Hope

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There are always turning points in political campaigns. They are usually unexpected and unplanned but, sometimes, it is because a political party makes incredible mistakes. Not big mistakes but a series of small mistakes that accumulate. The kind of mistakes that, while small, as they accumulate, reveal aspects of an individual politician or a party that makes people revolted or fearful. The law of unexpected consequences always lies coiled, ready to strike.

One of these was the niqab. It was a dead cat strategy. Get people talking about the niqab and how it was a threat to Canadians. The implications were that the women wearing it were likely to be also wearing a belt of explosives and were going to blow up people at a Blue Jay’s game or on the Toronto or Montreal subway. If that was the real fear, the ban should have been from the shoulders down. The women could vote with a head covering but the rest of them had to be naked or in a bikini. The whole argument was absurd.

In poker, if you think you’ve got a good hand, you ante up. You raise the stakes. That’s what Harper did. He thought he had a winning hand. His base didn’t like the niqab or the people who wore it so he raised the stakes. He made what was probably the most absurd statement of the election. If re-elected, he was going to ban the niqab for anyone working in government. The absurdity was that no one in government has worn one or currently wears one. He might as well said, I’m going to ban people chowing down on raw porcupines. Nobody is. That made it clear that this wasn’t about the niqab, it was an appeal to the prejudices of his so-called base.

Jason Kenny and Chris Alexander, with the blessing or, perhaps, the encouragement or instruction of the PMO, since nothing was done spontaneously and everything was controlled from the PMO’s office, announced that they would set up a snitch line for neighbours to report on neighbours for any barbaric cultural practices. They left barbaric cultural practices to our imaginations. BBQing children at backyard parties, perhaps?

There was going to be a whole new host of crimes, not defined in law, but defined by suspicion, prejudice, racism, envy (envy is a big motivator), greed, paranoia. The new Canadian emotion was going to be fear. Fear of your family, fear of your neighbours, fear of your community.

Pierre Trudeau said that the government had no place in the bedrooms of the community. The barbaric cultural practices snitch line (just think, when we were children, how one of our playmates could frighten us by saying he or she was going to tell mom or a teacher) wouldn’t just give the government and everyone else a place in our bedrooms but would ease us toward what currently exists in North Korea, what existed in Germany under the Nazi party, what existed in the USSR as everyone spied on everyone else.

Our universities have been at the forefront of multi-culturalism. That wasn’t the result of any policy. That was just the reality that people travel the world seeking particular types of education. When I was in graduate school in Iowa, a state that is rural, traditional, prosperous and conservative in terms of history and tradition, I was on the board of the foreign students’ association. There were students from around the world. I met Arabs, Israelis, Africans, Asians, Europeans, South Americans. I discovered that they were like me in what they wanted from life. They were different in traditions and habits. They ate foods I’d never heard of. As we studied amidst the corn fields of Iowa, we were all adapting: to each other, to Iowa, to America, to new knowledge and ideas. And some people fell in love. Back home, inter-racial was Ukrainian and Icelandic, or Icelandic and Aboriginal. That turned heads, caused gossip, and family conflict.

That multi-culturalism came about simply because people can love each other no matter what the colour of their skin or their ethnic or religious background. That reality gradually spread into Canadian society. Or, I should say, is gradually spreading into Canadian society. It is much more accepted in urban centres where people from many different backgrounds work together. It is not so well accepted in rural areas where people are used to being “us” and everyone else is “them.” Someone with a different background is frequently treated with suspicion and resentment. However, gradually, Canada has been becoming more tolerant but that tolerance, spreading out from urban centres also has elicited a back lash of resentment.

To their unending shame, Harper and his campaign team played on that resentment, fear and prejudice. The goal, I assume, was to get their base to vote against this world made up of people who were others. It pitted this type of Canadian against that type of Canadian. Harper’s “old stock” comment underlay all this. There are “old stock”, you know, decent, go to church on Sundays, have a nice house, a cottage, two kids, a car, preferably a higher end one, but that all fell apart because it describes Rob Ford. At that last pathetic rally, I kept waiting for Harper to put his arm around Rob Ford and proudly declare into the microphone, Rob’s Old Stock.

It was ugly. It was mean. It played to bigotry. It was shameful. Watching it, I was embarrassed.

And then, yesterday, when I went on Facebook, I saw a clip of Justin Trudeau at an India-Canadian association of Montreal celebration of Indian Independence Day in 2013. He was wearing traditional Kurta clothes. He was dancing the Bhangra with members of the community to Punjabi music. He was obviously having a good time.

it was just an amateur video clip, probably taken on someone’s cell phone. There were no words. No commentary. There didn’t need to be. The message was clear. I wonder, though, if Harper, Kenny, Alexander, and the rest of the Conservative party are capable of hearing it?

Home or House?

 

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Someone asked me what I’ve been doing lately.

I said, “Fixing up my house.” It’s true. I fixed up my office: repairs, paint, new floor, etc. Now, I’m fixing up the laundry room. I’m not planning on selling. I’m just dealing with normal wear and tear. But just down the street is a house for sale. Nice place. The people who bought it and renovated it are asking 995,000. If someone puts twenty percent down and pays all the expenses, taxes with cash, they’ll still have a mortgage of 805,000. If they own 190,000 of the house and the bank owns 805,000, who really owns the house?

Made me think about my house. That’s what we say, isn’t it? My house. But it isn’t really my house.

When I had a mortgage, it was mostly the bank’s house. If I’d sold my house, the bank would have got most of the money. Some of my friends who didn’t have houses thought owning that 1915 house built by a Welsh shipwright meant I was rich. They mixed up debt with assets. I just owed more than them.

My grandparents and my parents were scarred by the Great Depression. My grandparents had their house taken away by the bank. The bank foreclosed. It really didn’t take my grandparent’s house. The bank took back its own house.

The problem is that we all suffer from recency. We think whatever conditions exist will continue to exist. If there is a depression , there will always be a depression. If there are high interest rates, there will always be high interest rates. If house prices are going up, they will always go up.

The longer a trend continues, the more recency is reinforced. Even though housing prices are at absurd levels in Vancouver and Toronto—in Vancouver, a vacant lot can cost two million dollars—people are still buying. Young people are taking out 700,000 dollar mortgages. Are they afraid that house prices could fall twenty percent (140,000)? Their down payment and their equity could be wiped out? No, because, you see, house prices always go up. That’s what the TV shows say.

House prices don’t always go up. House prices crashed in the USA. House prices in Victoria in the 1980s fell so hard that the banks and credit unions had room dividers set up that were covered in pictures of houses they needed to sell. An offer of fifty percent of the mortgage would get you a deal.

