. Icelandic people began emigrating in the late 1800s with the desire to make better homes and provide greater opportunities for their families. A lack of food in Iceland was a significant factor. Because of short growing seasons, volcanic eruptions which covered pastures and fields in ash, and the dangerous ice fields which frequently kept trade ships from Icelandic ports, the people were often hard pressed to find enough food. As mixed farmers, they had much to learn about choosing and working land for grain crops here on the Canadian prairies. Though few Icelanders had any opportunity to go to school in Iceland (travelling clergymen were often the only teachers children ever had), they placed a high value on education and it was a rare occurrence if an Icelander could not read or write. With the long, dark evenings of winter, families spent considerable time reading together and reciting poetry. Most households had extensive libraries. Though only a couple of the informants had received more than a grade eight education here in Canada, they stressed the appreciation felt by Icelanders in general for the opportunity to go to school. Several of them spoke about Icelandic sagas, folktales and superstitions. One recited some of his own poetry and that of another Icelandic poet. Other attitudes typical of the Icelandic people were also spoken of. For example, adoption was an accepted practice and regular occurrence among Icelanders. They also had a custom of giving nicknames, usually to the head of a household. They were not always kind and often reflected some mannerism shown by the individual. Icelandic celebrations, specifically that which occurs on August 2 celebrating Icelandic independance from Danish rule, were described. One individual spoke in detail about Icelandic foods which are prepared for these occasions and others such as Christmas. To some extent, they are continued today. The informants spoke of their religious affiliations and the split in the Lutheran Church between the fundamentalists and a more liberal group. Their comments show how this has affected the churches and people in their communities. Rich in anecdotal detail, these interviews would not only benefit the researcher of Icelandic settlement but also the individual studying early farm life in Saskatchewan.
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