Something very important happened in the community of Riverton, Manitoba on the 150th anniversary of Canada. This day was the inauguration of the Friðrika Björnsdóttir Memorial.
Many descendants of Friðrika were gathered for the unveiling ceremony, the oldest a man in his nineties and the youngest a three-week old infant.
Friðrika Björnsdóttir was a woman of Icelandic descent, said to be a descendant of the Danish Crown Prince Frederick, before he later on became Kong Frederick VI of Denmark.
According to historical records the Crown Prince had a son, Samúel, with a Danish woman called Soffía Maria. The boy grew up in Denmark on royal expense, but was never considered a member of the royal family. Samúel went to Iceland as an adult, where he and his Islandic wife had a daughter named Lovísa, who became the mother of Friðrika Björnsdóttir.
Friðrika Björnsdóttir came with her husband Pétur Árnason from Iceland and settled in Riverton near Lake Winnipeg in 1876. They had eight children. The first three of them came over from Iceland; the next five were born in Canada. Unfortunately three of them died in the smallpox epidemic.
After Friðrika’s eight births, she died a few weeks later from childbirth complications in 1884 at only 35 years old. As the local cemetery in Riverton was closed at the time, she was buried in a farmer’s field.
Ten years ago, volunteers formed the Friðrika Björnsdóttir Memorial Project and started to raise donations to restore Friðrika’s grave.
The film company “As it Happened Productions” from Winnipeg was tasked to make a documentary about Friðrika Björnsdóttir’s life and the gravesite restoration project.
Sat. July 1, 2017 all the efforts came to fruition: the gravesite had a memorial pillar surrounded by a new fence. In addition, an information stand about her life was erected in Riverton Memorial Centennial Park.
To see the lonely grave outside of town, there were organized tours to explain the history of the Icelandic settlement.
In Riverton Memorial Centennial Park there were speeches by representatives from the Manitoba government and the Icelandic and Danish consuls. A symbolic ribbon cutting ceremony took place to mark the completion of the Restoration Memorial Project.
The Unveiling Ceremony continued in Riverton-Hnausa Lutheran Church, where “As it Happened Productions” showed the Friðrika Björnsdóttir documentary about her life and migration to the Interlake district in Manitoba.
A fascinating story about a strong and stalwart woman, who emigrated far from her homeland, pioneered in a harsh climate and actually became a legend, because her ancestor was a member of Danish royalty.