Visitors to Hecla Island/Grindstone Park, 140 kilometres north of Winnipeg, can tour several restored buildings in Hecla Village, home of many 19th-century Icelandic immigrants. A church, community hall, period home, one-room school and fish station recall the life of the Icelandic fishing families who adapted their old country skills to the new challenges of commercial fishing on Lake Winnipeg.
Overwhelmed by illness and hardship, frustrated by the rocky, unproductive land, and unable to resolve ongoing religious differences, many of the Icelandic settlers moved on to North Dakota. But those who stayed began to prosper. Farms were cleared, fish were harvested, and a rich cultural and social life developed. A sawmill was established on Hecla Island in 1878, businesses opened in Gimli, and in 1879, 2 Icelandic entrepreneurs began operating a steamship on Lake Winnipeg. More immigrants arrived from the home country, and by 1885, over 1500 people had now settled permanently in the colony. In 1905, the arrival of the railway in Gimli transformed the community into an important Lake Winnipeg commercial centre and summer holiday destination.
Author: Fredrick Buetefuer