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Manitoba History: A Storied Past

by Kristjana Magnusson Clark
Surrey, British Columbia

Number 50, October 2005

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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During a trip to Arborg, Manitoba last October, I walked through our old family home, the Sigvaldason House, which is now awaiting restoration at The Arborg & District Multicultural Heritage Village. The original owners of this home had been The Oblate Fathers who were affiliated with the St. Benedict’s Convent. My parents, Bjorn and Lara Sigvaldason, were the second owners, followed by my brother Bjossi Sigvaldason and his family, then by the Frank Koblun family and lastly, the David Smolinsky family, who so generously donated the house to the Arborg & District Multicultural Heritage Village. As I stepped into the house a flood of memories assailed me, for it has been said that every old house attains a certain mysterious beauty, with its storied past. I was now reminded of some special events that had taken place during the many years when we sixteen children, ten girls and six boys, had lived there.

When I walked into Dad’s office room upstairs, I was reminded of how I loved to sit by the sunny west window, reading for hours on end. This small, sunny room, where the dappled afternoon sunlight cast tender ripples of light and shadow, was conducive to reading. The wonderful set of Book of Knowledge on the shelves in Dad’s office opened up a completely new world to me. As I read of people in distant lands, I was fascinated by the story of Hans Brinker who loved to skate on the canals in Holland; of Heidi and her grandfather who tended goats on the mountains in Switzerland; of the strange, exotic people and places in The Arabian Nights stories. As I read I hoped one day to see these far-off places and get to know people in foreign lands.

I remembered what an exciting day it was for us when Dad bought our first car, a Ford touring car with detachable windows, in the late 1920s. Dad could not drive as he had only one arm so our eldest brother, Gudni, became the designated driver. Mother decided that she would learn to drive the car so there would be more than one driver in the family. Looking back, I now realize that, at that time, there were very few women drivers, especially women of Mother’s age. We all felt that Mother was very brave indeed to take on driving in addition to all her daily tasks. I am sure it must have given her a feeling of freedom to drive the car.

One of our older sisters, Anna, longed to learn to drive. One day, when Mother and Dad were away she hopped into the car and called Laura, Thordis, Valdine and Ito come for a ride in the car. She was able to start the car and we were in seventh heaven as she drove the car around and around the barn. After a while Anna decided she had better stop the car, in case Mother and Dad would be coming home soon. However, she did not know how to stop the car. She became quite excited, wondering what she should do now. We girls yelled to our older brothers “How do we stop the car?” They laughed as they shouted back, “Slow down, slow down, and turn off the key.” Our car ride came to a very jerky and sudden stop but we all had a wonderful ride in that old Ford.

This was the original house that Bjorn and Lara Sigvaldason purchased from the Oblate Fathers. In the early 1930s, an addition was made to the house and a cement basement put in. The addition consisted of a large, new kitchen, small washroom and back entrance, as well as two bedrooms upstairs and a dormer added. The porch was rebuilt and part of it was later glassed in.
Source: K. M. Clark.

The winding Icelandic River which meandered below our home became our playground when we were growing up; playing rubber ice during the spring melting season; swimming during the summer months; skating and sledding over the winter months. One blustery January day in the early 1930s, the river below our house became something special. On that particular school day, the wind howled and whined around the corners of our school. As we walked home for our lunch break we snuggled deeper into our coats as the wind continued to howl, stinging our skin with a thousand needle points and sending shivery spasms down our spines. When we crossed the river we were amazed to see that the ferocious wind had driven the snow off the ice. We had never before seen clear ice like that in the middle of January. Suddenly, as we came to a bend in the river, a younger sister, Olof, shouted, “Look, what’s that?”

We all looked out to where she pointed. “It looks like sails”, we said as we saw a sail-like contraption skimming along the river, towards us. We had seen pictures of winter sailboats on the canals in Holland, but not in Manitoba. This couldn’t be a sailboat!

As the sailboat drew nearer we saw a head appear, with red locks pushed forward from a blue wool toque and a happy grin splitting the face of our older brother Ingvar.

“It’s Ingvar, it’s Ingvar”, we all shouted as he rushed past us, shouting out, “Oh boy, this is fun.”

On that blustery winter day in January we all had a ride on that wonderful winter sailboat, which Ingvar had transformed from the old stoneboat. As we skimmed along the clear ice, shouting with joy of life, the wind whipped and trimmed the sails of our Manitoba winter sailboat.

A special day in our lives was the day we had our family picture taken in the early 1940s. At that time, some of our family members were married; some were working away from home; the war was on so Mother and Dad decided that this would be a good time to get all the family together for a family photo. It was decided that four cars would be needed to transport our family to Winnipeg. Mother made jumpers and blouses for the little girls, Beatrice and Margaret and it was decided that our youngest brother, Einar, would need a suit, shirt and tie, which would be bought in Winnipeg before the family photo could be taken. The older children were responsible for wearing their best outfits, with shoes all shined up and polished. Dad made reservations for our photo to be taken at The Bay Photography Shop.

So, on a sunny day in June of the early 1940s, our family photo was taken. For the little girls, Beatrice and Margaret, the highlight of the day was going up and down the escalator at The Bay; for Einar it was the joy of getting a new suit, shirt and tie; for Gudni, Bjossi, Ingvar, Jonas and Gunnar, it was the excitement of eating their favourite food at a restaurant in Winnipeg; for us girls, the joy of walking around the shops with their beautiful clothes; and for Mother and Dad it was relief and happiness at finally having the family all together for our family photo.

Quite a few of the girls in our family were married at home or else at the Lutheran Minister’s home, with a small reception at home, usually attended only by our family members, as well as members of the in-law families and the Reverend Minister and his wife. Mother served coffee and her baking specialties such as vinirterta, doughnuts, tarts and fruitcake or date bar. These wedding receptions were small in comparison to wedding receptions of today, but each one was beautiful and precious to all of us who were married in Arborg. They were all good marriages, marriages that lasted.

When our youngest sister, Margaret was married around Christmas in the early 1960s, she decided she would get married in the Lutheran Church and use our old cutter and horse as their conveyance to and from the church. Our youngest brother, Einar, painted the old cutter a shiny red colour, added jingling bells and decorations as it was during the Christmas season. It was quite an eventful ride for Margaret and Eric as they rode to and from the church by horse and cutter.

On that day of walking through our old family home, I learned something very interesting about this house, which my parents had bought from The Oblate Fathers. My sister, Gudrun, told me that our front room, which we called the parlour (a former term for today’s living room), was originally the chapel when The Oblate Fathers lived there. I was really intrigued by this information so I called my oldest sister Inga, because she has a tremendous memory. She remembers that the large window in that room, which faced the front porch, had beautiful stained glass across the top part of the window. She also remembered that there had originally been a door between the chapel and the large hallway leading to the front porch.

I believe now that our old family home was truly blessed in every way. We were a large and caring family who have always been there for each other. Part of the benign spirit of the Oblate Fathers must have remained to bless our home with peace and harmony. I hope that this gentle spirit will continue to bless our old family home at its present site at the Arborg & District Multicultural Heritage Village.

Bjorn and Lara Sigvaldason family. Back L-R: Gudrun (Johannson), Laura (Wilson Magnusson), Ingvar, Olof (Sigurdson), Gudni, Anna (Thorarinson), Bjossi, Kristjana (Magnusson Clark). Front L-R: Einar, Jonas, Valdine (Prentice), Lara and Bjorn, Thordis (Wilson), Gunnar, Inga (Rothe). Seated in front: Beatrice and Margaret (Rasmussen)
Source: K. M. Clark.

Page revised: 23 April 2011

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