House prices in many areas in Canada are starting to slip. Money is still cheap but it isn’t just in Alberta that people are losing their jobs. It doesn’t matter how cheap money is if you are unemployed. Or underemployed. My grandfather always had a job but the railway cut his wages not just once but many times. He was working full time but he no longer could make the monthly payments.

According to Garth Turner’s blog, http://www.greaterfool.ca/, house prices in Saskatoon are down 15% from this time last year. 96 houses sold last week. 85 went for below the asking price. Then there is Calgary.

House prices are notoriously sticky. People who have financial problems will keep paying the mortgage as long as possible. They need a place to live. They’ll skimp on other things but they’ll make that payment. When they can’t, they’ll put the house up for sale. They’ll start by asking for a price that’ll get them back the money they’ve paid. If the market isn’t there, they’ll be forced to drop their price so they can give the bank the money they owe. If they don’t get enough money to cover closing costs and the bank debt, they still owe the difference. A lot of people think they can just walk away from a mortgage. Nope, no jingle mail here. You owe 700,000 The house sells for 500,000. You owe 200,000.

Recency. We all suffer from it.

I sold my first house for more than double what I originally paid. My second house I sold for four times what I paid. I wasn’t investing in houses. I just bought a house I needed and then a house I wanted. It seems to prove that house prices always go up. Buy now or buy never. That’s the mantra. Except the assessed value of this present house has slipped every year since I bought it. I’m glad I’m not planning on selling it to provide a pension. I’m glad I don’t have a big mortgage. I’m glad I accidentally made money on the first two houses.

My house. Maybe. In a way, I guess it’s my house. If I pay the strata fee every year. If I pay the taxes every year. If I pay the utilities every year. Stop paying those plus the mortgage and, like my grandfather, I’ll discover whose house it really is.

It’s not just Alberta that is having economic problems. It’s not just low prices for oil and natural gas. Our economy is resource based. We sell oil, gas, ore, lumber, grain, fish. China doesn’t need our natural resources or Australia’s natural resources the way it did. Our oil can’t compete with oil that can be sold for as little as twenty dollars a barrel. You don’t work in any of these areas so you are okay, Jack? No, you are not. There is a business and tax chain that runs right through the country. Oil field workers come from all over the country. Suppliers exist all over the country. They can’t sell their product, they’ll shut their doors. Medicine Hat is already seeing service and supply businesses closing.

My house. I want to feel that it is my house. Although someone else lived here before I did and someone else will live here after I leave. The banks, the credit unions, the mortgage brokers, the real estate agents, the TV hypsters, all say now is the time to buy. Certainly, for them it’s a good time for you to buy. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I grew up too close to the Great Depression. Maybe I’m still influenced by the Great Depression that destroyed so many lives. Maybe house prices always go up. Maybe. Maybe no one will ever have to go through the trauma my grandparent’s went through. I hope so but I wouldn’t bet on it.

(WDV studied economics in university. Theory of Business, Money and Banking, Labour Relations, International Trade but then foolishly went off to write poetry, fiction, and drama.)

Food for the Soul

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When the first Icelandic settlers arrived in Victoria, the city already had a substantial history. In Iceland, there was no military. When they came to Victoria, they came to a city that started off as a fort and, as an outpost of the British Empire, was always vulnerable to attack as a result of European conflicts.

Esquimalt Harbour was used by the British Navy in the 1840s. By the 1850s, a fully active naval base had been established. A fort was built at Macaulay Point 1894 to 1897. That Point was armed and rearmed numerous times as more powerful weapons were created to fend off an invasion. While people today often find the idea of an invasion of Vancouver Island amusing, during WWII, a family that had owned the last house I lived in prior to this one, sold it for a pittance and fled inland because they were certain that a Japanese invasion was going to occur at any time. The Japanese army and navy had successfully conquered one area after the other and seemed unstoppable.

Back in the days when there was an Icelandic community on Spring Ridge, the naval base in Victoria was an active, important place and during the years leading up to and during WW1, it became even more important.

Today, the Macaulay Point area incorporates a beach, a greensward, and winding trails that, from time to time, pass the large concrete and stone emplacements built to defend the West Coast. The old bunkers, ammunition houses and a spiderweb of tunnels (one tunnel goes back to 1895 about nine years after those first Icelanders stepped off the local steamer) are fascinating. The view over the Strait of Juan de Fuca is exceptional

However, today I didn’t just go to wander among the historical sites or to take in the thrashing waves but to take in Sculpture Splash.

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Along the ocean walk and on the greensward, out on the granite outcrops, over ninety sculptures were on display. They were worth the trip. The show was, like all good art shows, full of surprises. One of the tasks of an artist or writer is to get the viewer to look at something familiar in a new way. These artists certainly did that.

There were, for example, two large heads of crocodiles at the edge of the sand. It would have been easy to miss them but as a spectator said to me as he put his hand on my shoulder, “Isn’t that amazing!” I agreed. It was amazing. Two crocodiles staring up at us out of the sand and water.

There were the Asian stone heads set on a rocky outcrop. Given the importance of the Chinese in the history of Victoria (I believe we have Canada’s oldest Chinatown), I felt it was a nice bow in the direction of our Asian history. Now, I would like to see an expanded art exhibition in or before the Chinese cemetery at Harling Point.

There was a nearly life-size rhino hiding in the tall grass on the edge of a cliff, looking like he was going to rush at the passersby. There were birds on the beach made of the most inventive items, feathers from dinner knives, for example. Salmon created from metal gears. A wooden man on a bench but a man that looked like an android. People were lined up to get their picture taken with him.

There were demonstrations and classes and a steady stream of people with their dogs. Dogs love this area because they can be off leash. There were nearly as many cameras as dogs. I knew how successful the sculptures were from the array of cameras that were out. The sculptures were fascinating, surprising, delightful and part of that was the choice of having the show outdoors at Macaulay Point with the wind blowing, a few flecks of rain to remind us that we were on the West Coast, the waves breaking on the rocks, two eagles floating overhead. All that was needed was for a pod of Orcas to come by to say hello. They are seen fairly regularly in this area.

I had lots of work to do today but I’m glad I took the time to drive to Sculpture Splash. Our stomach needs to be fed but so does our soul and, sometimes, lost in our busy days, we forget about nourishing our soul.

Lanes

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A lane is defined as a narrow country road or a narrow way or passage between walls, hedges or fences.

