Vikings storm beaches of midwestern Canadian town
Swords and battle axes drawn, shields up, combatants thrust and parry in a stunning recreation of Viking battles at the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba in Canada’s midwest.
The annual Gimli summer festival dates back 126 years to the colonization of the south shore of Lake Winnipeg by Icelandic immigrants.
The small town 75 kilometers (46 miles) north of Winnipeg is home to the largest concentration of residents with Icelandic ancestry outside Iceland and during four days every August hosts a festival which attracts as many as 70,000 visitors.
The migrants came in the late 1800s along with several other ethnic groups, including Hungarians, Ukrainians and Mennonites, accepting Canadian government land grants during the mass settling of the nation’s vast midwestern plains.
Their direct descendants now number 30,000 in Manitoba province and 100,000 across Canada — equivalent to about onethird the current population of Iceland.
A horn announces the opening of a replica Viking village — the main attraction — echoing across the waters of one Canada’s largest lakes, which is surrounded by vast prairies and pristine boreal forests.
Warren Cummins, president of the Vikings Vinland Society, which built the replica and organized fight events, told AFP: “All the fighters and the people that participate in the fight show go through a training process.
“It’s a combination of education and entertainment to help dispel the myths and mystery around the Viking culture,” he said.
Vikings in the Americas
A large stone statue of a stoic Viking welcomes visitors, many of whom have their picture taken with the ancient warrior.
This year, the bishop of Iceland, Agnhs Sigurpardsttir, was welcomed as official representative of the old country in New Iceland. The president of Iceland, Slafur Ragnar Grimsson, was on hand for the festival last year.
“Outside of Iceland we have the highest population of people of Icelandic descent anywhere else in the world,” said Kathi Thorarinson Neal, a member of the Islengadagurinn organizing committee.
“The mission of the festival is sharing Icelandic culture and heritage with Manitobans, Canadians and people from all over the world,” she said.
“It’s really important for me as a third or fourth generation of western Icelanders, that connection to the homeland isn’t lost,” commented Robbie Russo, who brought several Icelandic musicians to play at the festival.
“Art is a really great bridge to get our generations communicating and getting interested in each other,” he said.
The cultural education component of the festival is important. Re-enactors present the daily life of the Vikings of centuries past, including demonstrating their warfare tactics on a field adjacent to the encampment.
This year the blacksmiths, tailors, weavers and other re-enactors share their knowledge of the Viking cultures across Scandinavia, the British Isles, Iceland, Greenland and Canada’s Newfoundland island province between the years 850 and 950.
Sporting a luxurious-looking tunic, Christian Arel is playing the role of jarl — a Viking royal.
It is the 10th year the Quebecer, who moved several years ago to Alberta (two provinces over from Manitoba), has participated in the festival.
“Viking history is vibrant, dynamic, with a lot going on,” he said, explaining why he keeps coming back. Also, he added, he gets to make crafts.
“We often see Vikings stereotypes in popular culture,” noted Eric Limpalakr. The French historian who recently moved to Winnipeg also takes part in the annual festival, appreciating an opportunity to “reestablish certain historical truths.”