Impact: Contribution and Collaboration


Did you know? Manitoba has the largest concentration of Icelanders outside of Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik?

From the beginning, the Argyle Icelandic Community, though self sufficient and self-sustaining, avoided being isolationist in any sense. They actively sought to also be part of the larger Argyle community. This manifested itself in many ways.
The impact of the Icelandic community is most convincingly expressed by the fact the name of the municipality’s central community ended up with an Icelandic name.
Naming the Town

In honor of the occasion one of the arrival of the railway and the creation of a town, a railway official, Mr. Lehorn sugges¬ted the town be named Chesterville, after Mr. Jesse Chester. Sigutrder Christopherson, father of the Icelandic pioneers, wished to name the town after a pretty flower but could not rind a pretty flower growing in the district with a suitable name so he suggested the name of a beautiful Nordic god, supposed to be beautiful, the pure radiant god of innocence and summer sun, namely "Baldur".

Baldur was the son of Odin the supreme God and Creator), (the son of Grigga goddess of married love and of the hearth).

After many arguments a decision made by vote this name was adopted for the town which was about to become the leading centre of a ra¬pidly growing community.

By 1890, many of the cultural initiatives begun in the Icelandic communities of Grund and Bru had also had an effect on the wider community. The influence was noted by the Baldur Gazette in its 1899 Special Historical Edition:


The country north Baldur is settled chiefly with people from Iceland. A people who by reason of their intelligence, their industry and their thrift, have prospered exceedingly in the land of their adoption. They have more over adapted themselves to the political and social conditions of the country so readily that they are now in all respects Canadians. Many of them occupy positions of trust and responsibility.   For example in this district, Christian Johnson who was for two years reeve and one of the present councillors, S. Arason, are both natives of Iceland. Many other instances might be given in proof of the statement that the Icelandic people are the equals of any other, no matter what their nationality, in ability and enterprise.

The Business Community

The Icelandic Immigration Agent, Sigurder Christopherson who was instrumental in the development of the Icleandic Settlement built an office in the new town as soon as it was established, connecting his community with the larger Argyle entity.  Others followed, bringing their talents and entrepreneurial spirit, and taking advantage of the opportunities for commerce that Baldur presented.

In 1899 the Baldur Gazette list of Baldur business included: “Christian Johnson, dealer in  agricultural im¬plements, sewing machines;  A. Helgason, bookbinder  and account bookmaker, and Miss Dora Snydal, dressmaker etc.


Christian & Arnbjorg Johnson


Builders, like Arni Sveinsson supervised the construction of Baldur’s Lutheran Church. Bjorn Bjornson, a fine carpenter who built many homes and barns in the Icelandic district was one of the carpenters of the Baldur School in 1905


St. Immanuel Lutheran Church
Arni Sveinson – Head Carpenter

Health Care


Karolina Snydal was born in Iceland, came to New Iceland in 1876 and homesteaded in 1882. When her husband Eyolfur passed away in 1898 Karolina became a midwife and practiced for over 50 years. She moved from the farm to Baldur in 1899. She delivered her last baby at the age of 75.

The Arts

Sigurbjorn Jonannsson, father of Jakobina, Sigurveig and Egill.  Sigurbjorn was a poet of some note both in Iceland and in Canada. He was Community Skaid (“poet laureate”) in the Icelandic Community in the District of Argyle, where he wrote poems for various special occasions. A book of his poetry was published by his friends in 1902. He died in 1903.

Icelandic Literary Society

"bokmentafelag islendinga i argyle"

("Acquistion ofknowledge through books" club)

The first Icelandic settlers in Argyle Municipality  formed a Literary Society known as “Bokmentafelag Islands", which although short-lived , did establish the concept.  In 1893  a new organization was established, using the few books left by the original club, to start the new library which they later named "Lestrafelag Islendinga i Argyle".

The following was taken from the April 25, 1901, Baldur Gazette and explains fully the aims of the club:

"Island Society"

“ The object of its promoters was a most worthy one - the supplying of literature to those who might not otherwise be in a position to procure it, and thus tend to educate and elevate all, by the perusal of the highest classes of literature. From its commencement, the society has met with marked success and in 1896, they built what is commonly known as the Grund Hall, in Icelandic, 'Skjalbreid'. Other help was of course given the society, though today they own the largest share of the building in which their library is kept. The library is open every Saturday from November 1, until the last of April, from 12 to 4 o'clock, for the changing and procuring of books. In regard to the method of pur- chasing and choosing books for their library, a committee is appointed that only wholesome and healthy reading may be procured. The whole list is made up chiefly of works of standard authors and dramatic works - Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, and English, a goodly sprinkling of the latter being noticeable, such as Scott, Drummond, Haggard, Bunyan, and Shakespeare and others.

