Note: Find the link to the recording of this webinar at the bottom of this post.
By Kathryn Rothman
Judy Dickson and the Samtal attendees have a lot of interesting stories to tell and I am learning a lot from them. But I kept wondering why no one talks about Minneota! I grew up thinking that all the Icelanders who came to North America came to Minneota, Minnesota. However, I knew there must be a few in Canada or else we wouldn’t be able to look at the Logberg-Heimskringla from Winnipeg at my great uncle's and aunt’s home. I guess I asked “What about Minneota?” enough times that Sunna contacted me and asked if I would give a seminar on Minneota for Icelandic Roots. And so that’s what we are going to do.
It's hard to imagine leaving home and familiar people to venture out into an unknown place, most likely never to return. One has to either be an adventurer or desperate, I should think. So why did they come? By now I knew that most Icelanders settled in Canada, so why did some choose Minneota? The Hofsos Emigration center has a wonderful timeline of the emigration period, going year by year with weather conditions, crop failures or success, fishing catches and the number of people leaving Iceland for other places each year. Times were hard. Most emigrants probably felt they had no choice but to go. But why not go with the others and stay in Canada?
In August 2022, our Snorri Plus group arrived in the harbor village Vopnafjorður. Many of the Minneota Icelandic community came from the northeast; and many from the area around Vopnafjorður. Both my Mom's and Dad’s families come from this place. Our family history is dotted with the farm names here that go back centuries.
Northeast Iceland is completely different from Minneota, Minnesota. The rocky, lava ground is not at all like the deep, rich, prairie soil to the east of Minneota. Iceland's valleys, hills and mountains carved out by glaciers are a little bit like the hills to the west of Minneota: hills created by the debris of retreating glaciers. Minneota is a small town located in some of the best farmland in the Midwest USA. Here, acres and acres of crops cover the gently rolling, mostly flat land, not sheep. And of course, Minneota is not near the ocean.
I’m sure folks missed their homeland. My grandma’s foster father (who was her great-uncle) made a trip back to visit, but not many could do that. My great-great grandfather, whose nickname was Styrimaður, a sailor, used to look out the kitchen window at the wind rippling through the flax and oats and said it reminded him of the wind on the sea. He was homesick.
If you have heard of Minneota, Minnesota, it may be because of the writings of local poet Bill Holm. Bill was a larger than life figure who traveled the world but somehow ended up back in Minneota. Some of his books chronicle Minneota and rural life; others reflect on his second home in Hofsos, Iceland.
I am indebted to many people: Mary Buysse who provided histories of St. Paul's church; Wendy Sarazyn at the Minneota Library in the Big Store for helping me find research materials; Pat Brennecke for her family stories; Dianne O’Konski for all her help; and interviews with Dora Harvey done years ago when I was researching immigration and assimilation for my history major research project. Thanks, too, to Cathy Josephson who grew up in Minneota and is director of the East Iceland Emigration Center in Vopnafjorður, and to Valgerd at the Hofsos Emigration Center.
I hope you can join us.
The webinar was recorded:
On December 19, 2023, Kathryn Rothman discussed the settlement at Minneota, and surrounding communities in Lyon and Yellow Medicine Counties in Minnesota. Learn about why this area became a settlement and who moved there.