In Gimli where I grew up, a lane wasn’t either of these. It was a back lane. Gimli had been laid out on a grid with front streets and back lanes. Early on, I learned to love back lanes. Front streets were where people put up a front for their neighbours and the public. If a yard was going to be prettified, the grass cut, flowers planted, hedges trimmed, it was in the front yard. The owner’s public persona was on display.

Now, the back lane was different. It’s not just that the back lane was where people put out their garbage with all that revealed about what they ate, bought, cast aside. It was also the muddy, rutted track where fishing boxes were piled, corks hung to dry after being oiled, skiffs rested between fishing seasons, anchors and ropes lined up. It was where you saw who was precise and organized. Gardens revealed a great deal about someone. There were back yards with gardens with exact rows and there were gardens that were chaotic.

Back lanes often had fences, especially the back lanes that bordered cottages. Those fences, usually posts with wire stretched across them, provided us with good times. Gimli was a swamp in the 1940s and 50s. When the spring runoff came, it filled the ditches that fronted all the streets and flooded the low lying cottage yards. Squashers, our name for the egg shaped fruit that grew on the  vines that overtook the fences every spring, grew prolifically. When squashers hit an object such as another kid, they splattered. The inside was wet and filled with sectioned soft membranes and brown or black seeds. The mess was gratifying.

Today, in Victoria, far in time and place from the Gimli of my childhood, I went for a fifty minute walk, up hill and down dale. Some of that walk was on local roads but Victoria is a city of narrow country roads and passageways between walls, hedges and fences.

I walked the road to Playfair Park, crossed the park with its lawns and flower beds, its rhododendron copse, and slipped into a narrow lane between fences. I came out on a dead end road and hiked uphill back to the park where I followed a lane between the park fence and an area of salal and scruffy Gary Oaks. I’d done a loop and ended up back on the road that I’d followed to the park. I slipped away to the left to follow a loop that would make my walk a figure eight.  I was on a busy thoroughfare, but that only lasted a couple of blocks before I crossed over and, although I continued on a paved road, there were no sidewalks and a lot of vegetation dearly beloved by the local deer. The road winds through a neighbourhood of rock, blackberry thickets and fir trees.

I ended up on Cook St. one of Victoria’s busiest thoroughfares. I didn’t stay on it for long but turned onto a laneway, one of those odd little jogs that must have a history of sorts because it is so unexpected. It is at the bottom of a steep slope and the lane runs flat along the bottom of the slope. There are cherry trees grown rampant, an overgrown ditch, blackberry thickets on one side.  At this time of year, the ditch is dotted with light purple daisies growing wild. On the other side there is a mishmash of fences and driveways. Enclosed by the lane, I’m hard pressed to remember I’m in the city.

The lane ended and I began the slow slog up the steep back of the Rise. This road can be called a lane, no sidewalks, twisting its way up, past carefully tended houses and yards,past rosemary bushes so large they form a hedge, past the yard of an urban gardener who I haven’t met but have watched as he tends his half-dozen bee hives or plants and harvests his leeks and raspberries.

There are in these lanes, small surprises. Bird houses tucked here and there. A potting shed resting high up on an outcrop. Ceramic trolls and elves. Uncountable Douglas squirrels running up and down the oak trees. A tree, deciduous, with forgotten Christmas ornaments sparkling in the sun. A box of apples set out for anyone passing by to share. A large metal bowl of water for the? Deer, raccoons, dogs, cats, cougars, squirrels, blue jays, robins, hawks. A begonia at the bottom of a hedge, flaming red.

At the top of the rise is a dead end. No vehicles can pass but I can cross over to the lane that leads down to my house. It is here  one evening as dusk was falling that I met a four point stag. We both stopped and studied each other. I wished I had an apple to roll toward him. He was just about at the cross road where I was standing. Handsome, the way the stags in the old Encyclopedia Britannica looked, noble, head held high. The words from Scot jumped into my mind unbidden. “The stag at eve had drunk his fill/Where danced the moon on Monan’s rill.” Finally, I lifted my right hand in a salute and went on my way.

 

Cornucopia

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When the Icelandic immigrants came to Canada, they left a country where the soil was only suitable for grazing. Even that grazing land was only about one percent of the total land because the rest of the country was covered in mountains, lava deserts, lava fields and glaciers. To make matters worse, during many years, because of cold weather, the grass didn’t grow. That meant there was no food for sheep or dairy cows and with the die off of cattle, starvation was inevitable. The only alternative food was fish and in particularly cold years , the harbours filled with ice so that inshore fishing with open boats was not possible. There were no other sources of food.

Visitors to Iceland commented on the fact that farm land could be much improved with drainage. However, the return on drainage, given that it had to be dug by hand and because of the land ownership and rental system, was questionable.

There were attempts to grow grain but those failed. In 1772, Governor Thodal planted barley. It grew well but before it could be harvested, a storm destroyed the crop. Governor Finsen tried to grow oats but it was never warm enough for oats to ripen. In the Faroes, the farmers were able to grow and harvest oats.

At the end of the 1700s, the Danish government established model farms in Húnavatn. The farm managers tried to grow oats, barley, and rye. When walls were built to protect the grain from the cold wind, the grain nearly ripened. We think of Quinoe as a new discovery but in 1875 Burton mentions the possibility of it being grown in Iceland because it is grown in the Peruvian Andes at altitudes and temperatures where no other grain can grow.

Hr. Haldorsen introduced the potato to Iceland and by the time that Burton is writing Ultima Thule, the potato is grown all over Iceland. It is small but satisfactory, he says. Burton suggests that people grow turnips. Radishes are grown but are ‘hard, coarse, and woody.” Spinach is a success.

In the north-west the Stranda Sýsla has tried to grow various kales. Broccoli, turnip-cabbage, red cabbage, cauliflower. Lettuces are common; beets both red and yellow, carrots, onions, garlic, and shallots, chevril, black mustard, watercress, horse radish and parsley.

Ultima Thule was published in 1875 so Burton‘s comments are relevant to the experience of our immigrant ancestors. His observations are not that the growing of these various food plants was widespread but, rather, that they were experimented with. The attempted growing of food plants is reported by other travelers at earlier times but those experiments were usually associated with the bishoprics where there was the influence of clerics from Europe.

Therefore, when the Icelanders boarded ships to Ameríka, their wooden traveling chests were not filled with agricultural implements unless it was the short blade from a scythe. Their only crop was hay and their agricultural experience was limited to manuring a home field, cutting, raking and stacking the grass. They brought no seeds, nor garden implements, no ploughs. They came singularly unprepared for farming.

