Updated: Jan 24
by Margret Indridason Grisdale Jan. 11, 2023
While talking to Sunna Furstenau on Icelandic Roots "Samtal Hour," I mentioned that I grew up in a town where we were the only Icelandic family. Intrigued, Sunna asked that I share my experience. Here is my story about my early years in a little town in Saskatchewan, Oxbow, with a population of around 700 ca 1945. But first, a question.
How did we come to live in a non-Icelandic Community?
The Indridason family came from Kandahar, Saskatchewan in 1936 to Oxbow, Saskatchewan. My grandparents, Thorstein and Thorbjorg were my father’s parents and his brother was also Thorstein. They were known as Stone or Steini. In Kandahar, Thorstein Sr. owned the general store and hotel as well as the Imperial bulk station. Times were hard, and my dad told me that if they had cashed in all the IOU’s they would be rich. We weren’t.
We also were not poor. The three Indridason men ran the hotel and when an opportunity to lease the hotel in Woseley came up, my dad decided we would move to Woseley where he ran the Leland Hotel. This was also a non-Icelandic community.
We lived there for three years when my dad decided to buy the Alexandra Hotel in Oxbow. My grandfather and Uncle then moved to Alameda where they operated the hotel. My uncle Stone was divorced and had his daughter Lorraine living with him. He eventually remarried, to Edna Nolting. Lorraine was also 10 years older than me.
Dad told me that he had to make a decision: move to Oxbow or to Balfour Landing in British Columbia. Being a prairie person at heart, he chose to settle in Oxbow. Most of the people in Oxbow were from the British Isles. It was predominantly a Protestant town with a minority of Catholics. I was 3 when we moved back to Oxbow and my parents spent the rest of their lives there. I had 2 brothers and a sister who were all much older than me. My brother Gordon was 10 years older, my sister Doris, was 12 years older and my brother Lorne was 16 years older than I was.
I was aware that we were Icelandic, but I think I was more English as that was what all my friends were. My mom was Olivia (Olafia) Melsted before marrying my dad. Her family was from Winnipeg so every Easter, Mom and I would board the Canadian Pacific Railroad passenger train and go to Winnipeg to visit her family. Her parents were Sigurdur and Thorunn Melsted. We always attended the First Lutheran Church on Easter Sunday. I was christened in that church when I was a year and a half. Rev. R. Marteinsson was the minister. When I was nine, my sister was now married and I would go on the train by myself to visit her.
Running the hotel, my dad was not always able to leave and take a holiday. When he did, it was always to visit his parents in Vancouver. He drove and we took various routes to get there. I enjoyed the trips.
As far as Icelandic traditions were concerned, my mom would always make vínarterta at Christmas and cookies. We lived in the hotel where there was a dining room, so we ate what was on the menu. The cook was Bill Elliott, a former cook for the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration for camp meals. As you may guess, it was mostly English-type food that he made. Good pies, puddings, and cinnamon buns I recall.
Mom and dad were both fluent in Icelandic, reading, writing and so they enjoyed it when the Lögberg or Heimskringla newspapers would arrive. In those days, they were printed in Icelandic. They didn’t teach any of us to speak Icelandic because they wanted us to be Canadian. (So they said!) They came from the Icelandic settlement of Kandahar, and as far as I know, they never returned. It wasn't until the INL of NA Convention in 2006 that I first visited Kandahar.
My grandparents ended up in Vancouver because of grandma’s asthma. My uncle and aunt had taken up residence there before that. They lived in Höfn, an Icelandic Old Folks Home. When they opened the new Icelandic residence at 2020 Harrison Drive they moved there. My grandmother roomed with my mother’s aunt Margret after grandpa died.
On April 5, 1958, John Edward (Ted) and I were married in Oxbow, Saskatchewan where my husband was employed with an Oil Company and after one year we were transferred to Alberta. Life can be beautiful, and it mostly was. We all have our ups and downs. We lived in Whitecourt, St. Albert, and Calgary, Alberta.
I never knew the words Amma or Afi until about 1991 when my sister, brother, and I decided to go to Iceland to see why our ancestors had lived there for 1,000 years. That was a trip of a lifetime for us. We met over a hundred relatives as my mom’s cousin, Ragnheiður Guðjohnson arranged a coffee party at the Saga Hotel to meet the relatives. We got to know our genealogy as well as bonding with each other. My youngest brother Gordon passed away in 1967 so it was just the three of us. Neither of our parents or grandparents had ever traveled to Iceland and my grandparents never spoke much of their journey to Canada. All my grandparents were born in Iceland. My dad was born in Mountain, North Dakota and my mother was born in Winnipeg. We were told that we were the first of the family that had left Iceland to return for a visit.
After that trip, I became totally obsessed with anything Icelandic. Years earlier, in 1975, I joined the Leif Eiriksson Icelandic Club in Calgary but I wasn’t very active. I had 4 sons, and they had many activities to take up my time. In 1994 I went again to Iceland to attend a family gathering at Sveinsstaðir. I had recently met a cousin, Sandra Steffan so she and her husband Ron came with me.
About 1998, I attended a club meeting and ended up organizing the Christmas party that year. Then at the next Annual General Meeting, I was asked if I would run for president. They must have been desperate because I had not even been on the executive board. So, I agreed since they said it was only for 9 meetings a year.
