I never realized we have a royal princess buried here in Manitoba.
This was pointed out to me by my neighbor, Salin Guttormsson, who is leading a project team to both refurbish her gravesite and publicize our local connection with royalty.
Her name was Fridrika Bjornsdottir and she was the daughter of Bjorn Jonsson and Lovisa Samuelsdottir. The royal connection, albeit a bit tenuous is through her mother’s lineage. Lovisa was the daughter of carpenter Samuel Fridriksson and Jorunn Tomasdottir.
Samuel was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1793 and raised at royal expense. Legend has it he was the illegitimate child and eldest son of the Crown Prince of Denmark who would ascend to the throne as King Frederick VI of both Denmark and Norway.
A woman known only as Soffia Maria was the mother.
Samuel later moved to Iceland and that is where Fridrika was born in 1849; it was also where she met her husband Petur Arnason and together they would set sail for Canada arriving in 1876 as one of the first settlers of what became known as New Iceland in the Interlake area around present day Gimli.
Life was not kind to the early Icelandic settlers on the shores of Lake Winnipeg and it is hard to imagine the constant daily struggle for survival they must have endured.
She died in 1884, at age 35 after a hard life in which she saw three of her children die of smallpox during their first year in Canada. Hardly a life befitting that of a princess.
However, five of her children managed to survive into adulthood and have left many descendants throughout the area.
Today she lies buried in an unmarked and unkempt grave on the old family homestead in Arskogur just outside the town of Riverton.
It is this grave that Salin and her family are planning to restore and to do this she is actively fundraising. To date she is a quarter way towards her target of $12,000 to cover expenses.
She appeared before the Riverton district council recently hoping to have the site designated as a heritage site which could make it eligible for provincial government funding.
There was hope for an official unveiling during Islendingadagurinn, the Icelandic Festival on the August long weekend. However the delay in the heritage grant program means that will not happen.
One of the problems is that the gravesite is situated on private land.
However a commemorative engraved pillar recognizing Fridrika is expected to be installed in Riverton’s public park this summer.
It has attracted the attention of a film company. Angela Chalmers and Sheryl Peters who run As It Happened Productions, are making a film that documents Fridrika’s journey to the Interlake.
The final unveiling is now scheduled for July 2017 to coincide with the Riverton Chamber of Commerce reunion and Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations.