The Icelandic Roots Book Club is back for another eventful season. As winter has endeared itself to many of us, it's a great time for reading indoors. Please join Heather on Thursday, January 4, 2024, where she will host author Glenn Sigurdson. She will feature two books, Vikings on a Prairie Ocean and the companion book My Lady of the Lake.
By Heather Goodman Lytwyn
Join us as our new season begins in January with our esteemed guest, Glenn Sigurdson, who, in November 2020 was appointed to the Order of Canada, which is the highest honour bestowed by the nation to its citizens for their extraordinary contributions to society. The Order recognizes people whose contributions have enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country.
As a recipient, Glenn was recognized as a “social innovator who has devoted his career to resolving complex multilateral disputes." In his own words, his role has been “ ‘the man in the middle’ helping others resolve deeply embedded differences, reach tough decisions, and build resilient relationships...moving people from fighting to talking, most notably in complicated resource, environmental, and land use challenges, often involving Indigenous communities’ rights and interests.” In describing his contribution, the Governor General also noted Glenn's "critical work in leading the Exploratory Dialogues on Residential Schools (1999-2001), his foundational contributions to Canadian Fisheries, and global mining practices.”
It is indisputable that Glenn’s work grew out of and reflects the values and influences he learned as a boy. He grew up as the fifth generation of pioneering Icelandic fishing family whose business on Lake Winnipeg faced challenges that were met with practicality, wisdom, and integrity.
Glenn's book, Vikings on the Prairie Ocean, brings to life the people and events and the critical importance of the fisheries on Lake Winnipeg to the new immigrants; critical to their survival in building their economy, their self sufficiency and independence. Glenn weaves an engaging narrative interwoven with his own career, the evolution from his early vocation as a lawyer to mediator.
Glenn uses his own family as the spine of the story, the story he knows best. He demonstrates how it is also the story of many other families, competing and collaborating not only to build a life for themselves, but also “a better future for my children in a new land"; a quote written by his Great-Great Afi, Sigurdur Erlendson, in his diary that's shared within the pages of the book.
It becomes clear that both sides of his family, the Sigurdsons and the Brynjolfsons, instilled in Glenn ways of thinking and living that shaped his character and influenced his career. Early in the book you meet his Afi, Malli Brynjolfson, an iconic fisherman, the lake's equivalent of the “old man and the sea". We also meet his great-grandfather Stefan Sigurdson, a flamboyant “horatio alger “ of his time and place, who expanded quickly from fishing to the business of fishing. As the stories unfold, you can’t help but be amazed how a family of Icelandic immigrants thrived because of their continual ability to adapt and grow, their focused work ethic, and their respect for the Icelanders, Cree and Saulteau with whom their livelihoods and lives were intertwined.
The fish business evolved into facets of every business. They hauled fish in open water with boats from remote northern fish stations, and on the frozen expanses with trains of sleds powered by horses then tractors. Soon that evolved into constructing roads and, in the 1960’s, building the Winnipeg Floodway as Monarch Construction.
The 'Sigurdson Management 101' was basic as 16 year old Glenn would forcefully understand from his Uncle Steve, an unforgettable character like so many others you will meet. With his arm around Glenn, Steve advised, “There is just one thing you need to know: just work harder than everyone else and you won’t have any trouble running that station. Have you got it? Okay now, get on that boat and go North to Berens and get that station up and running.”
Glenn’s son Paul has produced a wonderful video “Prairie Ocean Saga”, accessible on www.vikingsonaprairieocean.com. Under the heading "The Lake and Its People", select Places. At the bottom of this article you will find Paul’s video. It is framed around a very moving interview with Paul’s Amma and Afi, Stefan and Sylvia Sigurdson, as he leads them through their life together on the Lake using pictures of the various fish stations. These stations are where they worked since their first season together at Catfish Creek in 1946, after Stefan returned from naval service in WWII. I recommend reviewing other elements on this website where you will find a variety of other sources, in particular, interviews with Glenn.
My Lady of the Lake is a collection of short stories inspired by the pandemic, and because of its format as an e-reader, your reading will be enriched by connections to numerous photographs of the area. The global effect of Covid19 brought to mind the effect of tuberculosis in the early part of the last century.
Glenn’s reflections resulted in the signature story of his great grandparents, Stefan and Valgerdur Sigurdsson. It is a powerfully written story of this couple and a poignant understanding of their losses of four children to TB. I recommend you read it with a cup of coffee and a box of Kleenex nearby.
Like many of the stories in Vikings of a Prairie Ocean, Glenn has woven the difficulties in leaving Iceland, the unending challenges in new beginnings, with the significance of close friendships, outstanding role models, and their resilience. The book concludes with a tribute to Dr. Steinn Olafur Thompson written by Lawrence (Larry) Romanuik, first published in Winnipeg’s Lögberg-Heimskringla. It is a fitting ending to a book highlighting the community spirit of the town of Riverton on Lake Winnipeg.
Glenn’s vivid memories will keep you turning the pages. His gift as a writer is his ability to make you feel like you are there with him. The chapter “Going North”, which is found in both publications, will cause you to look forward to talking to Glenn in person, listen to his adventures, and will give you a chance to share your story with him and other Icelandic Roots members.
Please join me on Thursday, January 4th at 7pm (Central). A link will be sent out the day prior to the club meeting. I am looking forward to our conversation. See you there!