icelanders of victoria

Emily Campbell, Carol Johannson, Ruth Olafson
It was a great evening. Tom and Beverly and the volunteers did a great job of the food. Jodi, as usual, decorated the hall beautifully. We had prizes and two of them were vinarterta. Can’t get better than that. Especially when made by Margo and Vorna. The cookie layers just right, not too thin and not too thick. The prune filling of this prune torte cooked to a consistency that lets the the seven layers melt in your mouth.
We know that the annual Thorrablot is all about food. Feasting in the name of Thor. It raises images of Vikings on a rampage, Vikings at a long table swilling back ale and ripping meat off the bone with their teeth, bellowing and challenging and yelling for wenches and blood.
Sorry if anyone is disappointed. We’re much more sedate. We’re the sheep farming kind of Thorrabloters. The kind who get dressed up and arrive on time. The kind who shake hands and hug and talk quietly in small groups as we catch up on news. We’re Christianized, urbanized, civilized Vikings.
The kind of Vikings who bring wives and children and grandchildren with them. Besides, most of us are at an age where our wenching days are done. Morning after hangovers are a thing of the past. Given the liquor laws in BC, a half dozen beers has given away to sipping on a glass of wine. Imagine what Viking times would have been like if they could have been fined for drunken longboating or horse riding. It would have put a damper on things.
Wayne Erickson, Lorie Olson
That’s okay. The rúllupylsa on brown bread is great. The hangikjöt, cold or hot, is delicious. The lox and the pickled herring melt in your mouth. I’m not sure what the Vikings would have thought of salad. They’d probably have fed it to their horses. I mean, what is the difference between lettuce and grass? But then, I doubt if anyone of them were on a diet. If they had high blood pressure, they didn’t know it. I suspect that with their diet of fish, meat and milk products diabetes wasn’t a problem. I like salad and the salads were really good but then I’m half Irish.
Personally, I like my parties quiet. It’s probably my age. Although, if a party is noisy, I just take out my hearing aid. The disc jockey did a great job. He’s a nice guy and he knows how to tailor his music to the crowd. It’s in the background, not competing with everyone who is trying to communicate.
We probably should get up and rock around the clock but my arthritis bothers me when I start whooping it up. A waltz or two usually is fine.
There was no hakarl this year. I didn’t miss it. I remember what Manitoba backhouses smelled like on a hot summer’s day. I don’t need to be reminded.  I’ve not been tempted to kill a shark and bury it in the sand up at Tofino for six months and then dig it up and slurp it down.
The dried cod was good. I like dried cod. My guests thought it had the texture of cardboard (must be memories from their childhood, I can’t see them chewing on cardboard now). I ate their share. I skipped the butter. My doctor says I’ve got to take off ten pounds.
The crowd at Norway House for Thorrablot
The best part of the evening was the company. It always is. A lot of people only turn up for Thorrablot. You get to shake their hand once a year and catch up on their life. It’s nice to see that we’re still with us. We’re not as us as we used to be, of course. Some people from that first meeting for the establishment of the Icelanders of Victoria Club that was arranged by Alphonse have died. Mattie Clegg (Gislason) is gone.Mattie was a dynamo. Great musician and our first Fjalkona. Amma Runa is gone. Runa was always at every event in her Icelandic dress serving coffee. Eric Clemens, our joyous Christmas elf, slipped away and even our friendship could not hold him here. I hope they have Christmas parties in heaven. Norm Jonasson departed unexpectedly, shockingly. He used to organize the cooking for the Thorrablot, worked all day in the kitchen with his family. There are other members who have left forever. 
Then there are other people who have disappeared because they have moved. Lois, I heard, will be moving to Vancouver. We’ll miss her.
That’s okay. These things happen. You get to be a certain age and you aren’t shocked anymore by losses. 
However, you are comforted by fellowship, community and ritual. We can all afford to buy our own rúllupylsa or skyr, make our own pönukökur or vinarterta but eating it by ourselves isn’t the same as sharing a meal.
Coming together, whether in church, or at sports events, for parades, picnics, celebrations, are one of the ways we define ourselves, let ourselves and others know who we are. Even if we are gradually shifting our identity from Icelandic to Icelandic-Canadian to Canadian, our Thorrablots and other events, help us to make the change over time, mixing together the old and the new. That’s why we can have smoked mutton and roast beef, rúllupylsa and potato salad, old memories and new hopes.


