Up, up and away: Superman? no, your taxes

February 07 F1203003 $1,334,200 $0 0%
April 18 F1203003 $1,100,000 $-234,200 -18%
August 13 F1203003 removed
August 17 F1220933 $950,000 $-384,200 -29%


This property in White Rock, BC has dropped in asking price from 1,334,200.00 to 950,000. Why should that concern  you? You don’t live in White Rock and you don’t own a house you thought was worth over a million dollars. The assessment is 1,050,000.00. The price may keep falling.

The reason that it concerns you, me and everybody else is that taxes are based on assessments. If assessments go down, taxes have to go up to pay for all those things that municipalities have to pay for. Ya know.

Yesterday, there was a report that a house that was being offered at over 5,000,000.00 went into receivership. That kicks those rich people where it hurts. Except, the people who are likely to be hurt are the tradespeople who did the work, the companies who supplied the materials. You see, the house isn’t finished yet. Imagine if you own a company that does drywall and now you aren’t going to get paid. Or does paving, or roofs, or provides plumbing materials, or…. So, there are even fewer people to pay those taxes for roads, schools, garbage pickup, recycling, etc.

Our property taxes are going up, up, up. Either that or our services are going down, down, down. Those community centres may be going dark. Those community golf courses may be locking the gate. Unless, of course, we pay more property taxes.

There’s a recession. If you’ve got a steady, secure job, you won’t have felt it but people who own businesses, particularly people with small businesses have been and are struggling to stay afloat. There’s lots of unemployment and, a lot of the employment that exists, is part-time, poorly paid. How do you know retired people are hurting financially? Take a look at the greeters in places like WalMart or Home Hardware or some of the people cleaning tables in Tim Horton’s. On my trip back to BC, I stopped at a Tim Horton’s and the lady cleaning the tables was older than me. I’m 73.

There are a lot of things in life that are like icebergs. You just see the tip but underneath, there are sharp edges ready to tear your life apart. Mortgages are like that. You can get a mortgage at 3.5% so you go for the granite counter tops, the Jacuzzi and the sauna, the extra bedroom, the double garage, the I want to have this so when my friends come to visit, they’ll envy me. Except the mortgage is based on both of you working, is based on interest rates staying at 3.5%, is based on the house going up in price or, at least, not going down. Ahah! One of you loses a job, interest rates start to go up, both bad but then a neighbour has to take 100,000 or 200,000 less than they paid three years ago and you realize that you’ve got an upside down mortgage.

An upside down mortgage? What’s that? Never heard of it. Really? In the good old USA, upside down mortgages are everywhere. That is, a mortgage is 300,000 and the current value of the house is 150,000. Come renewal time, the holder of this “investment” needs to come up with 150,000 dollars because no banker in his right mind is going to lend 300,000 on a house worth half that. Any chance you’ve got 150,000 floating around somewhere, anywhere? No? You just joined the homeless. Welcome to the WalMart parking lot.

Oh, did I mention that if you put 20% down, it’s gone.

House prices are sticky. People who don’t have to sell put their homes up for sale. They don’t get the price they want so the owners take them off the market. That makes prices sticky.

At the moment, there isn’t any panic, except among some real estate agents who have been buying assignments on pre-built condos. You know, getting an option on a condo early, then as the building nears completion, flipping it for quick bucks. Real estate agents are nothing if not greedy and some, in spite of past lessons, have a whole bunch of these assignments. They need to get out. The prices for these units are not sticky. The sweat from desperate real estate agents makes them slippery.

The other not sticky, that will drive prices down, are divorces (court ordered sale), deaths, job moves you can’t refuse, job losses, builders who can’t borrow any more money to finish projects. These are situations where a house has to be sold. They’ll lead the way.

If prices fall by 40%, then so will revenues based on property taxes.

If you are thinking of buying, don’t. If you have found someone who just is desperate to buy your place, sell. If you know someone who is desperate to buy my place, let me know. No, that’s not my property at the beginning of this article. I’m not in that league. Thank goodness -40% of less is less. I’m thankful for small mercies.

