Sumarliði & Guðný


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The Book Of Life
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Taken from the Icelandic Appeal website, circa 2000.
Matthews, Sumarliði & Guðný

By Grace Morton (nee Matthews)

Matthews doesn’t sound like an Icelandic name, and, of course, it isn’t. At the age of 13 our father, Sumarliði Sigurðsson, came over to Canada all by himself. His mother, who had come earlier, sent for him, and when he met his Scottish stepfather, he took it upon himself to change his name from Sigurðsson to Matthews, thinking he should have a Canadian sounding name in his newly adopted country.

Our father was born in Akureyri in 1887; he didn’t marry until he was 35 when he met a shy little girl named Guðný Johnson from a farm near Gimli. Guðný was from a family of seven, one boy and six girls. The oldest girl died at the age of 17. Our mother was then the oldest with all the attending responsibilities of helping out on the farm.

Luckily for us she went to the big city of Winnipeg and got a job doing housework at the home of a dentist. Mother told us the story of how embarrassed she was when the dentist complimented her on her beautiful teeth and asked her what she used for toothpaste. Well, she had never even heard of toothpaste and had to admit that she had never brushed her teeth, whereupon the kindly gentleman gave her a toothbrush and toothpaste and said, “never neglect those beautiful teeth of yours.” I don’t remember exactly when she got her false teeth, but I suspect it was a few years after she started brushing.

Our father had a bicycle repair shop on Sargent Ave. in the west end of Winnipeg. He was a wonderful mechanic, but a businessman, he was not. He had a reputation for not only charging very little, but he would also help his younger customers fix their own bicycles, using his shop, his tools, and his expertise. If your bicycle needed oiling, that was free too.


Our mother, who was a gifted seamstress, augmented the family income by taking in sewing. In those days, ladies came with hand-me-down clothing to be made over—in other words, recycled. Needless to say, she made all our clothing, and taught my sister and I how to sew.

Sumarliði and Guðný had 4 children. The youngest, Elin, died when she was 16 months of a bowel obstruction. Albert, who now lives in Winnipeg, has two children. He had a very adventuresome career as a Mountie and is now retired. Lillian (M.L.) met her late husband, Richard Gudmundson, at Islendingadagurinn in Gimli. Richard, or Dick as he was better known, and Lilly brought up 4 children in Minneapolis. I, Grace, was the oldest sibling. My late husband Jackson Willis and I brought up 6 children, mostly in Edmonton.

Our amma on our mother’s side, Bóthildur Björnsdóttir Jónsson, lived in Gimli, and was widowed when she was still quite young. Her husband, Jóhannes Jónsson, was much older than she, and was known to be a spokesman for his fellow farmers whenever they had business or land dealings.

Like her mother before her, Guðný spent her last years in Betel, and lived there until she was 90. We often heard her say that it was her fervent wish to do just that. When her daughters drove her to Betel in a blinding snowstorm, she was warmly greeted by the Head Matron who expressed her concern for her arrival because of the weather.

Sumarliði died at the age of 87 in Winnipeg. I will always remember him as the kindest, gentlest man I ever knew.

For more complete histories, please see: “Johannes and Bothildur Johnson” in Gimli Saga, pp. 585-586.