The ornamental cherry trees are a rich pink. Underneath, there are swaths of white snow drops. The sky is blue and the sun not yet summer-warm is still welcome. People are starting to clean up the debris in their gardens.

Today, off the coast of Vancouver Island there was another earthquake. Far enough out that no one got shook up. But there have been a number of earthquakes lately. People live here for the mild winters, trading snow for rain, clear blue skies for clouds. We have green winters. Green on green, every shade imaginable. That’s because of the winter rains.

People come from the prairies to escape the blizzards, the thirty or forty below temperature that keep them trapped inside. They fill up the motels and hotels that rent by the week or month. Some motels have nothing but prairie people, people who come back every year from Winnipeg, Red Deer, Saskatoon. They hold pool tournaments for them, arrange social events.

Even in the rain, walking is possible. An older crowd knows that it needs to walk, get out and exercise. If you are determined, you can even play tennis in the rain. Slow, soggy ball but that’s okay. Most visitors are of the age where a slow ball is just fine.

They check the weather every morning, comment on it as soon as they go downstairs to the lounge. “Thirty-eight below in Medicine Hat today”, they say as they trade weather statistics.

Why not go further south, cross the border to the USA, get some real warm weather. Health insurance is expensive. Crime. They read about robberies and muggings and guns, guns and more guns. They want to be somewhere that if they have a heart attack and don’t die, that they won’t be bankrupted. They don’t want to go to a big city like San Diego or Los Angeles. They’re not looking for excitement. The quiet, boring life of Victoria with its veneer of tourist Britishness suits them.

They like high tea at the Empress. A light lunch at Murchie’s. A lamb burger at the Irish pub. There are pseudo-UK shops on Wharf Street, shops where you can buy Scots tartans and Irish Beleek.

The druggies are nearly invisible. They’ve also come for the weather. Trying to sleep outside in Winnipeg in January is suicidal. Here they can sleep under a bridge or, more likely, in a shelter. There’s always food and, if they hang around long enough, a welfare cheque. Mostly, though, the tourists never encounter them.

Like most tourists, the Canadians from East of the Rockies leave worrying about the day to day problems to the locals. They’re just here for a day, week, a couple of months, then they’re gone again. If it even crosses their mind, they just hope that there’s no serious earthquake while they’re here. They read an earthquake headline, look out the window and no one is in a panic. People are walking their dogs.

For those of us that live here, it’s a bit different. We know we’ll be here when an earthquake hits. Little ones don’t matter. They happen all the time. I wake up during the night and my furniture is shaking. I roll over and go to sleep. It’s the big one that lies in the back of our minds. Not 7s or 8s but 9s, the kind of earthquake that made a mess of Japan’s coastline, that drove a tsunami inland, a great rising tide that nothing could stand against.

Fifty feet. That’s a number that sticks in our minds when we buy a house. All three of my houses have been away from the ocean, up higher than fifty feet. That’s likely the high water mark for a major tsunami. It’s the rich people along the water who will have their mansions swept away.

The other thing we pay attention to is the map showing areas of Victoria where the ground would liquefy. A lot of buildings are built on soil that would turn to mush. Buildings will sink, tilt, disintegrate. It’s all been worked out. My place is built on solid granite. However, the one end of the house rests on concrete pillars. I doubt if it would stay in place if there was significant shaking over minutes instead of a few seconds. My son’s house, even though it is on a steep slope, doesn’t rest on pillars. Instead, it is pinned to pillars like a massive cradle. It should swing with the movement of the earth.

We depend on ferries to provide all our supplies, to get us to the mainland. A severe shaking could put the ferry terminals out of commission. Experience during storms have shown that the stores start to run out of food in four days. Food in your fridge and freezer will go bad in a couple of days unless you have a generator. And fuel. Electricity will be out. No lights, no electric heat, no elevators, no lots of things. In my earthquake training, we were told we could not expect any help for at least seven days, maybe three weeks. The closest staging area is Edmonton.

