The History of the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto
(by Rósa Hermannsson Vernon with additions by Gígí Friðriksson and Gail Einarson-McCleery)
In the spring of 1959, friends of mine, Steina and Kobbi Kristjanson of Winnipeg, called to say that they were in town. I invited them to come for afternoon coffee. I also invited Steina’s sister, Rikka Bailey, her daughter, Billy Bailey, Alda Palson and Ásta Palson Lunney.
During our conversation, Ásta suggested that we form a group to entertain Icelanders when they visited Toronto. All agreed that it was a good idea, and to this end we met again at Alda’s home, at which time twelve ladies attended.
Erla Macaulay offered her home for the third meeting. Thirty-five ladies attended that meeting. We then realized that if the group were to grow at the current rate, a hall would have to be rented and males invited to join us. Erla mentioned that she had heard of a young lady from Iceland, namely Sigga Elvin, whom she invited. Instead of her coming to our meeting, she invited us to join a group of ladies from Iceland who were planning a get-together. We accepted their invitation and met at the home of Fanney Peacock. We selected our first executive at this meeting and decided on the name – the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto. At the same time, we decided to hold our meetings in English.
To build up our membership, I spent many hours looking up names in the telephone directory. I then gave the names and numbers to Fanney and she contacted these people.
The first year we decided to hold a Þorrablót (Icelandic Food Night) in February, treating our friends and relatives to delicious Icelandic foods. We also served Canadian foods for those who preferred it. This has become a tradition and has been the highlight of every year both socially and financially. Entertainment at þorrablót has been varied throughout the years. A silent auction was added in the 1990′s and we have had many children’s plays as well. It is our major event of the year, a time when everyone can get together and enjoy the old time Icelandic food. We still self-cater it, with most participants contributing.
Entertainment at þorrablót has been varied throughout the years. A silent auction was added in the 1990′s and we have had many children’s plays as well. It is our major event of the year, a time when everyone can get together and enjoy the old time Icelandic food. We still self-cater it, with most participants contributing something.
Fund-Raising and Philantropy
To raise money for our Club, we held raffles, tombolas, handicraft fairs, dances, film and slide presentations, musical offerings and speeches on Iceland and our heritage.
Donations made by the Club have included the Betel Home in Selkirk, the Icelandic Canadian, Logberg Heimskringla, the INL, avalanche relief in Iceland, visiting choirs and many more.
Iceland Independence Day Celebration & Picnic
Cam and Erla Macaulay kindly invited us to their farm near Erin, Ontario for a picnic in June on the Sunday closest to the 17th (Iceland’s Independence Day). In 1981, a choir from Skagafjörður, Iceland visiting Toronto attended the event and entertained as did the Reykjavík Band in 1987. The picnic was held at Erla and Cam’s place for 25 years. In recent years, it has been hosted amongst Lynda and Gunnar Helgason’s Icelandic horses near Colborne, at Thorstein and Hildegarde Helf’s Viking retreat at Shelburne, at Stefania Sveinbjarnardottir’s Icelandic sheep farm at Parham, at Kinmount and in 2006 in High Park in downtown Toronto.
In December 1978, we initiated an annual Christmas dance that included a bar and buffet. After two years, we discontinued it as the numbers of people attending were not as great as we had hoped. In December 1994, the Christmas event was reinstated, featuring Icelandic Christmas carols, demonstrations of food preparation and crafts. It returned in 1995 as an afternoon affair with more emphasis on the children and traditional dancing and singing around the Christmas tree. It has become a very popular annual event and has evolved in more recent years into a Christmas Fair – expanded to include a bazaar of Icelandic and Christmas goods, games, presentations and other entertainment.
Canada’s Centennial Year
About twenty-five club members went to Ottawa during Centennial year to attend the unveiling of a trilingual plaque (English, Icelandic, and French) donated by the Canadian Icelandic descendants on April 14, 1967 and placed in the new Library and Archives Building on Wellington St., Ottawa. The title, “A Chapter in Canadian History,” depicted the discovery of America by the Vikings in the year 1000.
In 1961, we entertained the President of Iceland at a cocktail party at the Granite Club. Then, in 1967, the club was again honoured by the visit of the president of Iceland, the Honourable Ásgeir Ásgeirsson, who attended a gathering at the Albany Club. In 1972 Guðmundur I. Guðmundsson, Ambassador of Iceland, paid us a visit. Another president, the popular Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, visited in August of 1989, and a reception was held at the King Edward Hotel. Vigdís visited again in June of 1998, when the University of Guelph awarded her an honorary doctorate, and the ICCT hosted a luncheon in her honour.
