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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.

 

 
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Icelandic River Roast Coffee Far & Wide

Coffee lover and Icelandic River Heritage Sites supporter Susan Atwood of Seattle sent us this great photo of her little niece Sadie Mae, together with a pound of Fjallkona Icelandic River Roast coffee beans...  Thank you, Susan, for your support.

Iceland's daily paper Morgunblaðið recently (Nv.19.2011) carried an article on the work of Icelandic River Heritage Sites and highlighted Icelandic River Roast as one of the group's main sources of funding.

Coffee for culture and local heritage... a perfect match.

Icelandic River Roast A Hit (September 10, 2008)

Coffee Launch

A unique and delicious new blend of coffee beans, Icelandic River Roast – ‘Tíu Dropar’, was launched at a recent “packed to the rafters” old time dance held in Riverton on Sept. 10, 2008. This event, attended by a tour group from Iceland as well as many old time dance fans, also featured a performance by the New Iceland Youth Choir, and was both a welcome to the Icelandic visitors and a fundraiser for Icelandic River Heritage Sites Inc. (Right: Members present at launch, l-r: Keith Eliasson, Sigmar Johnson, Nelson Gerrard, Wanda Anderson, and Harley Jonasson)

Coffee GrannyIcelandic River Roast’s custom-designed label features an authentic, apron-clad, pioneer amma in her farmhouse kitchen, holding a coffee pot in one hand and a cup and saucer in the other. The picture, taken about 1920 and found in an old photo album, is Geirþrúður Jónsdóttir (from Fjöll in Kelduhverfi) of Brú, Manitoba, wife of pioneer Stefán Pétursson. The back label provides the following explanation: “For centuries, coffee (kaffi) has been synonymous with Icelandic hospitality. Now Icelandic River Roast recalls this rich tradition brought to the shores of Lake Winnipeg in 1875. ‘Tíu Dropar’ (10 drops) is an old Icelandic request for ‘just a little more’.”

Icelandic River Roast, which features beans from around the world, is locally roasted and blended especially for Icelandic River Heritage Sites, in keeping with traditions surrounding "Icelandic coffee culture".  We now offer five distinct blends ranging from a delicious dark roast (Earl of Dufferin) to a light and nutty Fjallkona blend.  Nýja ísland is a very nice robust medium-dark blend, the new Tíu Dropar is Icelandic River Roast's signature medium blend.  Once a year we also create a special 'Jóla Kaffi' (Christmas Coffee) for the holiday season.

Icelandic River Heritage Sites Inc. is a non-profit group of volunteers dedicated to preserving and promoting heritage sites and events in the area along the historically rich Icelandic River. There are many such sites, but as a start the group has identified two priorities. The first is to commission a life-size, bronze sculpture of Sigtryggur Jónasson, the ‘Father of Icelandic Settlement in Canada’, to be erected on the site of his Icelandic River homestead, Möðruvellir. IRHS’s second priority is the Nes Cemetery Historic Site, which dates back to the Smallpox Winter of 1876-77 and has suffered severe riverbank erosion for many years. The group’s plans include both riverbank protection and site beautification that will include an original sculpture and monument, interpretive plaques, a walking/cycling path, and tree planting.

 

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card

Eye-catching note-cards honouring the remarkable life and career of Sigtryggur Jónasson, 'Father of New Iceland', are now available from Icelandic River Heritage Sites.

The front of the card features a portrait of young Sigtryggur Jónasson taken in England in 1875, during the initial settlement of New Iceland, with a scene from Lake Winnipeg and a glimpse of the Hraundrangar Crags (near Sigtryggur's birthplace) combined into a dramatic, symbolic background.

The reverse of the folded card features another portrait of Sigtryggur, this one taken in Toronto in 1876 when he was en route to New Iceland with his bride, Rannveig Ólafsdóttir Briem, as interpreter and guide for a contingent of the 'Large Group' bound for New Iceland. Beneath the picture is the following inscription:

Sigtryggur Jónasson (1852-1942), 'Father of New Iceland', Champion of Icelandic Settlement in Canada, explorer, vicionary, pioneer, entrepreneur, captain, publisher, editor, philanthropist, humanitarian, Member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly.

"Tryggur og trúr, hann sigraði." (Trustworthy and loyal, he was victorious.)

The interior of the card is blank for your note or letter.

As a fund raising initiative, packages of 8 cards and envelopes are available for $10 (plus postage if shipped). For further information, contact Val Anderson at 204 378 5506 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Payment can be made by sending a cheque (Icelandic River Heritage Sites) to Box 555, Riverton, Manitoba R0C 2R0 Canada.

Donations are also welcome.

"Many hands make light work."

 
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New Focus on Neglected Heritage Sites (Interlake Spectator – 2007)

Nes, the site of a sadly neglected and eroding smallpox cemetery on the banks of the Icelandic River, is finally receiving some long overdue attention. Not only was this historic spot near Riverton the inspiration for a recent interpretive performance by Manitoba dancer Freya Olafson during a Winnipeg arts festival, it is a top priority for the newly-formed Icelandic River Heritage Sites Inc.

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