Water is the biggest problem. We get our water from lakes. The water main into town will break. Not might break. It will break. How many people have three weeks water in their basement or their garage? Not me. You need water to drink. Forget washing. You need water to cook with. I usually have a twenty-four of soft drinks around. I can cook rice with diet Coke if I have to. If you turn on your kitchen taps and there’s no water, what do you do? Calling the plumber won’t help.

Yup, Victoria is pretty nice. The tourists strolling down Fort looking in the antique shops love it. I love it. But there, in the back of my mind, sort of like a ghost drifting in and out of the picture as I eat hormone free burgers at Bubba’s, poke around the brick buildings of Chinatown, is that plate beneath our feet, ready, one of these days, to lurch forward and I and thousands of others will think, as our legs turn to rubber, I shoulda bought water.  

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Icelandic Hollywood film producer Sigurjón Sighvatsson, whose portfolio boasts more than 40 movies and television series, has secured the movie rights to Yrsa Sigurdardóttir´s 2010 crime thriller Ég man thig (I remember you).
The sale of the movie rights has put her in the spotlight again but, in spite of how busy she is with her multi-faceted life, she came to the University of Victoria to give three lecturers as a Richard and Beck lecturer.
Yrsa is multi-talented. Most writers of prize winning murder mysteries would find that a full-time profession. Instead, Yrsa also writes books for children. More surprising than that and what intrigued an over-flow audience was that she is also an engineer and writes in her spare time. It was in  her role as an engineer that she gave one of the lectures. She explained how Iceland‘s topography and natural resources combined to put Iceland at the forefront of the world‘s attempt to create and harness green energy. Large geo-thermal and hydro-electric projects have taxed both the imagination and the resources of a country with a population of just three hundred and twenty thousand.
In North America, Yrsa is best known for her adult fiction. He second lecture was on „Nordic Noir and the Writing of Crime Fiction“. Yrsa discussed the sudden, surprising emergence of Scandinavian crime fiction. She talked about what characteristics unite—and distinguish—the writers involved and what explains the world-wide popularity of their work. Yrsa also offered some „how to“ hints for aspiring crime writers.
Interest in Yrsa‘s work has grown with the purchase of movie rights. „When the author and her publisher Pétur Már Ólafsson at Veröld, were guests on RÚV´s Rás 2 radio morning show, Olafsson said he had been certain from the start that the book would be filmed but had decided not to accept any offers until the book had been translated into English.
“But when a man who has worked with Robert De Niro, Nicholas Cage and Natalie Portman comes calling, you pick up the phone, don’t you?”, he said.
“The work on the screenplay has begun but many things are still undecided. It is possible that the film will be shot in Iceland and that parts of it, or even the entire film, will be in the Icelandic language.
“What appeals to Sigurjón is namely the Icelandic landscape. This is what makes it so special […] but  naturally, at the same time, the story itself knows no natural borders,” Olafson continued. “So what he sees in it is a uniquely Icelandic international thriller.”
Sigurdardóttir herself said that she will not be invovled in the adaptation—she has complete faith in the screenplay writers. “It is a special genre of writing,” she explained. “But I look forward to reading it and mostly I look forward to seeing the movie.”
“According to, Sighvatsson has hired Icelandic screen writer Ottó Geir Borg for the job.
One of the films Sighvatsson has produced, Wild At Heart (1990), as directed by David Lynch, earned the Golden Palm in Cannes.
“In addition to the aforementioned actors, Sighvatsson has worked with Hollywood big shots such as Harrison Ford and Jeff Bridges.
“Sighvatsson is not the first film producer to express an interest in Sigurdardóttir´s stories. The German film production company Team Worx Television & Film GmbH bought the movie rights to…Ashes To Dust“.
If members of your family enjoy reading murder mysteries, they might enjoy finding a novel by Yrsa under the tree on Christmas morning. There are four in English to choose from: Last Rituals, My Soul To Take, Ashes to Dust, and The Day Is Dark.
(Quotes with permission of A slightly different form of this article first appeared in Lögberg-Heimskringla. This is the 125th anniversary of LH. Consider celebrating her birthday by buying a subscription.)