In 1977, at the urging of Fanney Peacock, a scholarship fund was set up – It continues to this day. In 2001, we decided to offer a grant to a child of Icelandic descent to attend the Icelandic Language and Culture Camp (near Gimli, MB), and a grant for ICCT members participating in the Snorri program. We feel it is important to invest in our future in this way. In 2003, Consul General Jon Johnson and his wife Pat established an additional scholarship in memory of Jon’s parents, Ragnar and Marion Johnson. All of these grants continue.
Icelandic Language Classes
Icelandic classes were offered sporadically during the early years of the club; but have been running continuously now since February of 1966. Those who have taught Icelandic language lessons for the club include: Brandur Olafsson, Katrin Jonsdottir, Oli, Sigrun Stella Haraldsdottir, Halla Gunnarsdóttir, Tómas Gunnarsson, Margret Bjorgvinsdottir and Haraldur Bessasson.
Music and Entertainment
Magnús Paulson entertained by playing the piano for singsongs on numerous occasions. Alda Palson, pianist and Music Director at Havergal College, gave recitals and accompanied soloists at club affairs. Rósa Hermansson Vernon not only entertained at our club, but at the Scandinavian Club where she, dressed in Icelandic costume, performed a recital of Norwegian and Icelandic songs in 1975. She started a mixed voice choir of members of the club with Begga Robson as accompanist in 1977. With Rósa singing solos and conducting, the choir performed at several gatherings. This included a “Lucia” put on by the Scandinavian Club at the Ontario Science Centre. All five Scandinavian groups performed and decorated a tree depicting their national heritage. For several years the Valhalla Inn displayed Christmas trees around their swimming pool and invited the various ethnic groups to decorate them ethnic style. The Icelandic decorations won awards on more than one occasion. Icelandic dolls (decorated by some of the ladies) and Icelandic flags of all sizes were included. Jenny Drummond and Ethel Hair were always there when piano accompaniment was needed for the choir or soloists that entertained at our meetings or special occasions. In 1968, Ragnar Bjarnason, a celebrated singer, recording star, radio and TV personality from Iceland was in town on his way to New York, and an informal gathering was held at the home of Hannes and Begga Petursson.
In 1980, Sigfús Halldórsson, composer and artist, Guðmundur Guðjónsson, soloist, and Bill Holm, pianist, gave an entertaining program. Guðmundur sang a number of Sigfús’ songs with the composer at the piano. In 1982, the late Haukur Morthens was on tour and played at a dance in the Valhalla Inn. In 1987, the Canadian Opera Company offered a performance of “Rigoletto” featuring Kristján Jóhannsson as the Duke of Mantua. Members of the club who attended were thrilled by his glorious tenor voice. On June 18, 1987, Pearl Palmason, violinist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for forty years, gave a recital at the Unitarian Church, and all receipts were donated to the Club.
In November 1993, Sigrún Eðvaldsdóttir, acclaimed Icelandic violinist, performed for us, accompanied by Þorsteinn Sigurðsson, pianist. Nina-Margret Grímsdóttir gave a piano recital on November 17, 1996. In 1997, the Northern Encounters Festival of the Arts brought us the Hamrahlid Choir (and a chance for many of us to welcome these delightful young people into our homes), Icelandic films, writers, musicians, actors, and the children’s choir Skolakor Karsness. Our club hosted a reception for the visiting artists. In March 1999, young Icelandic Canadians Tristin Tergesen, Iain Stuart and Lindsey Innes sang, played and danced for us.
In 2001, the Motet Choir from Hállgrimskirkja entertained us at the St. James Cathedral. Ingveldur Yr Jónsdóttir (mezzo soprano) and Guðriður St. Sigurðardóttir (pianist), entertained us in October of 2002 with a program of Icelandic, Canadian and international music. Two concerts in June of 2005 gave us the opportunity to be treated once again to the magic voices of the Hamrahlið Choir from Reykjavik – in performance with the Northern Voices Choral Festival in Toronto, and a concert specially for us in Hamilton.
In the year 2000, Brenda Bjarnason formed a children’s choir singing in Icelandic – this evolved into a theatre troupe. Icelandic Canadian singer Lindy entertained us at many Thorrablóts and was joined by his parents at one of our annual picnics. Maja Ardal, Sigga Friðriksdóttir and Ann Helga Denny also entertained us at Christmas parties and Thorrablóts.
In addition to this, the club has sponsored and contributed to numerous other events.
Writers and Film Makers
Betty Jane Wylie, W.D. Valgardson, and David Arnason all came and read to us through the years. David’s film ‘Tied by Blood’ was shown in 2000 and Juliann Blackmore’s film ‘Saga of Hope‘ has been shown twice.
