Included in this article are:
The Point Roberts Icelandic congregation history
Historical photos of the people
A Charter Members document followed by text giving their IR Database ID#s
Information on the church restoration project
Maybe you are related to these Icelandic pioneers who established the church in 1913. Point Roberts is located 30 miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia on the Georgia Strait. The community and descendants of those who began the congregation are working to save this historical landmark. They have created a nonprofit so donations are tax-deductible in both the US and Canada. If you are interested in making a donation, here is the direct link. pointrobertschurch.com. Read the Point Roberts story below.
Information from local historian, Mark Swenson, PRHS
Famine, volcanic eruptions, and poor living conditions caused one-fifth of Iceland's population to migrate to North America in the late nineteenth century. Point Roberts became one of the most significant concentrations of Icelandic diaspora in North America, and in Icelandic-American circles continues to have that recognition today.
Arriving in 1893 from Bellingham, Kristjan Benson was among the first Icelanders to settle in Point Roberts. He encouraged a large group of Icelanders facing recession in Victoria to join him; there were cannery jobs and land to squat on, as Point Roberts was the federal property at the time. By 1900, half the population of Point Roberts was Icelandic and mostly spoke Icelandic. After a tenuous existence as squatters, the settlers were granted their land by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.
Icelanders formed the pillars of the community. Until the 1930s, many local children in Point Roberts only learned English when they entered school-age years. The postmaster and general store staff spoke Icelandic.
The Icelandic settlers of Point Roberts formed a congregation in the Icelandic Lutheran Synod in 1915 with fifty-five founding members. Initially, services were held in the Grange Hall on Gulf Road while the congregation raised funds to build a church. This land was donated in 1916 by the Solomon family and Trinity Lutheran Church, the only house of worship in Point Roberts history, was completed in 1921. Church services and Sunday school were first conducted only in the Icelandic language and Icelandic services continued into the 1930s.
Today, seven generations after the arrival of the first Icelandic settlers, Icelandic-Americans still comprise one in seven local residents. The Icelandic history of Point Roberts attracted the president of Iceland, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, to visit on October 22, 1988. Though there are few Icelandic speakers left, cultural ties with Iceland are maintained; youth groups are hosted in locals' homes through cultural exchange programs, and other visitors from Iceland continue to make their way to Point Roberts.
The 65th Anniversary History - 1921-1986
The Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Congregation was organized in 1913 by the Rev. Hjörtur Leo (IR# I549173) as part of an effort by the Icelandic Lutheran Synod in Manitoba to start mission congregations in Icelandic communities in Seattle, Blaine, Point Roberts in Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia.
The charter membership of the Congregation consisted of 22 adults confirmed and 33 children and youth. Ministry was part-time as Pastor Leo was also serving the Blaine parish, services were in the Icelandic language and were held in private homes or the Town Hall. Sunday School classes and Confirmation instruction were also given.
The church building was completed in 1921 on a plot of land given by a local Icelandic family (Solomon - see IR# below), and with the help of donated materials and many hours of volunteer labor.
The language of worship remained Icelandic until 1935 when Sunday School instruction and worship were conducted in English. Services were held twice monthly at this point, and an occasional Icelandic service was held for the benefit of the older people.
Part-time ministry continued for several more years under the leadership of many Pastors, who were often serving full-time in other parishes. They are held in fond memory by the community. In 1962 what was to be the last group of young people for many years was confirmed and membership and participation were declining.
Through the evolution of the Lutheran Synods, Trinity had become a member congregation of the Lutheran Church in America. When membership reached an all-time low in 1970, and the L.C.A. felt that the congregation was no longer viable, it was decided by a small group of members, mostly charter members or their families, to form an independent association for the purpose of maintaining the Church property and continuing some form of ministry at Point Roberts.
Trinity Community Church Association came into being, and the Church was made available to the community for funerals, weddings, and baptisms, with services held for 2 months each summer. This situation held for about 8 years.
By 1978, some signs of new life were becoming apparent. The 65th anniversary of the Congregation was celebrated during the summer and for 2 years there had been strong attendance at Christmas Carol services. In 1979 the first Easter service for many years was celebrated with 75 people in attendance, and the Church Council began discussing the feasibility of stretching the 2 months of weekly services in the summer into the fall. By 1980, services were being held on a weekly basis year-round. The new Lutheran Book of Worship was purchased with funds from memorial gifts and the Congregation began an exciting time of revitalization. The primary ministry focus was the weekly worship as funds were not available for salaries beyond the honorarium for Sundays.
At the annual meeting of the association in 1983, the name Trinity Community Lutheran Church was adopted to more clearly define the theological position and worship style of the Congregation. Weekly instruction for young people was started and dialogue with the Pacific Northwest Synod of the L.C.A. about Trinity's participation in Churchwide activities began.
In 1985 Trinity became, once again, a member congregation of the Lutheran Church in America. Confirmation instruction for a group of 5 young people began in 1986, and the financial strength of the Congregation had improved to the point that half-time salary for ministry was happening.
The community of Point Roberts has generously supported the needs of Trinity Church over the years. The annual bazaar (now in its 75th year) draws a large crowd, and the latest in a long line of work projects and acquisitions that the community and friends of the Church have helped to fund is the pipe organ which was installed and dedicated in 1987.
