New Iceland – Gimli, Manitoba - Atlas Obscura

Gimli, Manitoba

New Iceland

Icelandic settlement in Manitoba established in 1875. 

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.

Settling on the Riverton area near the village of Gimli, Jonasson travelled back to Iceland, hoping to recruit his people 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. For a while, the new land seemed promising. A small settlement was set up independent of Canada, although not recognized as its own republic, and a constitution was even drafted to govern the 1000 settlers.

Unfortunately, a terrible winter set in on the Manitoba settlers. 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.

Although there are only traces of that original settlement, the Icelandic mark on the area is very strong. Almost 1 in 4 Icelanders came to Canada 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.

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