Icelandic Camp – Music, Runes, and Legacy

Morning breaks perhaps earlier than we are prepared for. The summoning tones of the bell are carried on gentle gusts of cool breeze into the cabins where our mighty heroes rest. Somnolent campers tumble from their bunks and slowly congregate on the deck for their morning dunk. My sleepy Vikings follow me to the lake and emerge reborn and powerful. A breakfast of eggs, bacon, cereal, and porridge awaits their baron stomachs - but first, a creative deed awaits; a clever presentation of their top five favourite things about camp. A hot pink stuffed dog named "Pinky Pie" and myself are charged with judging the four teams. We take in a variety of programs, ranging from a full synchronized monologue in Icelandic, to a fancy can-can dance line, a charming little ditty, and last but not least, a very exotic haiku. All campers show impressive and varied talents; but of course the group who delivered their material Á íslensku are the victors of this quest.
With full bellies and hearts of adventure, our campers plunge into rotating activities. Mallory Swanson leads a station of strategy - giving each group a handful of dry spaghetti, a long piece of tape, a cup, and a marshmallow with the objective of building the tallest structure possible. There is an added task of treating each teammate with respect and kindness (or height would be deducted from the finished product). Brett Lamoureux facilitates an interactive language class where each child is coached on describing their favourite part of camp and summer Á íslensku. Brad Hirst acts as choir director, helping our barbarians to polish their stage presence and vocal stylings. Guðmundur Hafliðason, or “Gummí" as we lovingly call him, orchestrates big games in the field where our energetic campers can burn off steam. All of this prepares our campers perfectly for lunch.
A brief health promotion moment is required part way through the day. Things had gotten a little fancy-free around the camp: many children have been running in and out of their cabins in bare feet or haven't seen their shoes in days. I have my hands on about 20 pairs of filthy camp feet with various issues ranging from abrasions, to slivers, broken nails and blisters. After feeling like I have been running a foot clinic, we finally gather to have a good, long talk about the many, many benefits of footwear. My band-aid distribution decreases by about 60% following this public service announcement. Nothing like a little health promotion and injury prevention!
With our big performance on the horizon, there isn’t any time to waste. We gather the children and practice, and practice, and practice until our musical arrangements are just perfect. Mothers, Fathers, Ammas and Afis will be coming from miles around to take in the program. We want to make sure that they can see how hard we've worked at our new Icelandic songs!
After dinner, we load our polished, performance-ready barbarians into a school bus and drive to the big stage in the park. Family came from far and wide to cheer on these tiny wonders and hear their Icelandic songs: Hann/Hún á afmæli í dag, Syngjandi hér, syngjandi þar, Sá ég spóa, and Krummi krunkar úti. They perform each one perfectly and their fans go wild! After our presentation, Gummí surprises the whole camp with special Icelandic National Soccer Team jerseys - special just for them! You can't even buy these if you wanted to! The children and their parents erupt in cheers of excitement for these special gifts all the way from Iceland.
But before we can take our shining stars back to their cabins, we have just one more special stop. The children have learned about the runic alphabet this week. They made a craft where they chose special stones and decorated them with rune letters. Armed with their own personalized bag of stones, our next secret surprise is waiting for them at an exciting location….
Many readers will be familiar with the Viking statue in Gimli, Manitoba. It has been under construction for some time and is due to be unveiled as "Viking Park" for the first time on Saturday of the Islendingadagurinn. Our campers are the very first to get a sneak peek before it is open to the world. Grant Stefanson, Co-Chair of the Viking Park Committee, meets us to talk to the children about the meaning of the park. He tells them all about the significance of the symbolism and the history that has been left by so many Icelanders who bravely came to this land to begin anew. "You are a legacy" he tells the children, inciting them to carry their culture and the heritage of our ancestors with fervour and pride. His final message remarks on the specialness of the first visitors of this park being the children - who bear the future of our traditions. He instructs them to take their runes and disperse them amongst the rocks. Armed with a variety of stones, they can hide them secretly and know that only they can find rediscover them. They can also choose to place them openly where family, friends and other visitors may find them. If they return and the runes are gone, they can take comfort in the fact that they may have been collected and have brought someone else happiness. With the act of laying these stones, our Icelandic campers will not only be the first visitors to the park, but will become a permanent piece of it; there is a beautiful significance of our future generation holding our sacred past in their hearts and carrying it forward. The children are released to frolic through the park, their excited laughter heard echoing in every nook and cranny in the new and beautiful winding walkways that now surround our mighty and familiar Viking statue. Our tiny Vikings scurry everywhere, looking for the perfect places to leave their runes. We finish the evening with pictures in front of the Viking so that we can remember this special evening forever.
We collect our excited but weary campers and take them home to rest. A bedtime snack of pönnukökur along with skyr that was brought all the way from Iceland is served a special treat.
With our ruthless Vikings tucked safely into their bunks, I find myself reflecting on legacy while I write to you tonight. As a child, I had the opportunity to spend time with my Amma Helga Malis in Gimli; who has worked so tirelessly to instill a sense of identity and pride in my heritage. I too, was once an Icelandic Camper. Later, when I was in the right place in my life, I accepted my quest to travel to Iceland as a Snorri¹ and explore my own independent connection to my ancestors and my country. To me and the many other camp alumni, counsellors, volunteers and Snorris, this is our commitment and contribution to legacy. Once when I was a child, people brought Icelandic Camp and the Snorri program to life for me so that I could deepen my relationship with my culture and my roots. And so it has been an honour and a privilege for me to pay this forward.  The gift of legacy that has been entrusted with me carries with it the responsibility to pass it on to the next generation and into the future.
So to my tiny Vikings, the future of our Icelandic-Canadian traditions, I say Góða nótt.  And… to the many family and friends who read this now, please know that our future is in good hands.

Love always,

¹ Snorri – refers to the ‘Snorri Program’, a six week program designed for young adults (ages 18 to 30) to research their ancestral roots in Iceland.  See