Real Estate Gossip

Address:# 5 1483 BEACH AV, West End, Vancouver West

March 09 V903565 $7,500,000 $0 0%
April 08 V903565 removed
April 18 V944049 $6,900,000 $-600,000 -8%
May 30 V944049 $5,999,000 $-1,501,000 -20%
June 20 V944049 $5,899,000 $-1,601,000 -21%
July 31 V944049 $5,799,950 $-1,700,050 -23%
August 14 V944049 $4,950,000 $-2,550,000 -34%
August 17 V944049 $4,695,000 $-2,805,000 -37%

This table is from the blog site, Vancouver Price Drop. It’s for shock effect. I mean even after the price is off 37%, I couldn’t afford it. Even if it goes down 80%, I couldn’t afford it. Neither, I expect, could you. What would anyone expect to happen with a house priced at 7,500,000?  I mean, how many buyers are out there with 7,500,000 burning a hole in their pocket?

But that’s what has people on the internet whispering, whispering that  the rah rah promo of real estate always going up is becoming less believable. That some real estate agents are now delivering pizza.

Of course, the whispering is about the two major Canadian housing markets in Toronto and Vancouver. I don’t follow the Toronto market but Vancouver has been nuts. Tear down shacks sell for more than a million dollars, more than a million dollars. That means someone is willing to pay a million dollars for a lot, plus closing costs, taxes, and the cost of tearing down the tear down. No price has been too  much because you know prices always go up, houses have gone up ten times what they were bought for in the seventies.

Even in sleepy Victoria, the land of the newly wed and nearly dead, the land of few decent paying jobs, lots of crap jobs selling trinkets or sandwiches to the tourists for minimum wage, house prices have had nothing to do with local employment. There’s the Legislature and, therefore, civil servants but, contrary to what most people believe, most civil servants do not make large salaries. There’s the university. There’s dockyards where ships get built and repaired. The navy. But Victoria isn’t an industrial town. Tourists never bring the locals big money unless the local owns a few tourist traps that employ minimum wage workers. There are the hospitals and the schools.

Real estate agents have been making out like gangbusters. They’ve been selling to the retirees from the provinces on the other side of the mountains. The kind who have sold the farm and want to spend the rest of their life golfing instead of shovelling snow.

My first house, 1971, cost me 47,000. I sold it for 85,000. The buyer sold it for 250,000. It is now assessed at 520,000. Same house. 1915, 2.5 bedrooms, kitchen, formal living room and dining room, lots of built in cupboards and paneling (the builder/owner was a Welsh shipbuilder), one bathroom, an old fashioned basement with a low ceiling. The people I bought from had owned it for three years. They paid 18,000. Can you say “Nuts”? 18,000 to 520,000. For what? A house built in 1915 on a small lot.

I then bought a house that had been on the market for a year. Heritage, double lot, 1929. It needed work.I sold it two years ago for 3.5 times what I paid.

The whisperers say it is coming to an end. People have been buying the most expensive they can manage because real estate only goes up, didn’t ya know. Except anyone who knows anything about the history of real estate (this does not include real estate agents), knows real estate tanks and when it does, it takes everyone and everything with it. Or so the rumour goes.

My grandfather used to regale me with stories of real estate in Winnipeg. He bought a two story brownstone around Osborne. Then his employer cut his wages, then cut his wages, then cut his wages and there were no other jobs. And my grandfather no longer could pay the mortgage and his house was repossessed. He never got over being bitter about it.

He used to tell me about the big houses off Corydon that the owners couldn’t afford to keep up and rented them out, not for cash, but for someone to live in them, heat them, pay the electricity, cover the taxes.

Like the lots around Winnipeg Beach that had gone up to 1,200 dollars. When men were making a dollar a day. And which went down to 50.00 a lot and stayed there for a very long time.

But that was a long time ago and things are different now.

Houses aren’t just homes, they’re ATMs, they’re assets. That’s those things you can turn into money. I’ve got this asset, honey. I think I’ll sell it and we can go on a vacation to Southern France. Except, sometimes, the whisperers say, assets stop being liquid, like nobody wants to buy them anymore. Happens all the time. Businesses go under because no one wants to buy their product. Can’t pay the bills. The creditors refuse any more credit. I worked for a short time for a company that evaluated credit for businesses. Every day I saw small businesses where the stock was illiquid. It hadn’t sold. It was out of fashion. Credit payments were over ninety days late. It’s called going bankrupt. But houses aren’t like that. Someone always wants them.

The whisperers say houses are becoming illiquid. Imagine. You bought a house in the last few years. Your plan was to sell it to finance your retirement. Your assumption was that real estate always goes up, that there is always an eager buyer, no, not a buyer but buyers, just waiting to bid on it, paying even more than you imagined your house was worth. But what if buyers disappear? What if nobody bids? What if there are no offers? What if you lower the price to create, as the real estate agents call it, a better price point but nobody makes an offer? You get the idea. IIliquid.

