Icelandic festival returns to Gimli, Man., after pandemic hiatus, showcases Viking culture

The Icelandic Festival of Manitoba, also called Islendingadagurinn — meaning ‘The Spirit of Iceland’ — returned to Gimli this weekend after a pandemic hiatus, presenting a glimpse of the last thousand years of Iceland’s history.

Festivities throughout the weekend include a fashion show, music, a midway, strongman competitions, viking battle re-enactments as well as the Viking Village, where skilled re-enactors demonstrate aspects of the day to day lifestyle of the Vikings.

The festival honours the Icelandic tradition of Alþingi, which means ‘the thing’ or ‘allthing.’ An Alþingi was a yearly meeting where people from far and wide gathered to make oaths, recite laws, settle disputes, to marry and to trade, according to the festival’s website.

“It’s nice to hear my language over here. I’m not used to it,” said Bruno Bent, who is from Iceland and participated in the strongman event.

Bent said it felt “fantastic” to return to the festival for an in person gathering for the first time since 2019.

“I feel the freedom here… I feel like I’m home,” he said.

Hearing the Icelandic language being spoken in Canada was a new experience, said Bruno Bent, who is from Iceland and participated in the strongman event. (Megan Goddard/Radio-Canada)

Tony Vanderburgh, a promoter for the strongman events, said the festival’s return was a chance to bring in new fans, as more people are wanting to explore close to home after pandemic restrictions.

The festival also allows Canadians to appreciate Icelandic culture, Vanderburgh said, but it also celebrates Canadian heritage, and the two have some striking similarities.

“Struggling in the elements, trying to survive is a part of our story too,” he said.

The Viking longboat pull was one of the strongman events that took place at the festival, where contestants are given seventy-five seconds to pull a longboat hitched at the back of a truck — weighing around 12,000 pounds, or just over 5,400 kg — for twenty-five meters, Vanderburgh said.

The strongman events were a way to bring back the traditional Viking elements of raw strength, he said. The longboat event is a “struggle,” Vanderburgh said, but strength is not the only skill required.

“Yes, you have to be the strongest man, but you also have to be thoughtful,” he said.

Nicholas Lind, a regular attendee of the festival who is of Norwegian descent, said the yearly event is important for people of Icelandic and Scandinavian descent. (Megan Goddard/Radio-Canada)

Nicholas Lind drove to Gimli from central Alberta for the festival for his third year there, after attending from 2017-2019. He was a part of the Viking Village, which showcased a traditional weapons display, cooking tent, glass bead making, spinning thread and woodworking.

Lind, who is of Norwegian descent, said the festival is particularly important for people of Icelandic and Scandinavian heritage.

He said it’s a good place to meet other people of the same heritage, because many are interested in reenacting the Viking Age at the village, he said.

“We kind of give them a view of what their [ancestors] lives could have been like,” he said.

“We do our best to portray a village.”

Johannah Thordarson, an organizer who has been with the festival for five years, said the turnout this year has been “amazing.”

The festival runs until Monday. 

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