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The Nes Angel

During the summer of 2010, the Nes Angel began her vigil over the unmarked graves at Nes, on the bank of the Icelandic River

When this memorial was installed by IRHS members and community volunteers, more than 130 years had passed from the time of the first known burials here in the late autumn of 1876.  Smallpox struck the new settlement at Icelandic River in September of that year, and by the time it had passed over there were many new graves on this low stretch of riverbank just north of the homestead at Víðivellir.  Besides Icelandic men, women, and children, numerous members of the Sandy Bar Band succumbed to the smallpox, and it is believed that they too were buried at Nes.  Indications are that there are no fewer than 80 graves here, some 19 of which are of identified Icelandic smallpox victims and others who died during the first six years of the settlement - when this site served as the community's cemetery.

In 1882 this site (on Riverlot 1-23-4E) was claimed as a homestead by Magnús Hallgrímsson from Ingólfsvík on Hecla Island, and according to the memories of Guttormur J. Guttormsson, who was growing up on the nearby homestead of Víðivellir, Magnús removed all markers, leveled the  mounds, and built his home in the midst of the cemetery at Nes.  He first named the place Náströnd (Corpse Strand), recalling the mythological realm of the dead, but later opted for Graftarnes (Burial Point), which was shortened to Nes in daily usage.  Magnús was evidently a very pragmatic individual, unaffected by superstition, but following his gruesome death a few years later and his widow's abandonment of the house, tales of strange occurrences at Nes abounded.  No-one succeeded in reoccupying the house...

Neskíll, the creek just south of this site, afforded the settler at Nes good access from the river and a safe harbour for his boat, making it attractive for occupation, but this same feature made the exposed riverbank at Nes vulnerable to erosion.  Oral sources reported the discovery of skulls in the water by girls swimming here around 1900, and over the years human bones were found here on a regular basis.  For years the farmer at nearby Víðivellir, who pastured his cattle here, faithfully collected the bones and deposited them in a hollow tree nearby for safe keeping.  At some point he apparently reburied these bones.  After much talk, the discovery of a skull in the summer of 2006 finally prompted a request to Manitoba Historical Resources to visit the site and take some action.  An archaeological team subsequently collected numerous human bones from the exposed riverbank and excavated two partially  eroded graves.  The bones were taken into custody for safe keeping until such time as a reburial event can be arranged.

In the mean time, the site remained neglected, apart from a lone heritage sign erected about 1995 by a history class from Arborg Collegiate, until 2007 when IRHS began efforts to cut the grass and clean away debris.  Since the fall of 2009 the site has been groomed regularly, despite successive wet summers, and in July of 2009 the Nes Angel was put in place as a tangible sign of IRHS's plans for stewardship.  These include riverbank protection to prevent further erosion, landscaping and tree planting, and the eventual installation of a permanent memorial and interpretive panels that tell the story of this unique historical place.