Geir (Kristjánsson) &
Sesselja Rakel Sveinsdóttir

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Editors Note:

This lively account
of homesteading in the Vatnbyggð settlement, the main Icelandic settlement in the province of Saskatchewan, was narrated by Halldóra (Dora) Bjarnason, daughter of Icelandic immigrants Geir Christianson (Kristjánsson) & Sesselja Rakel Sveinsdóttir.

For more on information on the migration experience of this family, please see the Dr. Sigridur (Sigga) Christianson Houston story.





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Taken from the Icelandic Appeal website, circa 2000.
Christianson, Geir (Kristjánsson) & Sesselja Rakel Sveinsdóttir

"The Early Years continued...

On a later trip, Jones gave Dad two baby pigs. Dad brought them home in the pockets of his bug buffalo fur coat. We kept them behind the stove and hand fed them until they could be moved out to the barn, still sheltered in a box with an old blanket and straw. My sister Babs fed and played and played with the baby pigs more than I did. They were ever so cute. We had never really seen pigs before. After all we were city kids who had lived all our lives in Grand Forks, and one winter in Winnipeg, before we landed on the prairies.

We had a very basic diet those first two years on the homestead. The first winter we had no potatoes or vegetables and very little meat. We did have a few chickens and thus had eggs, mostly used for baking. I don’t know what Mama managed to feed the hens because there certainly was no grain that first winter. Because of that little flock we had the odd chicken pie or chicken with dumplings.

While the cow milked that first year we had butter most of the time. When her milk became scanty, Mama would save enough cream to partially fill a quart sealer and we would shake it up and get enough butter for a few days. Old Bessie gave really rich milk. Then there was oatmeal porridge, cornmeal porridge, and the odd time johnnycake and syrup. Everybody had those gallon cans of Edwards Syrup, but we had no fruit, no jams or jellies, that first winter. We did have rice with raisins and cinnamon.

Mama made good bread. She dried it in the oven and then toasted it over the coals, and that was more than plain bread and butter. There were pancakes and French toast when she could spare a few eggs. Mama also made what she called flat brod, made with some coarse unleavened grains—fresh and hot off the top of the stove (this is now sold as ‘viking bread’).

We always had coffee. Dad bought green coffee beans in twenty pound bags and we roasted them in the oven flat roasting pan. I would stir them so they browned evenly—slow roasting produced the best flavour. Some of our neighbours roasted the beans on the top of the stove but that did not make good coffee. The beans were likely to burn and I remember that sometimes their coffee was nasty and bitter.


We did miss meat. Some of our neighbours shot rabbits and we heard of people shooting the odd jumping deer, and that was considered a great bonus. Our men were not hunters so we did without. Yes, we had beans, but with no meat the bean soup was somewhat flat, as were baked beans, though Mama would doctor them up with molasses and mustard.

Mama had no cookbook—every recipe was in her head!

While Wadena was the nearest town, thirty miles away by oxen, we had to conserve the coal oil. We had a five-gallon can and also a smaller one, but many evenings we did not light our coal oil lamp. There was always a flicker of light from the draft on the stove, as well as the little old kitchen stove. We didn’t even have candles, but Mama mad a kind of candle from tallow (beef fat) in a small tin can with a small rag wrapped around a sliver of wood as a wick.—it gave a tiny, flickering light. Mama called it ‘profit’—not the spelling in Icelandic I’m sure, but that’s what it sounds like to me. I was just beginning to talk and read Icelandic then.

We children never tried to speak Icelandic in Grand Forks or Winnipeg. But we did when we came to the farm, when so many other people from the Icelandic settlement in North Dakota just did not use English. Then Mama’s eyes gave out—she needed glasses, of course—so I started reading the Icelandic paper Heimskringla, and the Lutheran Church paper. I remember stumbling through the reading at first, but I read it right through regardless. I certainly learned to read Icelandic the hard way—and poor Mama, she was so hungry for the news and articles that she suffered through my reading. I suppose that is why I can still read Icelandic as well as ever.

Bill Olson homesteaded three miles away. Mama baked his bread for him, and in return kept 50 pounds from each 100-pound bag of flour he bought. We even went to his little shack and cleaned things up and took things home to wash. We had a washtub, a washboard and wringer, and a boiler to heat water, much more than he had. Mama did his mending. One severe winter, he moved in with us and brought his team of horses into our barn. Then we could haul wood with horses instead of oxen.