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.”

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