In the late-19th century, Sigtryggur Jonasson led a group of Icelandic immigrants to Northern Manitoba and the shores of Lake Winnipeg. The expedition hoped to find a suitable place in Canada to begin a new settlement abundant with farmland and natural resources, and not so different from the Nordic landscape of Iceland.
Jonasson travelled back to Iceland, recruiting people who were hit by hardships, including a devastating volcanic explosion, to start a new life in the woods of Canada. In 1875, the Canadian government granted Jonasson and his band of Icelanders the 60-square kilometers they wanted, and termed it the Icelandic Reserve. A small settlement was set up independent of Canada, although not recognized as its own republic, and a constitution was even drafted.
Unfortunately, a terrible winter set in on the settlers. Disease, snow, and brutal cold tested the Icelanders who, though used to the cold, were still not prepared for such weather. Many died, and by 1880, the area had been reabsorbed by the Canadian government and the experiment of New Iceland came to a close.
Still, the area rebounded, and the Icelandic influence very strong. Almost 1 in 5 Icelanders came to North America during the late 19th century, and many of them settled and stayed in Manitoba. A New Iceland Heritage Museum in Gimli tells the tale of the Icelandic settlers.
Know Before You Go
Gimli may be the best place in the world to get a taste of old Iceland. You can purchase a type of Icelandic cake called Vinetarta at the local bakery. Visit the New Iceland Heritage Museum to learn the whole story and shop the Vikings Purse Gift shop. Hnausa General Store (Civic 20008, Hnausa, MB R0C 2R0, Canada) sells an array of homemade and packaged treats.