In New Iceland and as they moved Westward toward Brandon, then Argyle, further to Regina and Swift Current, they learned to evaluate land, but often the lessons were costly both in resources and in lives. Graveyards and family stories testify to that cost.
Many Icelanders began their journey westward from New Iceland shortly after they arrived in 1875. In the meantime, across the Rockies much had been happening during the 1800s.

On Vancouver Island, the Hudson Bay Company established a number of farms in Victoria as far as Colwood. Settlers were arriving and they wanted to have their own farms. One of the first independent farms was bought by a Captain Cooper in 1851. It’s interesting that as the land was cleared, it wasn’t just farmed but sheep and cattle were grazed. That meant when the Icelanders arrived, there was already a precedent and experience in grazing animals locally.

The first gold rush that brought American miners and others north was the Fraser Canyon gold rush of 1857. This rush was mostly over in three years but prospectors kept finding new gold areas. Most miners by necessity and by government decree entered the goldfields through Victoria. Business boomed. Then in 1896 to 1899 the Kondike goldrush began. A hundred thousand hopeful gold seekers headed north.
Cattle ranching developed to feed the early gold seekers but spread beyond that goal as ranchers sought markets for their cattle. In 1876, the year the large group of Icelanders arrived in New Iceland, Thaddeur Sarper started a cattle drive to Salt Lake City. His goal was to put his cattle into rail cars and ship them to Chicago. Instead, seeing an opportunity closer at hand, he shipped the cattle to San Francisco.

The ranchers also started fruit farming. Between 1864 and 1880 one rancher planted a huge orchard. In the meantime, on Salt Spring Island, apples had been growing since 1860. The first Salt Spring Island Fall Fair was held in 1896. By 1900 there were 80 official farms.

The immigrants had left an Iceland plagued by severe weather that brought many of them to the brink of starvation. Their journey had taken some of them to Nova Scotia where poor conditions drove them away. They traveled to Kinmount where tragedy beset them and the land was not suitable for grazing or growing grain. They traveled on to New Iceland to face a dreadful winter and disease. Westward, always westward, looking for good land, for opportunity. When those immigrants who made it to the Coast stepped off a train in Vancouver, after a long and arduous journey, they were greeted with flower gardens, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, wild berries in abundance. They were greeted with cornucopia.

When I was at the Saanich Fair this past weekend, I thought of those Icelanders who came to Vancouver Island in the late 1800s. I gazed at the abundance of vegetables, fruit, and flowers, and when I came across a display of local produce in a basket, I thought Cornucopia, they were greeted by Cornucopia. To me that basket of fresh produce symbolized this new world they had struggled so long and hard to reach. Of course, sadness, hardship, disappointment did not end. Those are all part of life. Tragedy can occur anywhere but for most, the West Coast provided opportunity.

Cornucopia! As I studied the basket on display with its blue ribbon, I thought of those immigrants as I stood there at the Saanich Fair.

(Material for this article from numerous sources including Burton, Ultima Thule. Lutz, Interlude or Industry? Ranching in British Columbia, 1859-1885, British Columbia Historical News, Summer 1980, Vol. 13, No. 4. Sivertz, The Sivertz Family, Book 2, Elinborg. Wickipdia.)

The Saanich Fair

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Here in the diaspora on the foggy edge of the world once a year the locals put on a fair. This year is their 148th. That means they started twenty years before the first Icelanders skipped off the ferry and exclaimed, “What have we come to? Is it really summer all year?”
The Saanich Fair is the oldest continuous agricultural fair in Western Canada. It covers so much ground that I didn’t manage to cover it all before I tired out and came home.
Since it is an agricultural fair, there are 4-H sheep judging competitions, a light horse show, rabbit judging, draft horse events, oodles and boodles of llamas and alpacas. There’s a corner market, a farmer’s market, Victoria market gardeners, and a flower arrangement competition. There’s a highland dance competition.
It’s not all just staring at the animals as they stare back at you. If your kids don’t know where t heir milk comes from, there is milking parlour demo that will show them. There’s also a rabbit care and grooming demonstration and a chance to talk to the donkeys and their owners. There are local farm talks and a chance to hear Marilyn: The Backyard Chicken Lady.
For those who like food and are competitive there is a pie eating competition and a spam eating competition. For the kids there are the pedal tractor races and the zucchini car races. If you haven’t filled up on pie, you can enter the cupcake, ice cream or watermelon eating contests.
There are, of course, the rides. The carnival area is so large that the trucks pulling the rides take up acres of space.
For me, the big thing about the Saanich Fair is that people bring their passions to proudly show them, whether that is roosters, ducks, eggs, apples, grapes, pickles, pies, cookies, bread, honey, goats. And more. I get to see the best that the peninsula (and beyond in some cases) provides.
There are flower competitions for every flower you can think of.
To my joy and delight I came across a booth that said Gluten Free Baked Goods. And were they good! I ate a pocket filled with feta and spinach and went back for a pocket filled with peaches and apples. Before I left, I returned only to find the spinach and feta sold out so I bought a pie and a tart. The owner/baker was shaking her head in surprise at the popularity of the spinach-feta pockets. She’ll have more ready tomorrow. It sounds like she’ll be baking all night.
There are booths and booths and displays and displays. There are numerous ethnic food booths, Lebanese, Jewish, Filipino, and many more. It’s a bit like Winnipeg’s Folklorama mixed in with Salish art, fresh vegetables, turkeys and miniature horses.
I ran out of energy before I ran out of things to see. For three days there is entertainment on the main stage. You could go to the fair for three days and just sit and listen. I promise myself that I will do that some year but when I pass through the gates with the surging crowd, I’m caught up with all the things I want to see and experience. I stop at the stage and watch and listen for a bit but there’s the amazing 4-H displays, the art and photography show, the… You get the idea. My feet take on a life of their own. They lead me here and there, willy nilly, into the heritage building filled with items I remember from my childhood, to the blacksmith demonstrations, to youngsters doing tricky manoeuvers on the backs of very large horses.
The line up for food and long. There are signs everywhere saying bring a water bottle with you. There are free fill ups. It’s that kind of Fair. The kind you should plan on attending some time. The kind you should take your kids to, especially if they live in the city. Get them up close to goat or an alpaca. Maybe even have them hold a rabbit.

Oblivion by Indridason

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I’m a great fan of Analdur Indridason’s writing. I’ve read all his books that have been translated into English and I eagerly look forward to the next one. I bought Oblivion and, although I usually go to bed about ten o’clock, I stayed up until one thirty a.m. following Erlendur and Marion. For those of you who don’t know, Marion is an older detective, a mentor to Erlendur. In previous books, I’ve been intrigued by Marion and his role in Erlendur’s life and career so I’m happy to say that since this book takes place when Erlendur is just starting out as a detective, the reader learns more about Marion’s life.