All the chatter is about Toronto and Vancouver. Of course, what do you expect? The people living in those cities think they’re the centre of the Universe. Everywhere else the prices are still going up, the buyers are outbidding each other in a desperate competition to own a house with granite countertops, Jacuzzis with more jets than anyone else, places like Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina. Places where there are lots of jobs. I was in Calgary two days ago. There were posters everywhere asking people to apply for jobs, begging people to apply for jobs. Oil is 95.00 a barrel. The crops in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are bumper crops, magnificent crops, fantastic crops, I can afford a bigger house, a new truck, bigger farm machinery, a winter in Mexico, kind of crops.

But there are whispers like those on the blog site “Whispers from the edge of the rain forest”. Gossip on the internet, nothing but gossip. Urban myths. And, of course, there’s Garth Turner, that rabble rouser, with his blog. The sky is falling, he says. House prices are going down 45%.

At night when I think about the whisperers, I sometimes think, I shoulda rented instead of downsizing by buying a smaller place. I shoulda downsized into a rental apartment. Urban myths, that’s all they are, I tell myself. Real estate always goes up. It’s just internet gossip. People will always want to retire to Victoria, to Kelona, Salmon Arm, Kamloops.

I just had the balcony and the deck rebuilt. Why not? The price is sure to go up. I’ll get my money back.  It’s just internet gossip.


The Icelandic in Íslendingadagurinn

There many parts to the Icelandic Festival and to the Monday parade. Over the years, it has grown from one day to four. Various groups such as the Shriners have become an integral part of the celebrations. However, at the heart of the Festival is the history of the settlement of New Iceland. Gradually, as smaller communities such as Hnausa have, like rural communities all over Canada, closed stores and churches, local schools, the annual celebration of New Iceland´s Icelandic heritage has devolved on Gimli, Manitoba.

At one time, the Icelandic Celebration was held in Winnipeg, then moved to two locations, Hnausa and Gimli, Manitoba. Eventually, the annual celebration at Hnausa ceased.

Now, as Gimli grows more suburban, as housing developments spread to the north, south, and west, as it becomes more of a retirement community and less of a commercial and fishing community, the challenge is to retain the original reason for celebrating with Íslendingadagurinn. The challenge is for us to celebrate our history, our culture, our community while allowing others to share that experience with us but not to make it for them.

There are the flags, of course. They signal to the world our intent, our identity, flown with the Canadian and American flags, they reveal our three way connections among Iceland, Canada and the United States of America.

There is Fjallkona, the symbol of our memory of and historic loyalty to Iceland.

There are the books. Publishing and books have played a enormous part in our history, both in Iceland and in North America. That history and loyalty to the printed word is apparent in the cultural tables in the Gimli park pavilion.

While bookstores were closing all over North America, Lorna Tergesen created a bookstore in the historic Tergesen store. There, she dedicates shelves to Icelandic and Icelandic North American authors.

Jim Anderson, from Poplar Point originally, and from a family deeply involved in literature, buys and sells historic books published in Icelandic as well as books in English about all things Icelandic. Here, he is talking to Tammi Axelsson, the head of The New Iceland Heritage Museum.

Nelson Gerrard, the community historian, and Wanda Anderson, selling Icelandic River Roast coffee (that drink inextricably linked to Icelandic culture), to raise funds for heritage projects in Riverton.\

Photo by Kendra Jónasson

The gathering of colleagues, friends and family, particularly stalwarts such as Garry Oddleifson, member of the board of Logberg-Heimskringla, the Icelandic newspaper headquartered in Winnipeg; Gwen Gratten, Executive Secretary, the Icelandic National League; Linda Sigurdson Collette who organizes and runs Lestrarfélag, a reading club for books connected to Iceland and Icelandic North American culture.

And then there are the projects that are inspired by our past. Johann Straumfjord Sigurdson and David Collette are organizing an expedition that will sail up Lake Winnipeg, into Hudson Bay, from there, explore likely camping spots of the vikings and, finally, make their way to Iceland.

There are the Icelandic visitors.

The mayor of Akureyri the Honourary parade marshall, with his wife Alma Jóhanna Árnadóttir.