That was in 1999. Well, the first phone call I received as club president was from the president of Iceland who was going to visit Calgary. I was thrust in quickly, and I learned a lot about protocol and entertaining very important people. I enjoyed all my time with this club and have made very nice friends. I served as president for 3 years, and I have been editor of the club newsletter for about twenty years or more, and I still am. Gwen Mann and I were co-conveners of the 2008 INL convention which was very successful.
I have now been to Iceland three times, the last time in 2013 as a Snorri Plus participant. I was chosen to be the Alberta Fjallkona in 2004, which was a supreme honor. My parent’s friends were non-Icelandic and there was no such thing as an Icelandic Club that I knew of back then. We were quite far from any Icelandic communities. When I was young, I always thought we were unique being Icelandic as I didn’t think there were many people who were. I have 8 first cousins so that was my circle of Icelanders.
Now I think with the help of Icelandic Roots, I must have thousands of cousins all over the world. When I got older and had children, I have four sons, I brainwashed them to think they were Icelandic too. They used to tell people they were Icelandic because they said anyone can be English (as their dad was).
My Icelandic influence came when we visited Winnipeg. My grandpa Melsted’s friend was Mr. Bardal from the funeral home. He always would give me a nickel when he visited so I really liked him. My Melsted grandparents lived at 673 Bannatyne Avenue. They had their property expropriated in about 1950, to build the new children's hospital. They then moved to 115 Lyndale Drive and then to 4 Ruskin Row. My aunt Gudrun and Uncle Thor never married so they always lived at home with their parents. I was 9 years old when grandma died, and about 14 when grandpa died. My grandma Indridason lived to be 98 years old.
Living in Oxbow was a good life. It was small but we had lots to do. The main thing in the winter was skating and when I was in High School it was curling. I think everyone in Saskatchewan learns how to curl. I always had a dog, the first being an English Setter and she died when I was six, dad got an Irish Setter. Both were named Peggy. She was my best friend. I get my love of dogs from my dad. Every summer we would walk down the half-mile winding gravel road to swim at Bad Boys Bay. I have no idea how that got its’ name but I presume sometime in the past the boys must have given reason to name it that.
We would pick Saskatoon berries or Chokecherries on the way. Often we would take a lunch and spend the whole day at the river. Oxbow got its name from the Oxenbow in the Souris River. This river is shared with the Americans as it flows from Saskatchewan down to North Dakota and back up to Manitoba.
There is a lot of information about the geological formation of the Souris/Mouse River Valley area. The record of the region has been traced back millions of years and geologists, archeologists and historians have reconstructed the story of this region. Millions of years ago this area was either sea bottom or tropical jungle at one time or another. This was the period in history responsible for coal and oil deposits that were found in the Souris Valley region in the latter part of the last century. If interested, I suggest you google the Souris/Mouse river and its geological past. It apparently went through five periods of glacial action which changed the face of the land which is how the Souris River formed in the first place.
Many rivers are shared between the United States and Canada and the Souris is one of them. One story of how the Souris got its name is that a group of Metis, Scots, and French Canadians traveled across Canada during winter and camped along the south side of this river. Later in the winter, the camp was invaded by great hordes of mice. They were so persistent and so bold the hunters were forced to break camp. This was remembered for years. It was then named Mouse River and in Canada, they named it the Souris, which is French for mouse.
This river began in the Yellow Grass Marshes north of Weyburn, Saskatchewan. It is about 700 km (430 mi) in length. It wanders south through Estevan, Oxbow, and down west of Sheridan to Minot in North Dakota to Velva where it turns back north into Manitoba. It passes through Melita, Hartney, Souris, and Wawanesa to its confluence with the Assiniboine River near Treesbank about 25 miles southeast of Brandon, Manitoba.
The main tributaries are the Antler river, and the Moose Mountain, Gainsborough, and Plum Creeks. My hometown is Oxbow, Saskatchewan. The river played a big part in my life, especially during the summer months when we would swim at Bad Boys Bay. It was a great place to swim with a small beach area and a little island that we could swim to as we learned how to swim. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist anymore because of the flood diversion for water control. The Souris River Project for flood control includes the Boundary Dam, Rafferty Dam, Grant Devine Dam, and Lake Darling Dam, also some smaller dams. The river had a recreation side to it as well. Early in the last century, near Oxbow, there was a sight-seeing boat named “Lady Souris” in 1910 and I think again there was one in the 1990s as well. Recreation on the river includes swimming, canoeing, boating, waterskiing, fishing, and in the winter snowmobiling.
There were a couple of swinging bridges built, one near Souris, Manitoba which still exists after several reconstructions. One near Oxbow was washed away in a flood in the 1940s. Icelandic immigrants settled in the Dakotas, so it is possible they settled along this river.
Oxbow is a pretty town situated on a hill overlooking the Souris Valley and the river. I was married there to a wonderful man from Alberta.
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Ted and I spent 54 years together before he passed away in December 2012. We raised four sons and now I am blessed with 6 granddaughters and 5 grandsons, 3 great-granddaughters, and 1 great-grandson. I have a great family that helps me whenever I need help.
My Icelandic family of friends in Calgary where I have lived for over 50 years have been a comfort and a blessing as I adjust to life as a widow.
Reference: Furrow to the Future Oxbow Family History Book and Wikipedia.