In 2003, the Icelandic Consulate partnered with ICCT and the National Film Board of Canada in starting a monthly screening series of films from Iceland with English subtitles on the last Thursday of each month at the NFB’s downtown theatre. As at mid-2006, 30 films have been shown.
Some Examples of Speakers and Entertainment at Meetings:
|1961||Laura Goodman Salverson, author of The Viking Heart and many other books, spoke to us|
|1962||Travel documentary on Iceland by Icelandair, plus Oli Gislason conducted his first session of conversational Icelandic.|
|1964||Jon Ragnar Johnson, Icelandic Consul, spoke on “Iceland Today”|
|1965||Kay Sigurjonsson, co-host of “Weekend” on CBC-TV, paid us a visit|
|1966||Architect G. Beekenkamp showed slides of European architecture|
|1967||The 15 man Icelandic Expo team visited, and demonstrated Glima and Viki-Vaka Dancing|
|1968||At the end of May, a wind-up party, with dancing, raffle and food, was held at the home of Begga and Hannes Petursson|
|1969||Icelandic Food Night featured Jona Hammer with guitar and Alda Palson accompanying a sing song|
|1970||Dr. Finnbogi Gudmundsson showed us a film made by him and Kjartan Bjarnason on Icelandic settlements in North America|
|1971||Icelandic Food Night featured Sigridur and Manlio Candi with a selection of Icelandic songs|
|1972||There was a group flight to Iceland July 19 – August 2nd for $256|
|1974||An Art and Craft display included batiks by Ruth Bjarnason; paintings by Sigridur Candi and Icelandic tapestries by Unnur Dora Hagan|
|1976||The Annual Picnic was held as usual at the Macaulay farm|
|1977||Jón Ásgeirsson, editor of Lögberg-Heimskringla, spoke about his stay in Canada|
|1980||Hugo Furney entertained with his acts of magic|
|1981||Joseph E. Martin spoke on Icelandic settlements throughout Canada|
|1982||Carol McGirr recited stories from Laxdæla|
|1983||Thorrablót cost $12 for non-members; $10 for members; the door prize was dinner at the Mermaid|
|1984||Don Gislason spoke on how and why Icelanders emigrated to Canada|
|1985||Betty Jane Wylie talked about her experiences in becoming a writer|
|1986||Rick and Lynda Senior showed “The Volcano Show” – video on their return trip to Iceland|
|1987||Icelandic Arts & Handicrafts show featuring Folk Songs by Lilja (Eylands) Day|
|1988||Kristjanna Gunnars with readings and slides about Stephan G. Stephansson|
|1989||W.D. Valgardson brought us slides and stories from the Interlake|
|1989||Nelson Gerrard showed us how to trace our Genealogy|
|1990||We saw the film documentary on five Icelandic women married to U.S. Servicemen, “Love & War”|
|1991||Guy Scott, Kinmount historian, recounted the story of the failed settlement at Kinmount in 1874|
|1991||Evelyn Thorvaldson on Vinland Revisited|
|1991||The Fashion Show put on by Linda Lundström was one of the most popular events we’ve had|
|1992||Tom Bjarnason, graphic designer, shared insights on art and stamp design|
|1992||Maja Ardal spoke on her involvement with Young People’s Theatre and about Laufa Bread making|
|1993||Shortwave Radio with staff from Atlantic Ham Radio|
|1994||Hiking in Iceland with Holly and Jim Garrett (slide show)|
|1995||“Tales from the Gimli Hospital” by Guy Maddin, screening, with comments from brother Ross|
|1995||The Icelandic National League Convention was held in Toronto for the first time – highlights included: TV film “Iceland: Coastal Wings” with film-makers John Wilson and Denice Wilkins; Danish Folk Dancers; Brenda Bjarnason’s Banana Skins Kidswear fashion show; story of the failed Kinmount settlement by historian Guy Scott; George Johnson reading from his translations of the sagas.|
|1995||Icelandic horses at Gimli Farm, wiener roast/pot luck lunch|
|1996||Iceland via the Internet and demonstration of new club Website|
|1997||Northern Encounters Festival of the Arts – Hamrahlid & Skolakor Karsness choirs. Our club billetted choir members and hosted a reception for the visiting artists. Icelandic art critic Aðalsteinn Ingólfsson lectured on Icelandic art in Oakville and Toronto (first of our International Visits series). First annual Icelandic travel information event held in February – videos & slides presentations, brochures and print materials.|
|1998||Darryl Markiewitz showed us Viking artifacts from Vinland. Participation in Fall Fair Parade at Kinmount and picnic on fair grounds. Steven Cronshaw of University of Guelph informed us about the Iceland-Guelph exchange program.|