Distinguished visitors like Atli Asmundson, the Icelandic Consul General, and Mr. Bjarni Benediktsson, the Chairman of the Independence party.

Photo by Kendra Jónasson

Atli Asmundson and his wife, Þruður, have brought the best of Iceland with them in their years in Winnipeg.

The Akureyri women´s choir, Kvennakór Akureyrar

And, at Amma’s kitchen there is vinarterta.

Hafrun Hauksdóttir: Val Bjornson scholar

When someone says to you “visiting exchange student” or visiting scholar, what image comes to mind? A callow youth, a shy young woman, someone a bit insecure perhaps, in need of some mentoring, mothering, feeding?

How about a young woman with a Masters in electrical and computer engineering? The kind of person who is a specialist in her field, who been a project manager at the Innovation Centre in Iceland with the job of helping innovators and inventors to bring their ideas from concept to reality?

Someone who has worked on the development of an SME based sensor technology to measure the calving of cows, a technology that is needed because of problems with calves dying. A monitor that will warn a dairy farmer that a calving is about to begin so that if there is a problem, there can be early intervention. Someone who has worked in signal processing and automatic diagnostics? Someone who has started a company after receiving support for the product concept? Who has simultaneously worked on a PhD project based on the idea and received the Val Bjornsson scholarship to continue research?

We all have stereotypes and Hafrún Hauksdóttir breaks them all. You know what I mean. Women aren´t good at maths. Physics and chemistry are for boys, the world of business is a competitive place where you need a lot of testosterone to succeed. Those kind of stereotypes. The kind, although so simplistic as to be worthy of ridicule if stated out loud, that a lot of people, including businessmen, politicians and even some academics still desperately cling to. It goes with the idiot attitude that most jobs today require brawn in spite of daily evidence everywhere that brawn has been replaced by mechanization and micro technology.

When I was growing up, there were lots of jobs for the semi-educated. There were ditches and graves to be dug, gravel to be shoveled, buildings to be built using a hammer and nails. My father even rowed out to his nets. Men were admired for being able to chisel holes in the ice with a needle bar. Machines have replaced it all, even the hammers. And that’s at the simplest level. Nobody uses a hammer to develop sensor technology.

Hafrún has been responsible for planning, funding and execution of various projects under ISO 9001. She´s supervised projects involving several different companies and institutions. She´s been involved in software development in .Net#C and Matlab, data managment and control design in Labview. Hardware developemnt and implimentation of noise filters and data fusion from accelerometers, magnometers and gyroscopes for distance measurement to be used in gait anlayses.

She belongs to organizations like DSP (Digital Signal Processing), the Image Processing Interest Group and Medical Signal and Image Processing plus others.

There are Arab countries where men don’t believe that women should be allowed to drive cars. There are still men in North America who think women should stay home and have babies and don’t grasp the fact that the reason they or their sons are unemployed is because they haven’t grasped that “work” requires more and more education.

When Hafrún leaves Minnesota, she´s going to Norway to work for a company that services the oil industry.

I think Kristjan Valdimar “Val“ Bjornson (1906-1987) would have been proud of Hafrún. I think he would heartily approve that she has been the Val Bjornson scholar.

Val was a Minnesota writer, a newspaper editor, a politician and, for two decades, the Minnesota state treasurer.

He was born in Minneota, a village subsequently made famous by Bill Holm. A village that made Bill Holm.

During WWII, Val was in Navy Intelligence and was stationed in Iceland. His interest in Iceland was life long and intense. He was an Hon. Consul for Iceland and Co-founder of the exchange program between the University of Iceland and the University of Minnesota.

The future runs away ahead of us. The truth is, even though I‘ve been involved with computers since they first appeared on campus, even though I read widely, even though I‘ve got a son who has his own virtual reality company that creates products for individuals and corporations, I don‘t know what SME is, I‘ve heard about ISO 9001 but forgotten what it is. I don‘t know .Net#C or Matlab.

Hafrún is the future. Our future. The future in which our children, our grand children and great grandchildren will live. I think the Minnesota Icelanders can be proud that they have a scholarship that will bring scholars like her to live among them and also to send Minnesotans to Iceland.



Kvennakór Akureyrar: from Akureyri to Riverton

Last night, I ,and a group of my friends, went to Riverton, Manitoba, to hear the Kvennakór Akureyrar, the all woman choir from Akureyri, Iceland.

