Icelandic Festival posts banner year post-pandemic

The Viking statue in Gimli, Man., shown on July 23, 2019, is a symbol of the town's Icelandic heritage and its ongoing connection to Iceland. The 4.6-metre-high statue sits near an Icelandic heritage museum and other attractions in the community north of Winnipeg. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Steve Lambert. Steve Lambert / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The town of Gimli, Man. is tying the bow on another successful Icelandic Festival, with officials saying the four-day event has made a full recovery from pandemic restrictions.

Capped off with a parade seen by over 10,000 visitors from near and far, Islendingadagurinn – as it’s also known – celebrated its 134th iteration this year.

Jeff Valgardson, a parade coordinator and 30-year festival volunteer, said the event has become synonymous with the township and its history.

“It’s the volunteers and the people that commit to it. It shows the Icelandic heritage is still strong,” he said.

According to Statistics Canada, Manitoba has the largest Icelandic population outside of Iceland.

The festival held its first event in 1890 in Winnipeg where it was done until 1931 before being moved to Gimli.

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Today, Icelandic fest boasts an art show, sporting tournaments, a mock viking battle, Icelandic cultural demonstrations and live music which drew in approximately 25,000 attendees.

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Gimli mayor Kevin Chudd said the event is both a homecoming for those of Icelandic heritage and an opportunity to put diversity on display.

“The highlight for me was going down Gimli Beach and seeing people of all cultures, all backgrounds coming together here which is exemplifying our Manitoba diversity,” he said.

It’s also a chance to show off the town, which is populated by little more than 2,200 people but balloons between May and October.

Chudd said he’s working with Gimli council to bring more tourists to town and create repeat visitors, including traffic improvements, revitalizing the waterfront, and promoting local businesses.

The mayor is confident if all goes to plan, the town can double its number of visitors in the next four years.

“We invite anyone and everyone … Gimli is the place to be.”

For Valgardson, the return of the annual festival is a representation of the town he’s lived in since birth.

“I think, you know, nowadays people, if they’ve got Icelandic in them, they come and get involved,” he said.

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“134 years, and we’re still going strong … we got it all.”

– with files from Katherine Dornian

Click to play video: 'Icelandic festival kicks off in Gimli for the long weekend'
Icelandic festival kicks off in Gimli for the long weekend

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