|1999||INL Convention in Toronto – highlights: day trip to original settlement area in Kinmount, introduction of new Consul General Svavar Gestsson, Sturla Gunnarsson speech, adaptation of the book “Thor” by its author W.D. Valgardson, starring Thorsteinn Helf; our Thorrablot featuring a Linda Lundstrom fashion show; Brenda Bjarnason’s “Ode to the Vinarterta.” Photographer Páll Stefansson from ‘Iceland Review’ showed us his beautiful pictures of Iceland, in two shows partnered with the Toronto Camera Club.|
|2000||Millennium celebration year of the Vikings arrival in North America. Kinmount memorial erected and dedicated, sculptor Guðrun Sigursteinsdóttir Girgis. “Vikings in Canada Gala” at the Glenn Gould studio, featuring North American Icelanders in the areas of visual art, film, writing and film-making, as well as astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason – in all 65 artists took the stage. Both these events were attended by Foreign Minister Halldor Ásgrimsson, Consul General Svavar Gestsson, and soon-to-be Ambassador Hjálmar Hannesson. INL President Sigrid Johnson received the first of 500 sets of the Icelandic Sagas from Halldór, to be distributed to the Canadian people. Next door at Metro Hall, there was a display of The Vikings. In London, Ontario, Prof. Anne Brydon curated an exhibition of Icelandic photographer Arni Haraldsson‘s work. Puppeteer Hallveig Thorlacius entertained in area schools.|
Kinmount Icelandic Settlement Research and Erection of a Memorial:
We took over the leadership on this INL project. Don Gislason devoted
innumerable hours to researching every facet of the settlement story,
including their arrival in 1874, departure in 1875 and arrival at Willow
Point to establish New Iceland. A 25-page illustrated booklet was
produced. Under the chairmanship of Fran Moscall, we also organized the
commissioning, and erection of a memorial at Kinmount to commemorate these
people. The memorial consisted of an original statue by Gudrun
Sigursteinsdóttir Girgis with a base containing plaques in English,
Icelandic and French and a map of Iceland. This is scheduled to be
dedicated in the year 2000 as part of the Millennium Celebrations.
We publish the official Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto newsletter called The Fálkinn approximately six times a year. This newsletter is the mail communication to our members, detailing upcoming events, news stories from Iceland, and articles about our members.
In 1996, we became the first Icelandic-Canadian club to set up a website on the World Wide Web. In 1998 we added a youth website, entitled “Vikings”. The website contains the latest news of club activities, newsletters, a list of our library books, information about our club shop, and links to other clubs and websites pertaining to Iceland and things Icelandic.
An illustrated booklet containing the entire Kinmount story was produced in 1998, based on extensive research by Don Gislason, and written by him.
Presidents in Chronological Order from Past to Present:
- YEAR – PRESIDENT
- 1959/60 – Fanney Peacock
- 1960/61 – Magnus T. Paulson
- 1961/62 – Guy Gislason
- 1962/63 – Art Marteinsson
- 1963/64 – Oli Gislason
- 1964/65 – Magnus T. Paulson
- 1965/66, 1966/67 – Vilberg R. ‘Kris’ Kristjansson
- 1967/68, l968/69 – Hannes Pétursson
- 1969/70, 1970/71 – Harold Broughton
- 1971/72, 1972/73 – Óli Teitsson
- 1973/74, 1974/75 – Gordon Rögnvaldson
- 1975/76, 1976/77 – Cam Macaulay
- 1977/78 – Bob Miller
- 1978/79 – Rósa Hermannsson Vernon
- 1979/80 – Gigi Friðriksson
- 1980/81 – Birgitta Gillis
- 1981/82 – Stefán Guðmundsson
- 1982/83, 1983/84 – Oli Teitsson
- 1984/85 – Brian Pétersson
- 1985/86 – Eric Hagan
- 1986/87, 1987/88 – Don Gislason
- 1988/89, 1989/90 – Tom Einarson
- 1990/91, 1991/92 – David Scarth
- 1992/93, 1993/94 – William Hurst
- 1994/95 – Patricia (Einarson) Stephens
- 1995/96, 1996/97 – Garry Oddleifson
- 1997/98, 1998/99 – Gail Einarson-McCleery
- 1999/00, 2000/01 – Ellen Gilmore
- 2001/02, 2002/03 – Darla E. McKay
- 2003/04, 2004/05 – Leah Salt
- May/June 2005 – Holly Garrett
- Oct/05, 2006/07 – Kara Schuster
All the information that I (Rosa) have offered in this report has come from Notices of Meetings that I have kept and through conversations with my good friend, Gígí Friðriksson whom I would like to thank for her help.
Through the years the Club has really grown and prospered. It is difficult to believe that it was once just an idea discussed among three founding members, Ásta Lunney, Alda Palson and myself.