It is tricky to write narratives that fill in a story that has already been developed. I’ve followed, fascinated, with Erlendur’s obsession about missing persons, especially those who are lost in Iceland’s dangerous landscape of glaciers, lava deserts, raging rivers, boiling mud and water. I last saw Erlendur on the edge of freezing to death, being snowed under in a reprise of the death of his brother when they were young. I, like I’m sure many others, wanted to send an email to the author saying, “No, no. Don’t let him go.”

Erlendur’s life is complicated. His marriage has broken up. His ex hates him. His son and daughter in the later books are disasters; his daughter is an addict who refuses to be rescued. In Oblivion we get a glimpse of the early years after Erlendur has left his wife. From a distance, he silently watches his daughter on a playground. Not much is said but the passage is full of regret and guilt. It shows Indridason’s ability to communicate emotion tersely so that it never becomes melodrama.

The novel, since this is a murder mystery, begins with a death, a body in what will become known in reality as the Blue Lagoon, now a major attraction for tourists. However, when the story takes place the shores are barren and the woman who goes to bathe in the waters to soothe her skin condition is alone when she sees a shoe rising out of the water. Disgusted that someone would throw a shoe into the water, she goes to retrieve it only to find it attached to a body.

For the next 345 pages we follow Erlendur and Marion Briem as they gradually fit together the puzzle of the victim’s death. To add to the story, Indidason folds in the story of Dagbjðrt, an eighteen year old who, decades before, had disappeared without a trace. Erlendur had been fascinated with her inexplicable disappearance and, now, with Marion’s encouragement, he begins to look at this cold case.

Indridason is expert at fitting together complex puzzles but his novels are made up of much more than tricky plots. He has a genius for creating landscape and mood. Even those readers who have not been to Iceland get to experience the harshness of the landscape, the bitterness of the weather, and the moodiness of the skies. The sense of daily life in and around Reykjavik is captured with place names, short descriptions, the names of food. It is all very bleak, bleaker than I’ve experienced but then I’ve always been there in summer. That bleakness is as much Erlendur’s as it is the landscape’s.

In more than this novel, Indridason explores the relationship of the American military and the Icelanders. The British occupied Iceland to keep it from being taken over by the Germans during WWII. A year later, the British were replaced by the Americans. Relationships were uneasy. Iceland has a small population, at the time of the war, around one hundred and twenty thousand with forty thousand of those living in the capital city, Reykjavik. They were overwhelmed by tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen. Conflict was inevitable. Icelanders were poor. There were serious restrictions on what they could import. The Americans were well supplied with consumer goods: cigarettes, beer, meat, clothes. A black market developed.

Indridason does an excellent job of creating the conflict between the occupying Americans and the Icelanders.

When I stay up until one thirty in the morning to read a book, it has to be very good. At the same time, I felt with Oblivion that as a reader, I was ahead of Erlendur and Marion with regard to the solution to the mysteries. Part of the problem may be that my devotion to Indridason’s novels comes more from his development of Erlendur and less from the plot. In this book, the two plots are more important than the main character and his mentor. As far as the plot goes, I was disappointed with the appearance of Master Sergeant Roberts. It was a bit like having a shoot out in a Western movie and solving it by having the cavalry appear . However, that is a quibble brought about because when I read an Indridason novel, I expect it to be perfect. It won’t stop me from re-reading Oblivion and reveling in the descriptions, details, clever moves, interesting interactions among the characters.

Victoria Cribb has done an excellent job of translating the novel.

I highly recommend all the Erlendur books. However, before you read this one, if you haven’t read some of the earlier novels, I’d recommend you buy a couple and get to know Erlendur so you can appreciate these new details about his life.

Wishful Thinking

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I made the mistake of repairing the holes in my office walls. They had accumulated over the years. You know, pictures come and go. When I bought the house there were not one, not two, not three but four cable outlets. Then the carpenter ants arrived. The guy in the moon suit listened to the walls, drilled a dozen holes and sprayed the nest. There were a lot holes to fill. Good thing that years ago a plasterer had taught me how to fill, sand, prime and paint.

It took a day to fill and sand. Another day to prime and another day to paint. Looks good . After I’d picked out the colour and the clerk had mixed it, she pointed out the name to me: Wishful Thinking.

The trouble with new looking walls is that the rest of the room looks scruffy. I walked back to the lumber yard to look at floor tile. Right now there is wall to wall. I’m inclined to eat at the computer. I drink coffee at the computer. The carpet is, I think, supposed to be a pale grey. After four years, it looks like an abstract painting.

I looked at a lot of tile. To glue or go free floating. If free floating will there be pinch points caused by my desk, office chair, printer table. I fell in love with cork tiles. I love the honey coloured warmth. Unfortunately, the salesman said they will not stand up to a lot of traffic. But he’s got a wife, two young kids and two dogs. The cork tiles are in his kitchen and the kitchen leads to the patio. They need replacing. Not the wife and kids or dogs. The tiles. I’m the only one who uses my office.
While waiting for advice from my daughter and son-in-law, I decided to look for curtains.

You have to understand, this is not a big room. It’s 13.5 x 6.5 feet. There’s just room for me, the desk, the printer table, a two drawer filing cabinet. The window behind me is 31.5 inches deep and 5 ft 2 inches wide. I need curtains for it because the sun shining through it in the early part of the day means I can’t see my computer screen. I’m not sure what it is that is at the top of the window but it is totally useless. It is about six inches deep and crinkly. I bought this house from an older widow who was into purple and green and ruffles. I’m away during most of the summer and so far I’ve managed by throwing two tea towels over the ruffles. One has a picture of Irish elves and shamrocks and the other has pictures of old buildings and carriages pulled by horses.

I drove to the Bay. My grandmother could always get what she wanted at the Bay. The main floor is nothing but women’s underwear, perfume and with-it clothes. I escalatered myself to the second floor. Circled the floor while trying to look inconspicuous. A man by himself trolling the aisles among slow cookers, brightly coloured dishes, duvets and bath towels is always suspect. I finally stood in line to talk to a cashier.

“We don’t,” she said somewhat archly but with a slight edge of pity, “carry ready made drapes and curtains anymore. However, I can arrange an appointment with a consultant for you.”

“I want curtains for my study window. Forty eight inch deep.”

“You could try the Tillicum Mall,” she said dismissing me to take care of a woman juggling six brightly coloured pillows.

