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A Ripple in the Canadian Stream

Time 0:03:07


My name is Elva Simundsson. Traditional Icelandic names tend to have meaning so my name means “ripples in a stream”. I grew up as a third generation Canadian of Icelandic roots. Our family farm is in the Interlake area of Manitoba.

Grandfather Johann, or afi in Icelandic, emigrated from Iceland in 1899 and his homestead received a Century Farm designation in 2001. In Iceland conditions were difficult. Just after the turn of the twentieth century my grandmother Thora lost her little child to an influenza outbreak and shortly thereafter her fisherman husband was lost at sea. She had nothing left in Iceland to hold her. She came to Canada to her friends’ home where she was going to stay until she could establish herself in a place and position. Afi Johann had built his first little house on next farm. He visited his neighbours and met their new guest. The next day, he came back and said to Thora: “You may as well come home with me.” She needed a place and he needed a wife. They were pragmatic people. I learned from them.

It is an Icelandic tradition to name one’s farm. I grew up one of seven siblings at Breidablik near Arborg Manitoba where my brother still farms. The neighbours were all of Icelandic ancestry and the common language in our community was Icelandic. Afi Johann lived with us and refused to speak English. We spoke English at school but at home everyone spoke Icelandic – my grandfather, my parents, the friends and family that came to visit. It was impossible not be fluent in the language.

Most third generation kids lose their connection to their ancestral language but our household was different. We heard all kinds of folk tales of ghosts, trolls and hidden folk and the Icelandic Sagas. We were not raised as Christians. We were told all the stories of the ᴁsir, the old gods of the Vikings. We were told about the three Norns who card the wool, spin the wool and weave the wool of your life. We were all given traditional names.

The Icelandic-Canadian community has been a constant influence in my personal life. I have been involved numerous aspects of the cultural community; writing histories, serving on the Canada-Iceland Foundation and as an editor with the Icelandic Connection literary journal, various positions within the Icelandic National League of North America, teaching language classes and doing tours of the New Iceland settlement area of Manitoba.

My Icelandic roots have had a great deal of influence in my up-bringing and being a ripple in a stream has made me the person I am. Being of Icelandic ancestry makes one a tiny ripple in the larger Canadian mosaic.

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