Akureyri is Iceland’s second city. It only has 18,000 people in a country of 320,000 but its size is no measure of its historic or current importance. The local economy is based on fishing, local industry, and tourism.

Harley Jonasson receiving gifts from the choir for all he had done in arranging the choir’s visit and being mc for the evening.

Given the size of the city, it is surprising, at least in Canadian terms, that is has a symphony orchestra, several choirs and music schools. There is a long tradition of singing and choir music in Iceland. That may be attributed, at least in part, to the vigour with which the Lutheran bishops stamped out all frivolity. They even went so far as to get the Danish king to pass a law saying that Icelanders were not to spend their time in social activities unless they were religious. Also, Iceland was the poorest country in Europe. There were few musical instruments. However, creativity and pleasure will prevail and Icelanders had the best musical instrument of all, their voices. There were hymns worth singing. No one could stop a shepherd singing a secular song in valleys and on the hillsides. At the annual gatherings at the trading stations and the sheep roundup, there were opportunities to sing in groups. Church attendance was taken seriously and even where a minister could not officiate regularly, people gathered and worshiped themselves. Those events also provided the opportunities to raise their voices to the Lord.

Times have changed and the Akureyri Women’s Choir now has a repertoire that includes Icelandic and foreign folk songs, works of world music, classical choral works, gospel, musical numbers, and choral arrangements of popular Icelandic and foreign songs.

The choir’s director, Daniel Þorsteinsson, has studied in Amsterdam, has performed as a soloist and chamber musician and accompanies solo singers and choirs. He teaches at the Akureyri music school, works as an organist in Eyjafjörður and conducts a local church choir.

In the first part of the program which was made up of all Icelandic songs, the centuries of influence of church music was apparent. Even though “Jesú min morgunstjarna” was classed as an Icelandic folksong from Hólabók, I felt the church in every chord. Because I´ve been reading much of Icelandic history, it was enjoyable to listen and imagine that this was the sound people heard in the 17th Century.

The second half of the program was made up of foreign songs. Of these, those that captured my immediate attention and held it were a Norwegian trilogy. These were traditional Norwegian folk songs and, if the samples in the program are indicative, the Norwegians got to have more fun than the Icelanders. In songs like “God morgen Ola Reppom” with the animals in the barnyard greeting the day, there is lightness and laughter.

Alma McCaffrey, Rosalind Vigfusson, Borga Jakobson, Daníel Þorsteinsson. The song performed was Rosalind´s composition but the evening generated even more local pride with the presence of Borga Jakobson (translator of The Young Icelander) and her daughter, Alma McCaffrey. Borga’s father-in-law was the poet whose words formed the lyrics of “Minni Íslands’.

However, the highlight of the evening was “Minni Íslands”. The words were by the poet Böðvar Jakobsson and the music by well known musician, choir director, Rósalind Vigfússon, from Arborg. Daniel said the poem was long but the choir was going to sing all of the song so everyone should just sit back and relax. It was easy to do that. The song and music were a pleasure to listen to.

Rósalind, for all her years performing and leading others in performance, looked both happy and a bit embarrassed by all the attention. It was a wonderful and deserved compliment to her to have her work performed by such an accomplished choir. She has spent years organizing and training a young people´s Icelandic choir. Before this performance of her work, she´d only heard it performed by her own youth choir. As her choristers have grown up, it has proved more difficult to get young people to join a choir to learn to sing in Icelandic. However, she has been approached by many people who’ve suggested that she start an adult choir and she hopes that might begin in October.

Along with everything else she does, Rósalind travels from Arborg to Gimli on Friday evenings to join a local group that plays and sings at the nursing home, Betel. Her musical life encompasses a wide community, bringing pleasure to people whose health is poor, whose lives need to be lightened and, on the other hand, she is also able to listen to one of her compositions being performed by a highly accomplished choir from Iceland.




Thor’s hammer:Icelandic Celebration, 2012


That Thor was raging about was first noticeable during the Gimli Film Festival. During the showing of the  movie, Bob Marley, on the screen in the lake, the sky to the north lit up with lightening flashing through dark clouds. It ran in great flashes of horizontal flame. Gradually, it spread to the East side of the lake and started moving westward toward us. The movie was shut down before the electrical storm got too close. There were well over a thousand people on the beach.

The Icelandic Celebration was coming a few days later. Those of us who have spent a lifetime in Manitoba sniffed the air, kept an eye on the barometer, watched the sky. The heat became oppressive, the air muggy.

