Karen Borgford Botting 2016 Fjallkona
Karen grew up in the West End of Winnipeg with her parents, Skapti (Scotty) and Hrefna(Edna) Borgford, and siblings, Solveig, Lara and Thor. In this community, surrounded by many people of Icelandic origin and living close to her maternal grandparents, Oddny and Jon Asgeirson, Karen became attached to her Icelandic roots.
She and her family has spent most of her summers at the family property at Arnes, as had her parents and grandparents, Thorsteinn and Gudrun Borgford.
After graduating from the University of Manitoba, Karen and her husband, Dwight worked as educators. They have two daughters, Carla and Ingrid, son-in-law, Rick Rennie and grandchildren, Charlie, Joe and Marianne.
Following two trips to Iceland, one with the Snorri Plus program, Karen became more actively involved in the Icelandic community, serving as President of the Jon Sigurdsson Chapter IODE, Vice President of the Icelandic Canadian Fron, a sometime writer for the Logberg-Heimskringla and a volunteer with the Viking School.
Karen has derived much pleasure from having connected with this strong, interesting, and wonderful Icelandic community.
Today, in its 127th year, Íslendingadagurinn is “Celebrating New Iceland”. And, for the past 93 years, the Fjallkona has stood here as the symbol of culture and heritage during these celebrations.
What is New Iceland or Nýja Island? Historically it referred to the boundaries where the Icelandic immigrants settled in Manitoba, while the New Iceland of today has no boundaries. It is more global and diverse.
In 1875, the Canadian Government designated a large tract of land that stretched from Boundary Creek to Hecla Island along the shores of Lake Winnipeg as an Icelandic Reserve. It was here that the Icelanders came to settle as they migrated west from Ontario. New Iceland was a harsh and isolated land where the Icelanders learned to thrive and survive through their perseverance and resiliency. They formed their own local government which continued until 1880. We celebrate their courage.
Today, although the historic territory continues to thrive with a strong Icelandic culture, it is shared by many other ethnic groups. However, this land had not been unoccupied when the Icelanders were granted it. Indigenous peoples were living on the land, many of whom were displaced to reservations by the Canadian government in order to make way for this newly created Icelandic Reserve. Not all the indigenous people chose to sign the treaties but decided to stay on in New Iceland. We hear many stories of the Icelanders’ hardships in this new land, but we don’t often hear how the Icelanders and indigenous people interacted during this time. As today is the age of “reconciliation”, this is becoming a topic of interest for historians and Icelanders alike.
In the beginning of the early 1900’s, New Iceland was the home to the Gimli Suffrage Association. The Icelandic women were strong and determined. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women receiving the vote in Manitoba, it can be noted that four members of the Gimli Suffrage Association, along with Nellie McClung, contributed substantively to women achieving the vote in 1916. They included Margrjet Benedictsson, a forerunner of the suffragette movement and an advocate for equal rights in Manitoba, Steina J. Stefanson, Kristjana Thordarson and Thorbjorg Sigurdson, also known as the “Fab Four”.
It is not without coincidence in that same year, 1916, that the Jon Sigurdsson Chapter of IODE held its inaugural meeting. Encouraged by the suffrage movement, a group of independent Icelandic women, led by Johanna Gudrun Skaptason, along with my grandmother, Gudrun Borgford, formed the chapter to support the war effort, and in particular the Icelandic soldiers and their families. This group of immigrant women wanted to participate in Canadian society while at the same time maintain their Icelandic heritage. The women overtime mentored one generation after the next. Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the Jon Sigurdsson Chapter continues as the sole surviving chapter of IODE left in Winnipeg.
Today, New Iceland’s boundaries have changed. There are no boundaries. Many Western Icelanders have intermarried with a diverse group of people. There is more global communication and travel. Art, music and literature are constantly evolving. Núna (now), a convergence of the arts between Iceland and Canada, is celebrating its tenth year of “bringing artists of all disciplines to Manitoba as a way of maintaining the cultural bridge between the two places”. It has even included Icelandic hip hop music by the Daughters of Reykjavík, who recently performed in Manitoba, giving young people a chance to hear the Icelandic language in another form.
One would think that as Icelandic literature, art and music evolve, and intermarriages thrive, the Icelandic culture and heritage would wane in North America. But it hasn’t. The spouses become IBMs or Icelanders by Marriage. Young people, both of Icelandic descent and non Icelanders alike, are interested in the culture of this small group of people, who continue to flourish despite the many obstacles they have faced.
What keeps New Iceland going? Is it the Icelandic traditions, such as the ritual of the vinarterta, the language, the storytelling, the sagas, the genealogy or the kaffi klatch? Is it the participation in the formal institutions including Íslendingadagurinn with its family reunions, the Lögberg-Heimskringla, the Icelandic Connection, or the Icelandic National League? Is it the new ideas, the exciting concept of Núna (now) in its untraditional forms, the new cuisine, the travelling between Iceland and North America? It is all these and more. It is that indomitable spirit of the Icelandic character which keeps the culture and heritage strong.
Today as we celebrate New Iceland, we proudly embrace its future.
Takk fyrir samveruna
Thank you for our time together.