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Icelandic River Roast Coffee

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by Nelson Gerrard  (Interlake Spectator - 1994)

GrenimorkAlong the highways and byways of old 'New Iceland' in Manitoba's Interlake, signs are going up - new placename signs bearing the old Icelandic names of homesteads, roadways, and landmarks. On April 23 1994, the first batch of over 50 custom-made placename signs was unveiled and distributed, and in the months that followed, these eye-catching signs began to appear throughout the Arnes, Hnausa, Riverton, Geysir, and Arborg districts.

The concept of erecting historic placename signs, publicized only by word of mouth to date, has met with an overwhelmingly positive response in these areas, and it is anticipated that many more property owners will wish to participate when the signs are made public and word spreads. Only one prototype of the sign, made of heavy gauge aluminum and measuring 15 x 24 inches, has been available as a sample so far... but the enthusiastic reception in northern 'New Iceland' will mean that as of next month, thousands of area residents and visitors will see these blue and white signs with a falcon crest - a traditional symbol of the Icelandic heritage.

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Nes Historic Cemetery

Over 130 years ago, in the spring of 1876, the first settlers on the Icelandic River landed near what is now Riverton. They had arrived in the new settlement from Ontario on October 21, 1875, with plans to establish the settlement’s principal town where Riverton now stands, but their journey down Lake Winnipeg on barges had been terminated off Willow Island due to rough sailing, and so Gimli came into being - by accident.

Upon arrival at the river, known to that time as the Whitemud River, these first settlers at Riverton encountered a small, semi-nomadic group of aboriginal fishers and trappers known as the Sandy Bar Band. Among them was the now-legendary John Ramsay, who after an initial confrontation became a friend to the settlers.
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Sigtryggur Jónasson & Framfari

A Talk Given by Nelson Gerrard at ‘A Literary Lunch’, Riverton, Oct. 22, 2006


Yesterday marked the 131st anniversary of the arrival of the first Icelandic settlers at Willow Island. Instead of a “walk to the rock” to mark this occasion, however, I took a walk in the woods and through the old pioneer cemetery near my home at Eyrarbakki, near Hnausa. The day was cold, both the sky and lake had turned a leaden grey, and it began to snow. I thought back to those intrepid pioneers of 1875… and to those who followed in 1876… including my own great-great-grandparents… and I considered their remarkable achievement in launching the newspaper Framfari, in a log printshop here in Riverton, 129 years ago while they were struggling to get established in what was then virtual wilderness.

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