The society had about 400 volumes and from 40 to 60 members.

In 1907 they decided to form a Baldur Branch of the club, to be called "Lestrafelag id Island". Half of the books from Skjalbreid (119) were brought into Baldur and kept at a private home until 1911 when the Literary Society bought a building to be used as a library. The library spent its final years on the Lutheran church grounds.

In 1968, the remaining books were sold or donated to the University of Manitoba as well as the University of Victoria, B.C. 
The focus on literacy that is common to all Canadian Icelandic communities can be traced to the creation of The Icelandic Literature Society in Iceland in 1816. Iceland had long been a colony of Denmark and  scholars were concerned about loss of language and tradition. Throughout the nineteenth century there was a growing independence movement and preservation of language and customs became a priority.

Beyond our Borders

Icelandic Suffrage Societies

The Icelandic Suffrage Societies were the first groups organized solely to promote suffrage in Western Canada.

The Icelandic community in Manitoba was therefore a strong voice for the recognition of women’s right to the franchise. Women’s Societies and Ladies’ Aid groups played a leading role in Icelandic community activities.

In 1890, at a meeting in the Argyle settlement, three speakers argued for the extension of the franchise, and the entire audience joined in the debate that followed.

The outstanding instrument in the suffrage campaign was the Icelandic-language monthly, Freyja, meaning “Woman,” published between 1898 and 1910 by Sigfus and Margret Benedictsson.

In 1908, Margret Benedictsson founded the Icelandic Suffrage Association in Winnipeg,
hailed by Freyja as the first in America, and affiliated it with both the Canada Suffrage Association and the International Woman Suffrage Alliance.

Also by 1908, an Icelandic suffrage group called “Sigurvon,” or “Hope of Victory,” (also referred to as “The White Band”) was functioning in Argyle, and several other Icelandic communities followed suit.

A number of suffrage petitions were subsequently presented to the Manitoba legislature, “praying for the passing of an act to enfranchise all women, whether married, widowed or spinster, on the same basis as men.”

Sigvaldason, John

John Sigvaldason was born in 1904, in Baldur. After a career in education, he  joined the R.C.A.F. in 1942, and  the Department of External Affairs in 1946. He was an assistant secretary in the office of the High Commissioner in London, England and in 1960 he was appointed Ambassador to Indonesia, then  Ambassador to Norway in 1964. Mr. Sigvaldason retired from the diplomatic services in 1969 and taught Political Science for two years at the Brandon University following his retirement.

Tom Johnson


Tom was born in 1928 in Baldur.
He was signed by the Montreal Canadians in 1950. Won the Norris Trophy in 1959 and joined the Boston Bruins 1963.

The Modern Era

Baldursbra Icelandic Canadian Club

A visitor to Baldur in the year 2017 will soon be aware that the region’s Icelandic heritage is still evident and that the people are still proud of their traditions.

In 1974, the Baldursbra Icelandic Canadian Club was organized. Its purpose was to carry on affairs of the Icelandic Canadian Club of western Manitoba at a local level.

As  “Come into our Heritage” reported:

“The Icelandic festival in 1974, sponsored by the club, was the largest ethnic activity ever held in this municipality. Sena Gunnlaugson directed a small choir of children singing Icelandic songs. Their singing was recorded in the Lutheran Church at Grund. At the church service the Rev. Al Pope was the minister and the Rev. P.M. Peturson of Winnipeg led the liturgy in Icelandic. Mr. Ami Sveinson, the faithful and dedicated organist in the Lutheran Church for 50 years, was the organist for this event. The Festival of Baldur records which were made at this event were very enthusiastically received."

In 1978, the club sponsored the film 'They shouldn't call Iceland, Iceland', and also had the very talented Martin children of Brandon perform in the Lutheran Church.

The group has been responsible for looking after visitors from Iceland; feeding and entertaining them; and conducting bus tours through the municipality for them. The club has arranged bus trips to 'Icelandingadagurinn' in Gimli and to Brandon to hear the Icelandic Karlakor; donated books of Icelandic interest to the local school library; made donations to the local band; and also had the Icelandic Folk Dancers from Iceland come to entertain the community.