Let my begin by saying how beautiful this day is. It is made even more beautiful for those of us who woke up to a rather windy and rainy morning in Gimli yesterday. But of course, nothing could be more Icelandic than going through four different kinds of weather in the same day - especially during high summer.
But rain or shine. I am so happy, touched and inspired to be here in Gimli and to be allowed to participate in the Íslendingadagur festival with you and I am grateful to be able to learn more about the unique and precious ties between Iceland and Canada.
These bonds go back indeed a thousand years and more. Not only did Leifur Eriksson, a son of Iceland, first put down a settlement here - it is quite likely that the journey of Christopher Columbus, almost 500 years later, was directly inspired by the viking journey. Columbus likely visited Iceland 15 years prior to reaching America, and on his visits he may have heard tales of Vínland, and the many centuries of failed attempts to repeat the brave and uncertain voyage of Leifur Eiríksson.
The Icelanders who set out from their home in the latter half of the 19th century and the beginning of the twentieth were also setting out on an uncertain and dangerous journey. These were brave people and pioneers - but they came to North America in times of hardship but in the spirit of glorious hope.
In the Westland - a poem by Einar Kvaran -a poet who emigrated and lived in Canada for 10 years, and was the editor of Lögberg - he says
Vesturheimur, veruleikans álfa
vonarland hins unga, sterka manns
fyll þú móð og manndáð okkur sjálfa
Which was translated by Skúli Jónsson to mean:
Great western world! Reality’s new nation!
The Realm of Hope for all the young and strong!
Fill us with courage and high aspiration.
I am told that the name Manitoba means something close to „The land of the spirit“ - with reference to the great spirit of the lake that gives life to these shores - and these days I am so proud that this land is also the land of another spirit.
The theme of Íslendingadagur is - the Spirit of Icleand.
It reminds us of the famous lines by another Icelandic poet who made a life in America. Stephan G Stephansson wrote that despite far travels, minds and hearts will always bear the mark of your homelands.
And still today, these marks are everywhere to be seen all around.
Elskan mín, amma and afi - the spirit of Iceland is all around.
It truly warms my heart to see all those Icleandic flags around town, and even more to see those Icelandic flags stirring in the wind side by side with the Canadian flag. It underscores our bonds of friendship and common history.
And I have also seen two other flags around town that are very dear to my heart.
One is the colorful flag that is flown in pride for people’s freedom to love.
The other is the national flag of Ukraine, a country now under viscious and brutal attack. Every day, my thoughts are with the brave and strong people of Ukraine.
And it is indeed here in Manitoba where the history of Ukraine, Iceland and Canada intersect. Settlers from Ukraine became the neighbors of Icelanders in these parts and that has directly affected these celebrations as the President of the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba, Jenna Boholj, is of both Icelandic and Ukrainian descent.
Dear friends. Kæru vinir.
I am very pleased to be following in the footsteps of earlier visitors from back home, including the president, the prime minister, my predecessor and many other government colleagues who have come here to honor these strong and unique bonds. Everyone of my colleagues who has had the fortune to participate in these festivals has come back to Iceland with a strong conviction of the need to maintain and strengthen these bonds between Iceland and our relatives in America.
As I have been travelling here I have been thinking that I wish that everyone in Iceland had the opportunity to experience what I have in the past few days. I think it is safe to say that many of those who are gathered here today feel themselves to be even more Icelandic than some of us who live in the old country.
It has been a fruitful relationship. Icelanders were very opinionated about affairs of state when they settled here, and one of the positive contribution they made was to be strong advocates for the rights of women. Among those strong women was Margrét Jónsdóttir Benedictsson who was born in Iceland in 1866 and moved to America at age 21 and founded the first women’s rights publication in Canada, Freyja. In the year 1916 Manitoba became the first province of Canada to give universal suffrage to women, one year after women were allowed to vote in Iceland.
These were small steps on a long journey, but they led to a reality where my amma - Jóna Valgerður - could become a member of parliament in the name of feminism, and I could follow in her footsteps.
So I believe that many good ideas benefitted from the constant communication between Iceland and Nýja Ísland.
The love and longing for Iceland, and all that is Icelandic, was strong in Canada among the people who created a new life here - and it remains strong to this day. And let me assure that the pride goes both ways.
And as I toast Canada for being such a friend to Iceland and the people of Iceland - I would like to say - from the bottom of my heart - takk. Thank you for inviting me here today - takk fyrir að muna - thank you - frændur og frænkur - for remembering Iceland and keeping it in your hearts, as we keep you in ours.