1913 Jan. 19 - Organization Meeting held (Icelandic Roots Database ID#s where you can see their actual Icelandic names - many changed their names in North America, emigration information including ships, ports, passenger lists, and their descendants where applicable are found after this photo)
Rev. H. Leo - IR# I549173
Charter Members were
Ingvar & Anna Goodman + 3 children Family ID# F67692
Paul & Oddny Thorsteinson Family ID# F159407
Johannes & Linbjorg Simundson + 1 child Family ID# F68017
Thor & Steinun Thorsteinson + 6 children Family ID# F220312
Jonas & Johanna Swanson + 4 children Family ID# F146101
Sigurdur & Ingibjorg Thordarson + 5 children Family ID# F242073
Jon & Ingebjorg Anderson + 4 children Family ID# F45539
Jon & Veiga Westman + 1 child Family ID# F198081
Groa Thorstensson IR# I125171
Runa Thorstensson IR# I128176
Rosa Burns IR# I64832
Anna Thordarson IR# I396831
Jonas Samuelson IR# I528028
Kolbeinn Simundson IR# I125162
22 confirmed members & 23 young people and children.
Icelandic Synod Paul Thorsteinson Pres. IR# I143458
Ingvar Goodman Sec. IR# I213060
Jonas Swanson Treas. IR# I150039
Others mentioned in the article from Margot are:
Kristian Benson IR# I116470
Helgi and Dagbjort Thorsteinson Family ID# F160147
Arni Myrdal IR# I252914
Paul Thorsteinson IR# I143458
Jon Solomon IR# I521605
From Andrew Mar:
Phase 1 construction work, which is expected to cost $100,000, has started. This will
stabilize the situation. The building currently sits on pylons and could, in the event of an earthquake, slide off. The phase 2 work will lay a new foundation and attach it to the building. The total cost of the project is projected to be $200,000.
HELP SAVE OUR HISTORIC ICELANDIC LANDMARK
by Margot Griffiths, Point Roberts, Washington
In the early 1890s, the first Icelandic settlers arrived in Point Roberts, Washington. Though few in number, their resilient spirits fueled a steadily growing population and founded a lasting heritage in this tiny exclave of the United States.
Separated from mainland USA by Canada, Point Roberts presents numerous challenges for its residents today. How much more so when those resourceful Icelandic settlers arrived here nearly 130 years ago? But moving between countries, across borders and frontiers, was nothing new to the intrepid few, who left Iceland with the dream of a new life in their hearts. Their journey from Iceland to Canada was marked by long days at sea, long nights on trains, seasickness, exhaustion, and hunger.
Once at their destination in Victoria, British Columbia, unemployment and uncertainty marred their lives. Canada was enduring a depression, and so it was that Kristian Benson moved his family from Victoria to Point Roberts, where he heard a new cannery was being built by the Alaska Packers Association, based in California. The company was hiring. More Icelandic settlers—Helgi and Dagbjort Thorsteinson, Arni Myrdal, Paul Thorsteinson—left Victoria, and thus began the history of the Icelandic people in Point Roberts.
They worked hard and worked together, building homes and barns, buying fishing nets, tilling the land, and harvesting the seas that surrounded them. And they loved the land. The forests rose at their backs and the rocky beach before them reminded them of their home in Vík í Mýrdal, Iceland. They loved the quiet after the noise of Victoria, and on summer evenings, families gathered to enjoy Point Roberts’ first beach parties. They formed a literary society, “Hafstjárnan,” which means Ocean Star. Soon they had a library. Their numbers grew.
In 1913, when the Icelandic Synod in Winnipeg sent the Reverend H. Leo, to Point Roberts, over 35 adults, and their children, formed the first mission congregation. Services, held in the schoolhouse, were conducted in Icelandic for several years before English was adopted.
The same energy, strength, and faithfulness they brought to homesteading, farming, and fishing, the Icelanders brought to building their new church. In 1920 a group of volunteers completed the sanctuary that has stood these 100 years, a symbol of Icelandic love of church and community. Trinity Community Lutheran Church stands on land donated by the Solomon family. Rough lumber was cut from Point Roberts’ forests at the Largaud’s mill.
And now that iconic church, the sole church in Point Roberts, is in danger of collapsing. The situation is dire and the sanctuary has been condemned. Without a firm foundation, the west wall is bowing outward, the result of the gravity load of the roof above. The restoration to stabilize the church and retrofit a foundation is underway and money is urgently needed to meet the costs. With our borders closed due to Covid-19, the many Canadians who once regularly visited Point Roberts, are not here to sustain our economy. Businesses are shuttered and fundraising in our diminished local community is very difficult.
This historic building is more than a church. It is the oldest landmark in Point Roberts and has developed an ecumenical membership that has flourished for over 100 years. It is the only concert hall, an emergency shelter for the Red Cross, a partner with both the Food Bank and Point Roberts Emergency Preparedness.
However, with an ultimate need of $200,000, we are very much hoping that the Icelandic communities of today will join us in honoring and preserving the legacy of the past. A group of volunteers has raised over $92,000 toward its restoration.
Please help us save this historic Icelandic landmark. For more information and to make a donation please visit our website, pointrobertschurch.com.