I stopped at Home something or other. They had nothing under eighty-four inches. The clerk was unable to understand why anyone would want anything shorter than eighty-four inches. They did have ninety six inches.

I tried Urban Outfitters. I think they have the same supplier as everyone else. I was getting to know the patterns.

In desperation, I went to Walmart. I don’t like Walmart. For all sorts of reasons. I don’t like giving them my money. It’s visceral. But sometimes you just have to do what you just have to do. They did have “Pocket drapes” for “Pocket Windows”. Imagine that. Except the stock had been ravaged by women (or men) desperate to buy drapes or curtains less than 84 inches. What was left was the stuff of nightmares. Having any of these drapes hanging behind me as I typed would make the hair on the back of my head stand up. To justify having gone there, I bought a couple of cans of garbanzos.

Somewhere in China there there are armies of people making drapes eighty four and ninety six inches. That is what the consumer will be allowed to buy. I see huge factories churning out drapes, that are all the same, massive freighters carrying them to North America, legions of trucks speeding them to stores across the land.

This is what happens when you allow large corporations to drive down prices to the point where small, independent outlets can’t survive. For a few dollars cheaper, you give up choice and variety, you give up the possibility of a lot of small shops producing their own unique products so that when you go shopping, it means looking at a wide variety of styles and colours. You give up choice. You give up jobs and opportunity and, ultimately, freedom.

Go West Young Man

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Egill’s Icelandic tour group, guests of the Icelanders of Victoria.

I have the greatest admiration for the settlers who came from Iceland during the 1870s into the early 1900s. These people risked everything. Many paid with their lives. They came because they wanted better lives, more opportunity and, above all, land. The Icelanders were not the only ones leaving behind an old life to risk a new one. People were coming from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, England, Scotland. Later, in the 1890s, the East Europeans would begin to flood into Western Canada.

When Horace Greeley, the 1871 editor of the New York Times, was asked by a young man working at the paper what he should do, he said that anyone who had to earn a living should go where workers are needed and wanted, where they will be hired because they’re needed, not because someone was doing them a favour. His advice was to go West but before anyone went West, he should have learned how to chop, plough and mow.

The Icelandic immigrants were at a great disadvantage when they arrived in Canada. They had only mastered mowing because in Iceland their only crop was hay. How could they have learned to chop? They’d come from a treeless land to a land of endless forests. How could they have learned to plough? They were used to being herdsmen, not grain farmers. They sowed no crops so they had no need to plough. How could they have known how to clear the land, to plough it, to seed it, to grow grain?

In Iceland, grazing land was at a premium. Good land for raising hay was owned by the church, the crown and private farmers. The figures from a survey in 1695 show there were 4059 farms. The Crown owned 718, the church owned 1494 and farmers owned 1847. The majority of the population were indentured servants, laborers, or crofters residing on marginal land. Two hundred years later not much had changed. New grazing land couldn’t be conjured out of the lava deserts.

The other skill that the Icelanders brought with them was that of deep sea fishing. To their sorrow, the immigrants discovered that the equipment and skills of deep sea fishing did not apply well to fishing on fresh water lakes that froze over in winter.

Yet, driven by lack of opportunity because of the shortage of land, the oppression of the ruling class (by both Danish and Icelandic) and volcanic eruptions that destroyed precious grazing land, some Icelanders made the decision to emigrate tp Amerika. They first settled in Nova Scotia and Ontario but good lands in Nova Scotia and Ontario were already taken.

They searched for more suitable land where they could apply the skills and knowledge they had in raising sheep, milk cows and in fishing. They ended up at Willow Point on Lake Winnipeg.

The stopped for a time in Winnipeg but decided to continue on to the area they called New Iceland. The decision to leave Winnipeg even though it was late in the season proved disastrous. In spite of its name, Iceland, Iceland’s weather is not like Manitoba’s.

They had learned something of chopping in Nova Scotia and Ontario but they were not skilled woodsmen. In Iceland, they built of lava rock and turf. At Willow Point they had to build houses from trees.

Unprepared for one of the coldest winters on record, the settlers were faced with conditions so unbearable that many of the stronger adults, and the older children capable of seeking work, walked to Selkirk and Winnipeg. According to Dr. Thompson in his history of Riverton, “the men found work at 10 to 20 dollars a month on the farms. Women and children were hired as domestics in Winnipeg homes. Only about one hundred were left in the original settlement when scurvy broke out. Thirty-four of the remaining one hundred died from the disease.”

The second group arrived and New Iceland was repopulated for a time. But good land was hard to find among the swamps and there was no way of draining off the water. Having made the long journey from Iceland, many now continued moving west, always looking for good land and opportunity. Some went to North Dakota where they found good land that was easier to prepare for crops.

Canada is vast. The distances a person has to travel is great. To travel by car from Gimli, Manitoba to Victoira, BC takes three ten  hour days.

Canadian distances are unimaginable for many people who have not lived here. Three days of steady driving in a modern car at speeds of 100 to 120 k an hour. To get some idea of how much slower travel was a hundred years ago, I will cite a biography written by a woman who left Edmonton, Alberta in a wagon pulled by horses during the winter of 1913. This was 38 years after the settlers arrived at Gimli. This winter journey to Slave Lake took a month In brutally cold weather.

Dr. Thompson in his history of Riverton says that Stefan Eyolfson left the Icelandic River settlement for North Dakota. He carried all he owned on his back, and walked the entire 320 kms, driving ahead of him two cows.

Nowadays, people sometimes say, it would have made sense for the first groups of Icelandic immigrants to have settled on the West Coast. There are greater similarities between between the West Coast of Canada and the coasts of Iceland. There was deep sea fishing for halibut and cod, there was a salmon fishery. The ocean didn’t freeze over. The climate was closer to Iceland’s than the climate of New Iceland.

What they leave out is that until the railways reached the West Coast of Canada, the prairies and then the mountains formed an insurmountable barrier.

Until the railway reached the Coast, a traveler in the East had to take a ship around the Horn. Such a trip was long and dangerous. The ocean around Cape Horn is known for storms, large waves, powerful currents and even icebergs. So many ships foundered in the waters off Cape Horn that it was regarded as a sailor’s graveyard.

Faced with the difficulties in New Iceland, many of the settlers began moving West—like Stefan Eyolfson often walking, or on wagons pulled by oxen and horses but the distances that could be traveled were small. They went west of Winnipeg to Brandon, to Argyle. When the railroad reached Swift Current, Sask., settlers took wagons, cattle, equipment in boxcars, then unloaded and drove away onto the vast prairie.

