The Icelanders became neighbours with the first peoples of these lands, alongside the existing settlers and those from many places who followed. Writing the Canadian story had just begun, and this group from an island in the middle of the North Atlantic was there helping to write it, adding their own story, and adding another chapter to the history of the Vikings. Their saga was unlike that of many immigrants who came after to find their way by fitting into a new land. The Icelanders arrived with a vision of building a New Iceland within “the Icelandic Reserve” set aside for them and began the arduous task of creating a society with its own institutions and identity.
“This is a family saga but it reaches far beyond the family for this microcosm is the story of the Icelandic immigrants who settled in New Iceland It is also an important dimension of Iceland’s history, for this story is also part of Iceland’s story. Lake Winnipeg is the centre, for it is its waters and the lands along its shores that gave these immigrants a distinct sense of place which moulded and formed the families and the community. The relationship to Lake Winnipeg became part of how people defined themselves. The lake took labour and lives. It gave back a living. It helped make people independent but it also made necessary a highly interdependent network within and beyond the community for fish cannot move from Lake Winnipeg to distant markets. It made the community stretch beyond their ethnicity to do business with people of all races and creeds. It helped make them Canadian.
Glenn has given us not just the fishing industry but the people who created it, laboured in it, served the communities where it was pre-dominant. He recognizes the important role that both distinct Icelandic Canadian institutions which emerged and of individuals who have written poetry, songs and books about the community as he adds to a continuous exploration of identity that began even before the first immigrants left Iceland. Today, over 120 years later institutions such as Logberg-Heimskringla, the Icelandic Canadian newspaper, and Islendingadagurinn, the annual Icelandic Celebration continue to draw people together. Every immigrant group has its own unique experience, its own tragedies and triumphs. Many books have been written about the Icelandic Canadian experience. However, there are books that over time become valuable sources for understanding the Icelandic Canadian experience and are returned to time and again as people do research. A Prairie Ocean Saga will stand alongside the books of Walter Lindal and Will Kristjanson written some years ago as essential reading for those wishing to understand the Icelandic immigration to Canada and their experience and evolution within Canada. A Prairie Ocean Saga helps to record for posterity the story of the Icelanders who came to Manitoba, not to streets paved with gold, but to hard challenges and great opportunities and what they made of them.”
By W.D. (Bill) Valgardson