June 17: Winnipeg



Mermaids: Kathleen Hiley

June 17: Winnipeg

The June 17 celebration of Jon Sigurdsson day was fun. I’d been asked to participate in the evening’s entertainment so I first stopped at the Winnipeg Art Gallery to check the light on the podium and the sound of the mike. Microphones are all different and you have to know how you use the one provided. Got to meet Kevin Olafson who was organizing the Nuna show.

I’d parked at the Bay parking lot. It is right across from the art gallery. Went into the Bay because when I was a child and into my teens, going to the Bay was a big deal. It was in the basement you could get a malt and hot dog. Only in Iceland are pilsar as good as Bay hotdogs and they don’t have malts. The Bay was depressing. At one time, it was classy. Now, the floors have broken and missing tiles, there are large areas with no products. They need to do like Victoria, shut it down, turn the building into classy condominiums.

I drifted down Portage, stopped at Don’s photography store and, after weeks of struggle, decided to buy a telephoto lens so I can take pictures of the Ospreys of Willow Island. The ospreys, I hate to admit, are smarter than me. Even when I wear camouflage, cover my hat with twigs and leaves, they know it is me. They wait until I’m just starting to get into camera range and then they fly to a tree in the marsh. I swear I can hear them laughing.

I walked to the Legislature. Took some photographs of the wreath and monument. Found my way to the reception in the office of Peter Bjornson, Minister and MLA, but more importantly, son of this years’s Fjallkona, Herdis Bjornson. Heidi was born to wear a Fjallkona costume. She looked regal but she also made all the dainties: vinarterta, asta bollur, ponokokkur, rolled sandwiches. It was charming to hear Peter say in addressing her, “Madame Fjallkona, Mom….”

The Eimskip executives appeared. We drained the dregs from our coffee cups and found our way out of the Legislative labyrinth to the Jon Sigurdsson statue. The Solskrikjan Choir, led by K. Wilson, was bravely contesting with the passing traffic. They looked dashing in their white and red. The loyalists were gathering, gradually filling up the rows of chairs.

Consul General Hjálmar Hannesson introduced the guest speaker, Gylfi Sigfusson, the CEO of Eimskip. A lot of speeches by visiting dignitaries are yawners. However, Gylfi´s speech was interesting. I’m hoping, assuming, that it will be reproduced in LH. It gave a comprehensive history of the creation of the shipping line and its importance to Iceland’s struggle for independence. Gylfi emphasized the fact that it was Winnipeg Icelanders who provided twenty percent of the start up money for Eimskip.

The speeches were neither too long , nor too short, the rain held off and when the official program was over, we all trooped to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Bardal’s black bus was available for those who wanted to ride. I walked back to my car on the Hudson Bay parking lot and wolfed down a ham and cheese sandwich made with gluten free bread.

A good sized crowd came to the gallery for the show. It was well worth their effort. Eimskip, because this is their 100th anniversary, has produced a film in two parts about the history of the company. We watched the first part. I was fascinated because it was made up of news clips taken in Reykjavik and New York close to the beginning of the 1900s. If you want to see the Reykjavik of your great grandparents and grandparents this is the film to watch. I hope that Eimskip makes the film available to all the Icelandic clubs and donates a copy to the Icelandic Library at the University of Manitoba.

With the evening over, we went on to the vaudeville entertainment. Zach Allard accompanied himself on two songs, ‘New North –Side Air’ and ‘Ship and Anchor’. He was followed by a presentation that riveted my attention. Kathleen Hiley and Quincy Hiebert danced an excerpt from “Beating of Wings”, that had me sitting forward in my seat. As someone brought up on The Royal Winnipeg Ballet and a long time folk dancer, I was filled with admiration for the choreography by Gaile Petursson-Hiley and the marrying of the bodies of the dancers in a demanding, captivating routine. Time and again, I would like to have taken photographs but, of course, the light wasn’t right and I’d left my camera and new lens in the car.

Victoria Sparks followed the dancers and treated us to a tune entitled “Rock Song” on keyboard and percussion, followed by “Bi Bi og Blaka”, an Icelandic Folk Song.

Feeling that I would be boring after the singing, dancing, percussion, I launched into a description of the week in 1874 when, for the first time in its history, a Danish king came to Iceland. Christian IX was coming to present the Icelanders their new constitution.

We go to a great deal of trouble, work, and expense to say Jon Sigurdsson was a great guy because he was instrumental in getting that constitution which was the first step in Iceland obtaining its independence but no one seems to have any idea what actually went on when the king spent a week in Iceland. I regaled the crowd with tidbits such as the King’s staff bringing fresh Hamburg grapes for dessert at the official banquet. Grapes were not something most Icelanders had ever seen, never mind eaten. Standing behind the mike, blinded by the lights, I heard the sounds of the audience but not clearly enough to know whether they were laughing at my amusing tidbits or snoring. I’ve had a couple of people say “Wow, impressive research, Bill.” I worry that is like someone saying about a movie, “It’s really worth seeing for the landscapes.”

In any case, I see all this through a dark filter. When I went out to my car, the back driver’s side window had been smashed, my Sony A33 and two lenses, including the lens I had just bought that afternoon, had been stolen. The thief also stole the insulated bag and freezer pack my cousin Dilla had given me to keep my sandwich cool. I hope he was appropriately disappointed when he looked inside. Even with insurance, the loss for me will be around eight hundred dollars and, more importantly, the two memory chips had my month’s research photographs. Those can’t be retaken until next year.

It was a cold, bitter ride back to Gimli but I was warmed by the events of the day. I wouldn’t let a petty thief steal that.