In 1886, the first train went to Port Moody, B.C. In 1887, the first CPR passenger train arrived in Vancouver. Some Icelanders were on those first trains to BC. We have been coming to BC ever since. There is evidence of this migration everywhere you look. Some of it is in graveyards but some of it is right here, right now. Fred Bjarnason from Golden, BC, came to Victoria to work as a chef. Janis Olof Magnusson, from Winnipeg’s west end moved to Regina, Saskatchewan, then to BC to work as an agricultural economist. I moved to Victoria to be a professor at the University of Victoria.

Richard Beck moved from North Dakota to Victoria when he retired. He brought with him his passion for all things Icelandic and he and his wife, Margaret, created the Richard and Margaret Beck Trust at the U. of Victoria. With the income from that money, the trust has brought over a hundred experts on many aspects of Icelandic history, society and culture to give lectures. The Beck Trust has sponsored summer school courses, including courses in Icelandic film.

Bob Aesgeirson who you will have seen on Vesturfarar and may have met in Vancouver, told me that he was working as a radio announcer in Winnipeg. He left Winnipeg in a raging blizzard to have a holiday in Vancouver. When he got off the train in Vancouver, there was a light, warm rain. He bought a return ticket to Winnipeg, quit his job and moved to Vancouver. On Salt Spring Island Ian Sigvaldason has come from Arborg to create a beautiful art gallery.

There are endless stories of this journey West, both historic and current. But one of the most fascinating is that of Christian Sivertz and Elinborg Samuelsdottir. Although Christian’s last name was Sivertz, he was a hundred percent Icelandic. His family took that name Sivertsen to honour a Dane who helped the family and then when Christian was crossing the Canadian border, he decided to drop the sen and the border guard added a z. This is one of the perils of immigration.

Christian Sivertz and Elinborg Samuelsdottir both came separately from Iceland. They knew no English. Christian arrived in Winnipeg in 1883. Christian worked long, hard hours in Winnipeg for little pay. He traveled West to Victoria in 1890. He was 25 years old.

After he arrived he met Elinborg Samuelsdottir who had left Iceland in 1888 with two brothers and two sisters. They had spent two years in Winnipeg. At the time they arrived in Victoria there were about 20 Icelandic families.

I mention the Sivertz family because I got to know Ben Sivertz, the youngest son, quite well. On many a Sunday in good weather, although he was in his 80s, he would leave his retirement home and walk a mile uphill to my house with a bottle of expensive gin. He’d arrive looking as neat and tidy as the naval officer he once was. He’d have a drink of gin and coffee and a visit and then I’d drive him back to his retirement home where we’d have lunch. He was typically Icelandic in that he did not brag. We all know that bragging is at the top of Icelandic Canadian sins. He was so modest that I knew Ben for a long time before I discovered that he’d been awarded a medal, the Order of the British Empire, for his work during the war. It also took quite a while before I discovered that he was rich. He is the only person I’ve ever known who owned an original Van Gogh. His parent’s trip West had given him an exceptional life. Opportunity existed and he made the most of it.

I also mention the Sivertz family because their story is so typical in many ways. They came to Canada because there was a lack of opportunity in Iceland in the 1880s. They didn’t know English. They first settled in Winnipeg.. They came to Victoria and joined a small community of Icelanders who had arrived before them. Ben says about his father, Christian, that he was proud of being Icelandic, but also, of being a British citizen. That was typical of the Icelanders.

The Victoria that the Icelanders came to was very British. It was a place of coal barons who could afford to build places like Craigdarroch Castle. It was a city with aboriginal people who had a highly developed culture evident in their totem poles and art work. Victoria was a city of street cars and four story stone and brick buildings. Many of the buildings that were here when Christian and Elinborg arrived still exist. There were newspapers and aboriginal canoe races on the Gorge. There was high tea, formal dress, outdoor picnics, and cricket.

Like many Icelandic families, when their children went to public school, the Sivertz were faced with a problem. Their first son was used to speaking Icelandic at home but the school was in English. They decided that they should speak English to their children. That was a decision that many of our parents made. To get ahead in an English dominated society, one had to look and speak English.

But there is something else the Icelandic settlers brought with them and that was a desire for their children to be educated.

Think about the situation of those first settlers in New Iceland. They landed on a sand bar as winter was beginning. They had ratty second hand Hudson Bay tents for shelter. Their first task was to build as many log cabins as there were stoves.

Yet, nine days after their landing at Willow Point, John Taylor, their leader, sent a letter to the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba saying
“The Icelanders in the colony are desirous of having a school for their children as soon as they can put up a schoolhouse They have a teacher with them and wish to be connected to the regular educational system of Canada.”

Nine days after landing. Wanting a schoolhouse. That, to me, is amazing. They had traveled all this distance with great difficulty, had undergone severe hardships, and now were in the midst of the wilderness in a completely foreign land and what they wanted was a school house. It was 1875.

The settlers could only build as many cabins as there were stoves. The result was crowded, inadequate shelter. Some of the food the Icelanders were sold in Winnipeg was of poor quality. Once the lake froze over, to keep from starving, they had to learn how to fish under the ice. Yet, before Christmas, Caroline Taylor, the niece of John Taylor, opened a school in English. Thirty people enrolled. Imagine the situation. Winter, snow drifts, blizzards, no roads, isolation, inadequate food, illness because they didn’t have the cows they were promised. In Iceland, milk had been a major part of their diet. Yet, they had a school. And people struggled through the snow and cold to get there.

The next year when the smallpox started, the school was disbanded. Temporarily disbanded. One hundred and three people died from the smallpox. The settlement was devastated. Yet, once the smallpox was over, Jane Taylor restarted the school, this time with sixty-three students.

In the following years, Rev. Pall Thorlakson held classes. In 1885 Gudni Thiorsteinsson organized and taught classes. There was Sigrdur G. Thorarensen and Johann P. Solmundsson and Bjorn B. Olson. All of them and many others were determined to see that children would get an education.

Most of these classes were of short duration. Classes would be held for weeks or months. In 1878-79, For example, Kristjan Jonsson conducted elementary classes on Sundays and Wednesdays. Classes were held in whatever space was available.

Finally, in 1890, fifteen years after the settlers arrived, the same year Christian Sivertz left Winnipeg for Victoria, the school district bought a building from the Lutheran church. It was a large log cabin. Enough people wanted an education that this building had to be enlarged and the first high school section added.

In 1915, the brick school was built. It had six rooms. A dream that had begun in 1875, 40 years before was finally realized. The school cost 20,000 dollars. It seems like a small amount of money but it was actually a large amount.

