Engimýri Homestead


Historic Homestead & Stopping Place

In November of 2010, Icelandic River Heritage Sites formalized arrangements for long-term administration of Engimýri (Riverlot 3E-23-4E), the historic homestead taken in 1877 by pioneers Tómas Ágúst Jónasson and Guðrún Egidía Jóahnnesdóttir, whose 112 year old home still stands here.

Engimýri, named for the homesteader's birthplace in Northern Iceland, is significant not only as one of the oldest intact dwellings in New Iceland, but also for its historical role as a community meeting house and "stopping place".  The site of many early congregational and municipal council meetings, Engimýri was also the northern terminus of the "Colonization Road" that ran the entire length of New Iceland and angled west across this homestead from a wooded ridge to the Icelandic River, passing just north of the building site.  The home at Engimýri therefore became a wayside inn for travellers when the area was first settled, and shortly after the present house was built in 1900-01, an entire wing was added to accommodate guests.

Many freighters off Lake Winnipeg also came up the Icelandic River to stop here overnight, and at times the house slept as many as 80 travellers, while the stables sheltered dozens of teams.  Sleigh dogs slept outside, tied to every available post in the yard.  Various officials and people of note stayed at this "stopping place", which also accommodated long term borders, including poet and teacher Jón Runólfsson and 'Father of New Iceland' Sigtryggur Jónasson, who was a brother to Tómas.  The house was built by local carpenters Jónas Jónasson at Lón (another brother) and Trausti Vigfússon, who later built most of the area's churches.

Typical of the new frame structures that began replacing early log homes in New Iceland around the turn of the 19th century, the Engimýri house reflected the improved economic circumstances of those who could afford such homes.  These new houses also displayed elements of style that were indications of both the skill levels of the the carpenters and the desire of the settlers to decorate their homes for the first time.  Such ornamentation was often a modest version of Victorian "gingerbread" combined with Icelandic elements, as is evident on the Engimýri house in both the decoratively cut out "ridge boards" and ornate "gable heads" reminiscent of a ship's prow.  The three facia corners of the west and south gables are also decorated with fairly elaborate woodwork in the form of "sunbursts" and clover leaves - still predominantly intact at the time of restoration, though delicate and in some cases in need of replacement parts.

Restoration of the house at Engimýri by Icelandic River Heritage Sites began in the spring of 2011 with general clean-up, window repairs and reconstruction, and a refurbished cedar shingle roof. The majority of this work was done by volunteer labour, including a tremendous contribution by Bert and Vera Osborne, who contributed very generously in  time and sweat equity in working on the windows, and the roof work was cost shared by the Manitoba Government's Community Places program.  Fundraising (mostly sales of Icelandic River Roast coffee beans) and donations, including a large contribution from Amy Macdonald, made the first stages of restoration possible and pulled the house back from the brink of certain ruin due to water leakage. New temporary roofing was also installed on the badly leaking kitchen addition by IRHS volunteer Gary Paulson during the summer of 2011.

Restoration continues in 2012.  To deal with some serious structural and shell deterioration on the exterior and underside of the 112 year old house and the considerably younger porch and attached kitchen, Icelandic River Heritage Sites contracted with Task Force Construction/Brian Austfjörð of Riverton in the spring of 2012.  This was a very fortunate move for IRHS, due to Brian's personal support and commitment to this project - and his willingness to go far beyond the basic requirements.  Advanced decay to the porch (not original) and its hazardous condition made its removal necessary, and considerable work was needed to repair and replace some of the tongue and groove siding.  Plywood coverings had also been added over the siding on the gables, and this had to be removed to restore the earlier look of the house. Temporary replacement steps and platforms were also built for both the front and rear doors, and in additional to dealing with deteriorated siding and trim, some structural timber was replaced.  IRHS volunteers then scraped the siding to remove old paint and primed the exterior of the house during the hots weekends of July, and in late August they began applying the final coat of paint.  The house committee selected a light yellow shade for the walls and off white for the trim, with dark green for the doors and grey-green for detailing on the gable ends, ridge boards, and gable heads.  Through the initiative of Ontario designer Arden Jackson, who has Riverton roots, sponsorship by Benjamin Moore Paints/Portage Avenue Paints was arranged in conjunction with their heritage homes program, and Benjamin Moore's top of the line Aura paint is being used for the project. Once again, Manitoba Community Places has also pledged their support on a cost sharing basis, relative to direct cash and sweat equity contributions by IRHS.

At the time of this update (September 28, 2012) additional support for the Engimýri project has been received from Erickson Construction of Riverton, who provided a culvert for our Queen Street location, and Bill Jonasson of Arborg, who constructed a new driveway for Engimýri on the site of the historical Colonization Road's terminus just north of the house. Donnie Einarson, Beggi Amderson, and Fridfinnson Farms also contributed time and equipment toward the removal of debris from the yard at Engimýri, and countless hours of volunteer labour have been contributed by Icelandic River Heritage Sites members and friends who provide their own equipment at no cost.

Support for the restoration of Engimýri has also been received in the form of donations of antique furniture, including some pieces original to the house.  To date, large contributions of items have been received from Clarice and Al Nelson of Winnipeg and Margaret Thorarinson/David Tomasson from Hecla Island - with numerous other items coming from Helga Gerrard, Lois Ostash, and IRHS members Gary and Sharon Paulson, Nelson Gerrard, Margret Wishnowski, and Wanda Anderson.

In addition to donations and the sales of Icelandic River Roast coffee beans, IRHS has funded our restoration efforts through the hosting of cultural events in Riverton, including performances by choirs and a dance troupe from Iceland.  Tour groups and individuals have also begun visiting Engimýri (by prior arrangement only), and two groups of Icelanders (50 total) who visited Engimýri in August of 2012 made an outstanding and very heart warming contribution in support of the restoration efforts.

Further updates to follow... (September 28, 2012)