Friday, all hell broke loose, lightening and thunder and with a resounding crash, the thunder announced a downpour. Not a few drops, not a drizzle, not a light rain. Water was pouring off my roof in rivers. Water filled every low spot in the roads, filled the ditches, water poured down relentlessly.

During a break, I went out. There wasn’t a single person on the beach, no one on first avenue, all the food vans that had come to town were shuttered and dark.

It’s high summer and two brave customers in jackets order BBQ.

Saturday, the barometer started rising but the rain came again, not as bad. Some people braved the rain. There were a group of young women in front of the Credit Union selling tickets from under a bevy of umbrellas but there was no one to sell them to. I went to the harbour. There was hot dog vendor open and a couple were standing in front of it. All else was shuttered.

Even the Vikings from the hill abandoned camp for a breakfast at the white hotel. They came double file down the sidewalk, eight of them, one holding a recently born baby.

Sidewalk vendors are a determined lot. Some were trying to get their tents up in spite of the wind and rain but others left. There was no one to sell jewelry to, model airplanes to, no one to give henna tattoos to or read horoscopes for. One brave soul was setting up odd looking candles. I went to the pancake breakfast at the New Horizons Centre. Where, normally, there would be a line through the building and out the door onto the parking lot, there were empty tables and about six people lined up for sausages, pancakes, eggs, coffee.

The shot put, the sand castle building, the volleyball had to be delayed until the next day.

The weather report said sunny for Sunday and Monday. But later it said cloudy for Sunday. All eyes were fixed on Monday, the day of the parade. A year’s work goes into the parade. Normally, the streets are lined many deep as people come from all over to watch and listen as the bands, the floats, the dignitaries, go by.  The parade is where the distinguished guests are presented to the community, where the local politicians ride or walk to demonstrate their solidarity with the people. The Fjallkona, in her costume representing Iceland, flanked by her princesses, leads the way, first to the shrine to the first settlers, then to the stage to oversee the formal program with its speeches about the bonds between New Iceland and Old Iceland.

To make matters worse, the Kvennakór Akureyrar (Akureyri Ladies Choir), would be on a large float. They had come from Iceland to sing, not to be drowned traveling down Centre Street.

Sunday morning there were clouds, even a slight sprinkle of rain, but no thunderheads. If there had been, it would have been time to make a sacrifice of a bull calf to Thor. The weather improved enough that a viking need for donuts asserted itself.

The clouds dissipated. The road races were on. A great gust of wind appeared. It was the vendors sighing with relief. The cultural and heritage pavilion opened. The Vikings had dried out and in the afternoon were ready to put on an entertaining example of Viking warfare. The Wondershow Midway and Rides was operating.

But all eyes were on the weather report for Monday. The day dawned bright and clear. When I walked down Centre Street to the staging area, optimism had returned. The sidewalks were already lined with chairs.

The Kvennakór Akureyrar (The Akreyri Laies Choir) ready to roll.

The parade was a great success. There were cheers and hand waving, candy throwing, blown kisses, wonderful Icelandic costumes, enthusiastic floats with people playing music and singing. The laying of the wreath by Fjallkona Connie Magnusson-Schimnowski was heartfelt. The speeches were passionate expressions of pride and love.

On the hill, the Vikings gathered for one last battle.

In the pavilion people slurped up Icelandic dainties and coffee in Amma’s kitchen, then came out to buy Icelandic coffee from Nelson Gerrard and Harley Jonasson, books from Lorna Tergesen and historic Icelandic books from Jim Anderson. Conversation was everything.

Oli Narfason talking to Þruður Helgadóttir and Þóra Margrét Baldvinsdóttir. You can be sure he´s speaking Icelandic. He not only speaks Icelandic but sings in it as well.

There were historic photos for sale, a new Icelandic alphabet book, vinartera. You could subscribe to Logberg-Heimskringla and purchase an Icelandic National League calendar.

And then it was over, the weather had held, friends and relatives had been reunited, visitors had been reminded of our Icelandic heritage, the Reykjavik Bakery had gone through rivers of kaffi and mountains of kleinur.

Now, it was time to take down the tents, stack up the chairs, sweep the floors and put everything away for when we meet again next year.


