• Reynivellir

    Reynivellir, one of the original Icelandic farmsteads on Manitoba's Hecla Island. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

Five years ago, writer Michael Kapral and photographer Thomas Fricke visited Hecla Island, Man., to chronicle the island as experienced at a child’s pace (read the story here). Perhaps best known by area locals for its popular Lakeview Hecla Resort (formerly the Radisson Hecla Oasis Resort), Kapral and Fricke’s findings offered a glimpse into the lives of those who call the island home and the many ecological experiences on offer in the park. Among the locals they met was Maxine Ingalls, a descendant of the island’s original Icelandic settlers.

Maxine is a wealth of knowledge with respect to the island’s history and the pioneers that settled it. Last month I had the good fortune of meeting with her for a walking tour of Hecla Village. Here are some of the stories she shared and photos I captured of the village and surrounding area, shedding some light on the island’s history from 1875 to present day.


An icelandic sign welcomes visitors at the Hecla Island Heritage Home Museum on Hecla Island. The Republic of New Iceland was established by the Canadian Government on the biggest island in Lake Winnipeg in 1875. The first wave of Icelanders settled that year, having fled Icelandic response to volcanic activity in their homeland. They named the island Mikley (Big Island in Icelandic). So why is it called Hecla Island today? According to guide Maxine Ingalls, the English and Scots-run postal service renamed it after an Icelandic volcano. There is no letter C in Icelandic, so it really should have been spelled with a K. In 1887, the colony joined Manitoba. (Photo: Jessica Finn)
 

A second, larger wave of Icelanders emigrated to the island in 1885 and settled on the east side, where Hecla Village sits today. Hecla Village itself is very small. It stretches from Tomasson's Boarding House to the Hecla Church (visible here). (Photo: Jessica Finn)

 


The marina and dockside Fish Station (not pictured) are an important part of life for the islanders. Many of the original settlers were migrant farmers and fishermen, who were used to fishing on the open sea. In New Iceland, they had to relearn how to fish in winter beneath the lake's frozen surface. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

 


This wooden under ice jigger was once used for winter commercial fishing on Lake Winnipeg. It could be placed in a hole through the ice, run beneath it, and retrieved through another hole about 100 yards away, allowing fishermen to string their nets below the lake's frozen surface. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

 


Painstaking care was taken to display a collection of tools used by Hecla Island's people from the 1870s to today. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

 


Other relics of the past can be found throughout the village. This 20-foot fibreglass yawl replaced the traditional wooden fishing yawl in 1971; in the distance, Sigurgeirsson Log House is visible to the right, and the General Store to the left. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

 


Sigurgeirsson Log House, owned by Vilhjalmur Sigurgeirsson (who became one of the wealthier islanders), was larger than most log dwellings built at that time. It served as both a store and post office. Today, it is vacant. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

 


Each of the original farmsteads bears the name given it by its original owner. This one, Reynivellir, settled by Vilhjalmur Sigurgeirsson, means Rowan Fields or Rowan Plains. It was not uncommon for owners to become better known by the name of their homestead than their own last name. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

 


Maxine holds a photograph of her grandmother, Kristjana (Rosa) Thordarson with husband, Holbein Goodman (an Icelandic immigrant), who were married in Winnipeg. The photo and Rosa's dress (shown in the background) are on display in the Hecla Island Heritage Home Museum, along with those of two other brides. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

 


Built in 1922, Hecla School boasts 2 rooms: Grades 1-6 were taught in one room, and Grades 7-11 in the other. If that seems quaint, consider that the original school built in 1890 was only a single room. The school closed its doors permanently in 1970. Some of the original wood-top desks are still inside, bearing graffiti from children from a simpler time. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

 


One of the village's most recognizable buildings is Hecla Church. Built in 1928, it is one of the few buildings still standing and in good condition from that era; in part because it was one of the later buildings to be erected, and it underwent restorations in 1975. It played an important role for the community, as it offered a refuge from the hardships of pioneer life for the island's early settlers. It's now open only during the summer months for weekly Sunday services, catering mostly to villagers and visitors from Winnipeg and the provincial park campground. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

 


The lighthouse at Gull Harbour, North of Hecla Village, was built in 1898 to warn boats of the spit jutting into the narrows. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

 


In 1926, the large lighthouse was built to replace it. The last lighthouse keeper ended his watch in 1970.Today, it's maintained by the Canadian Coast Guard. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

 


A rectangular four-storey spiral staircase treats island visitors to panoramic views of Hecla Island's forested North Tip, Gull Harbour and the narrows between itself and Black Island to the East. (Photo: Jessica
Finn)

 


Hecla Island is a fabulous bird-watching area, and its Northern tip is a dedicated part of Manitoba's Pine to Prairie Birding Trail (an International Bird Area). Woodpeckers, songbirds, pelicans, cormorants and gulls are common sights in the trees and along the shoreline. (Photo: Jessica Finn)