In 1915 the average yearly salary was 687.00 a year for a man; 343.00 for a woman. Eggs, 34 cents a dozen. A pound of steak, 26 cents. A lb. of bacon, 27 cents. A loaf of bread, 7 cents. Gasoline was 15 cents a gallon.

The desire for their children to be educated was carried by the westward traveling Icelanders all the way to the coast.
Ben Sivertz says at the beginning of the book he wrote about his father that his father was a laborer and his mother did housekeeping. His father, Christian, finally got a job as a postman delivering mail. Being a mailman paid enough that they had their own house and they could afford to educate their six sons. Their sons did not need to become indentured servants with no future.

Henry, the eldest, took teacher training and taught school before joining the army. He was killed in the war. Gus, the second son, became an optometrist and then a reporter with the Vancouver Sun. Chris earned a Phd and became a prof of Chem at U. of Western On. Vic earned a Phd and became a Prof chem. at U. of Washington Sam was a bank officer in Shanghai until WWII He then joined the armed forces and after the war became an office manager. Ben, the youngest son, became a Navy officer. Then he joined the Department of External Affairs setting up consulates. He became the last Commissionaire of the North West Territories.

There were many others who came west. Some stopped in Brandon, Manitoba, in Regina, Saskatchwan, in Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. In the interior of British Columbia. Others came to the coast and created Icelandic communities in Vancouver, Port Roberts, Blaine, Bellingham, and Seattle, etc.

There was Gisli Gudmundsson from the Western Fjords and his wife Sigurbjorg. The lived in Wpg for several years, then went to Victoria. From there to Point Roberts.

Jonas Saemundsson from Grafarkot. He came to Amerika in 1889. He lived in Wpg, then went to Victoria and finally to Point Roberts in 1904.
Arni Myrdal emigrated with his parents and lived with them through the misery in New Iceland, the notorious small pox, scarlet fever and many illnesses that followed. His two sisters died there that winter. He went to Pembina and from there to Victoria. He went to Point Roberts. He was the first man in Point Roberts to have electric lights in his house.

There was another Icelandic settlementcalled Osland on Smith Island. It is in the mouth of the Skeena River. This is seven hunded kilometres north and was the site of a large salmon fishery. Small as the settlement was it included Haldorsons, Johnsons, Philipsons, Freemans, Odddsons, Grimsons, Kristmansons, Snidals and many others. It was settled by a mix of bachelors and families between the early 1900s and 1940s.

These people had made the great trek West. They had created an Icelandic colony on an island. They fished, raised animals, worked in the cannery in Prince Rupert. Elin Einarsson’s memories are in the Osland history. This is what she says “At times during the winter months we would be locked in by the ice that came down the river. Before winter set in my father would go to Prince Rupert for supplies—sacks of flour and sugar, butter in 14 pound boxes and a quarter of beef. The men would hunt deer for extra meat during the winter. My dad made a good root cellar with a cement floor below our house. We stored vegetables from my mother’s garden there. Potatoes in large bins and carrots and beets in barrels of sand. During the summer my mother was kept busy tending the gardens and the animals while the men were fishing. She would salt fish and preserve salmon and fruit in jars for the winter. Every weekend she baked a layer cake spread with jam filling for the family. Vinartarta was special and only baked at Christmas and Easter. “

“The Eyolfson family had a green gage plum tree that produced the best plums on the island.”

G. Olafson says “One year Pop said if he caught over2,000 sockeye he’d buy me a .22. Well he did and I got it, 12 years old and got my first deer with it that Fall. One morning, later on, Frances woke me up early in the morning to tell me a nice deer was standing behind our house so I took pop’s 30 30 and nailed it. Had to get Uncle Walter to help me skin it and cut it up.”

“Lots of wild berries,–blueberries, huckleberries, salmon berries and salal and crabapples. Mom grew gooseberries and currant and once in a while we’d have a few plums and apples off the trees.”

The metamorphosis has begun. There are no deer in Iceland. No plum and apple trees. They still speak Icelandic.They still make vinarterta, an Icelandic seven layer cake. But one only has to read this description of daily life to know that this is a Canadian talking about Canadian experience.

These people came West, as far West as it was possible to go, and made a life for themselves at Osland. They made a living boat building, running a shingle mill, logging, pile driving, sheep raising, goat raising, working in fish canneries. Icelanders spread along the West coast all the way to California. Some went to Hollywood to pursue the dream of becoming a successful actor. They were make the journey from being Icelandic to becoming Canadians and American of Icelandic descent.

Their children and grandchildren got educated and became doctors and lawyers and nurses and started their own businesses. They found good jobs and had their own families. The original settlers made a heroic journey from Iceland, to Scotland, to Quebec City, to New Iceland, always west, across the prairies where headstones in lonely graveyards testify to their journey but they reached the West Coast and they found, I believe, what they were seeking: a good life for them and their families.

June’s World-an art show

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I attended June Valgardson’s art show this morning while it was still being set up. It was nice to see her three daughters helping get the show ready. They and their sister, Debbie, who died some years ago when quite young, are the subjects of a number of the paintings and collages in the show.

The show is a mix from years of production: oils, a piece of fabric art and a number of collages. The subjects divide into local nature, family, flowers and scenes from June’s travels. The Icelandic background of the family (June’s husband, Zeke, was half Icelandic and June is one hundred percent Icelandic) is obvious. Even the cake that is for the attendees has a Viking on it. Various Viking images appear in the art. As well, there are landscapes from Iceland.

To me, the most interesting of the paintings are those in which the vision of the artist is not limited by convention. The most successful of the paintings is “Summer at Willow Creek.” The family has an acreage on historic Willow Creek and it is obvious that the creek fills their lives for Zeke was an ardent bird watcher, knowing the names of all the types of birds he attracted onto the property. As well, he was a wood carver. I have a loon he carved and it has a proud place in my house. Otters and beaver, a mob of Canada geese live in and around the creek. The view toward Lake Winnipeg is awe inspiring and has inspired many of June’s paintings.

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On a card fitted into one corner of “Summer on Willow Creek”, June has written, “This painting was done at an especially busy time. It was the first winter we moved out to the farm. We had a workshop and I was going to the Gimli Art Club every afternoon and evening. One morning I got up and painted this from my window before going to class. On an old tree, year around, hangs a dipper for the farmer to drink from an old artesian well.”

In “Sunrise” (the painting at the top of the page)the colours are bold, the strokes determined and both the medium and the method join together to make a strong statement about the power of the sunrise at Willow Creek. There is no attempt to prettify it, to subdue nature like the European painters did in the early years in Canada. There’s nothing bucolic about these paintings, no nature that has been tamed and made unthreatening.