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Viking Park in Gimli, Manitoba contains homes for the “hidden people”
In Icelandic lore, Huldufólk or “hidden people” lived in caves in the mountains or in houses that were not visible to the human eye. These elves are highly respected in Icelandic culture. They are known to be mischievous and will cause trouble if disturbed. In Iceland, roads have been re-routed in order not to interfere with known elf inhabitants. Many Icelanders welcome their elf friends to small houses and churches placed around the countryside. Now, a Canadian town is doing the same.
Gimli, Manitoba is located on the western shores of Lake Winnipeg, about an hour’s drive north of Winnipeg. It is in an area once known as New Iceland. In 1875, the Canadian government granted Icelandic immigrants a reserve along the west shore of Lake Winnipeg. Here the immigrants established New Iceland, which had its own constitution and government until 1887. The community is more ethnically diverse today, but the connection to its Icelandic roots remain strong.
A 15-foot tall Viking statue was unveiled in 1967. It was moved to its current location on 2nd Avenue overlooking the harbour in 1988 to make way for a personal care home. In 2014 plans were developed for a park around the statue. The opening of Viking Park occurred in 2017 during the town’s annual Icelandic Festival. The Elf Garden is part of that park.
The park also includes a Troll Storm Garden with water-loving plants and boulders stacked into troll-like shapes with faces cut into the stone. In Icelandic folk lore, trolls come out at night and if they do not get back to their lairs before sunrise they turn back into the stone from which they came.
Paving stones on the walkway contain donor names and Norse runes. Norse runes are symbols known to have been used for written communication in medieval times and in Icelandic history. A Culture and History wall wraps around a seating area. The wall, which is back-lit at night with LED lights, is engraved with historical information. The Breakwater Garden contains indigenous plant and grasses.
The garden is still is its infancy with young plantings, but it is already attracting visitors judging by the interest on the day I visited.
There is more to see in Gimli beyond Viking Park. Lake Winnipeg is the twelfth largest lake in the world. Fishing and tourism are key industries for Gimli. Sandy beaches make it a popular summer vacation spot. Cross-country skiing and ice fishing bring people in the winter. The town has a thriving arts community.
To find out more about the history and Icelandic heritage of this area, visit the New Iceland Heritage Museum in Gimli, located on 1st Avenue around the corner from Viking Park.
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