Vinarterta by M

At the heart of the heart of Icelandic North American culture is not Vikings, or horses or sheep, or fishing or Black Death or language, no, they are not the centre of our culture, nor is religion, Lutheran, Unitarian, nor the sagas, no, nope, the centre of all things Icelandic North American is vinarterta. Traditionally, it is a seven layer prune torte, with thin biscuit layers, sometimes iced, sometimes not.

In the old days, people were buried with a copy of the Passion Hymns. Nowadays, they’re buried with a slice of vinarterta to take to heaven with them.

There are sides, like the North and South in the American civil war, like Irish catholics and protestants, but the sides aren’t political or religious, they’re whether you eat your vinarterta iced or not iced. No icer has ever been known to convert to being a non-icer, although there have been rumours that a non-icer has been known to convert to being an icer.

It was discovered in recent years, that Icelanders in Iceland sometimes use a rhubarb filling. This is aposty of the worst sort. This is the betrayal of Icelandic culture to the same degree as comparing the sagas to Classic comics. There is a reason for everything and it may be that during WWII it was impossible to obtain prunes. Desperation can drive people to cannibalism or worse, to rhubarb filling.

That vinarterta is so culturally embedded made it all the more surprising that Melissa Macauley of Shorepoint Village was proudly standing behind a table laden with vinarterta. Not only that but people like her vinarterta so much that she sold all three dozen yesterday and had spent the evening and night making 15 more. If you have ever made vinarterta, mixing the dough, spreading the layers, cooking them to just the perfect texture, spreading them with prunes, building the layers, you will know that making 15 more vinarterta was an Olympic feat.

She says her husband is of Icelandic background. It’s amazing the magic marriage can do. There are rumours of local women of Icelandic background who can make peroghis that stick together when they are boiled. It doesn’t seem possible but the rumours are persistent.

Melissa says that making vinarterta is a labour of love. That certainly must be the case because as I stood at the table, customers came and went and she cautioned them that since the vinarterta was made only hours before that it needed to sit and ripen a bit before it was at its perfect best. But, from the look in the eyes of the customers, ready or not, the vinarterta was going to disappear with a mug or two of coffee.

Melissa is serious about her baking. She has a site on the internet www.sweetsbym. Ca  She also makes birthday cakes and wedding cakes but those don’t underpin an entire culture, don’t bring men to blows over whether their cake should be iced or not iced or, heaven forbid, it should have cardamom in it.

Personally, I’m icer and no cardamom. When I was a teenager, a quarter of a cake (now 8.00) could disappear with two cups of coffee. Those were, of course, the days when I had a twenty-eight inch waist and a bottomless stomach.

í fyrir ísland

Robyn Shesterniak had a table at the Gimli Park Pavilion. Shesterniaksdottir? Nope. An Icelandic mother, nope. But, there on the table in front of her was an alphabet book for the Icelandic letters. Bright, colorful, attractive, just the thing for a little kid learning the A,B,Cs or the Ö, ð,æs.

Robyn said she´d wanted to go to Iceland for a long time. She first was attracted to Icelandic music, particularly that of Valgeir Sigurdsson and Seabear. That led to looking at landscape photos, then the internet and she was hooked.

Robyn needed an elective to complete her degree. She took Field Studies at University of Manitoba. Every year ten students are chosen to go to Iceland to learn all about various aspects of Icelandic life, history and literature.

For three weeks they travelled the Ring Road and the Westfjords, went to museums, attended a poetry reading, stayed at Holt. These for her were the high points. She echoes many others when she says that the scenery was incredible.

Every student had to complete a final project. The alphabet book was Robyns.

Now, there´s multiculturalism at work.

Icelandic Celebration Parade

Here are a couple of Vikings guarding the entrance to the parade marshaling grounds. If the Viking ships had crew like these, they could have conquered whole armies by just sending them ashore and having them say “Follow me.”

Everyone loves a parade and the annual Íslendingadagurinn parade is no exception. It is anticipated all year. It is prepared for all year. This morning at 8:30 a.m. as I walked down Centre Street to the marshaling grounds west of town, the street was already lined on both sides with chairs, in some place, the chairs were two rows deep. The parade doesn´t start until ten a.m. People were gathered in groups visiting or sitting individually reading a book.

There were already children of all ages out and about with viking helmets with horns, the larger and more outrageous the cow horns, the better. No real viking wore a helmet with horns but it doesn´t matter. Gimli vikings do and it looks great. The vikings raised lots of cows and if they‘d have had any sense of style, they‘d have put cow horns on their helmets to terrify their enemies.

Every year I take photographs of the parade. Recently, I looked through my files and realized, the pictures are interchangeable. Here come the redcoats in their redcoats and marching behind them is the band in its kilts. So, I decided that I take a look behind the scenes, at the staging area as everyone was getting ready.

There were, of course, the real thing, the vikings from the viking village.

Unfortunately, I didn´t find a herd of Icelandic horses. I only found one having its main braided. But it was a fine horse.

There was a family reunion getting ready. They had signs and balloons, a float. They took this family reunion seriously. We had a family reunion recently, that is the Bristow side of the family did, but it never occurred to any of us to join the parade. This should become a tradition because the Icelandic Festival is a time of family reunions. It is a gathering of the clans.

The Iseleifsson reunion getting ready to march

There were, of course, utterly cute kids, with their parents getting the last minute details just right.

And here´s a photo where everything is tickety boo. Seeing Kevin and Thora Palson, with Hunter Dankochik and Aleesha Harms all dressed up in traditonal costumes made me wish my wife and I had done the same many years ago. It would have made for great memories. After this photo the four parade participants got up onto the Icelandic National League float.

And this young lady is all set for the parade with her own float.

There´s a lot of last minute detail to look to and Val Bjarnason Hilton is taking care of along with other supporters of Logberg-Heimskingla, the Icelandic newsaper.

And here´s Joan Eyolfson Cadham, the editor of LH with her viking helmet. Her husband made it for her. She used to take it everywhere with her but the airlines are convinced that it could be used as a weapon so when she flies, she now had to leave it behind. Sunna is not yet aware that she has lost her gold broach. Sunna (Pam) has created and developed, along with George Freeman, the Cousin’s Project, connecting Icelanders and North American’s of Icelandic descent. Among many other things.

Even the dogs that walk in the parade need last minute touches to look their best.

There were, of course, all those official folk. The mayor of Reykjavik, the Consul General of Iceland, the Fjallkona, there were expensive convertibles, there were marching bands, the Shriners. They are all needed to make a great parade. But, for me, it’s the intimate moments, the moments backstage, as it were, before people step out before an audience, that tells the story of the time and effort and caring that goes into our parade, this parade, the Icelandic Celebration parade, to make it something that people start setting out chairs for at 8:00 a.m., two hours before the parade begins.


The Icelandic Festival began today. There’ll be four days of music, speeches, sand castle building, races, beach volleyball. There’ll be an impressive Icelandic women’s choir called Kvennakór Akureyrar. I know, it looks quite impossible but it just says the Akureyri Women´s Choir.

The Viking village was supposed to be up and running today at 3 p.m. on the hill overlooking the lake. Right now, there´s a thunderstorm in progress, the usual things that come with thunderstorms, lightening, thunder, pounding rain but, at least, no wind.At 7:30, Diageo, the local producer of fine whiskey, is sponsoring a musical event, Islindingarok, at the Gimli pier. However, thunderstorms are usually brief events, like summer romances, fierce, intense, and then over. By 7:30, the sky could be clear and the bands, Little House, Happy Unfortunate and Cannon Bros. could be rocking the harbour.

I’ve been hanging around the Reykjavik Bakery. It’s a great place to see people. Gail Einarson-McLeery turned up, joined our table. She’s last year’s president of the Icelandic National League.

Three guesses, how you know that that’s an Icelandic cookie made by non other than Birgir Robertsson at the Reykjavik Bakery in Gimli, Manitoba in the heart of New Iceland at Íslendingadagurinn?

Here’s Birgir. He’s from Iceland. Teaching people to enjoy European style sweets and New Iceland favorites like kleinur and vinarterta. If you stop for kaffi, it’ll be strong, Icelanders are famous for their addiction to kaffi, except they’ve quit making it in a poki, we always said it was an old sock but it was actually a cotton bag on a wire frame and predated the current paper filters in plastic holders, and you’ll find the menu on the tables, not a menu at all, but the Icelandic alphabet with the pronunciation of the letters.

The rain will stop and while you are waiting, scoff up Lake Winnipeg pickerel fillets at the Beach Boy, slurp back good kaffi at the bakery, visit friends, make new ones.The party can start indoors. Tomorrow it’ll be beach and sand, beach volleyball, a pizza eating contest, Islendingadunk, viking warfare tactics, and Music on the Rooftop.

The rain has stopped. Let the music begin.