Stefan and Olivia (Olla) Stefanson
(1915 - 2008) (1917 - 2000)
Farming, Business, Culture Gimli/ Winnipeg, MB
Stefan Julius was born at Gimli, on Feb.13, 1915, the second of three children to Guðný Björnsdóttir and Valdimar Stefanson. His paternal grandparents, Stefán Eiríksson and Pálína Stefánsdóttir from the Blönduhlið area of Skagafjörður came to Gimli in 1888. Stefan’s maternal grandparents, Björn H.Jónsson, from Laxadalur, Dalasýsla, and Guðfinna Sigurðardóttir from Saurhóll in Dalasýsla emigrated from Iceland in 1888, living briefly in Gimli, MB, and then moving to Churchbridge, Sask. where Stefan’s mother Guðný was born. Three years later they returned to Gimli. Valdi and Gudny were married in 1913.
Stefan and Olivia (Olla) Svanhvit Einarson married on Feb. 4, 1934. She was the daughter of Sigurður Einarsson, who was born at Auðnir in Laxdalur, Suður-Þingeyjarsýsla and María Jóhannsdóttir who was born at Gimli. Olla and Stefan had five children: Lorna Joyce, Stefan Ernest, Karen Maria, Valdimar Warren, and Eirikson Elswood (Eric).
Stefan completed high school at Gimli in 1933, but for lack of finances could not continue his education. He then entered into farming in partnership with his father and mother. Olla and Stefan acquired property that was across the road from his parents in the RM of Gimli. This partnership lasted for 46 years until Valdi died on Sept. 13, 1981.
Stefan suffered with asthma and a weak back. These ailments did not go well with strenuous farm labour. Several parcels of land, some 1400 acres, were added to the joint partnership. Stefan was approached by the Manitoba Government to assist the Attorney General’s Department by working with many outlying districts that had a variety of problems and to provide them with general support. This appointment was for one year only, but lasted for thirty years, until 1981 when he retired as the Chief Sheriff of Manitoba. During this employment Stefan traveled extensively around the province. In 1970 he was appointed Deputy Sheriff, and other promotions followed. Olla and Stefan's mother managed two outstanding homes. Both women were versatile, splendid cooks, who could also endure the long days of farm labour that was necessary, even though the farm operations had become very mechanical. However, the family became closely knit by the extra chores that they did together. Stefan and Olla’s family eventually moved into the North End of Winnipeg, and decided that if it was necessary they would drive to the farm to attend the fields in the evenings. The time eventually came when the operation of the farm became too much for all. In 1975, Stefan and Valdi decided to rent out the grain fields. At this time Olla was involved in making arrangements for billeting visitors arriving from Iceland who were coming to celebrate 100 years of permanent settlement in Nyja Ísland. Over 800 guests were accommodated.
All through their married years, Olla and Stefan were deeply involved in relating the rich ethnic, historic and cultural background of the area known as “New Iceland”. They belonged to several chapters of the Icelandic National League of North America. Stefan served as President of the national organization from 1976- 1979. They were very active in the Icelandic Cultural Corporation Inc., which maintained the Icelandic Museum in Gimli. Their children continue to support all things Icelandic.
After the large influx of visitors that had attended the festivities in 1975, they, with friends Ted and Marge Arnason, formed a registered travel company, Viking Travel Ltd., and offered air travel service to Iceland, and later to anywhere in the world. Olla kept a travel office in Winnipeg until Stefan retired, and Marge Arnason had one in Gimli. Viking Travel carried on this travel operation for over twenty years.
Some years they would travel more than once to Iceland, traveling in all seasons and exploring the country extensively. Connections with Icelandic organizations and the Icelandic government created a very strong bond with the Icelandic people, wherever they were. Annually they escorted guided travel groups that came to visit the Icelandic communities in Manitoba, North Dakota and Minnesota.
Olla and Stefan always took the opportunity to tell visitors the “Saga of New Iceland”, the story of first Icelandic colony in North America with all the trials and tribulations they had.
Olla passed away on Jan. 20, 2000. She was greatly missed in the Icelandic communities in North America as well as in Iceland. It made Stefan very happy that he had the opportunity to create a memorial to her, The Stefan and Olla Stefan Traveling Exhibit. He was in Iceland when the exhibit was first shown at the Emigration Museum at Hofsós and in Markerville where it was first shown in Alberta. It was heartwarming to him to see how well it was received in the numerous places that it visited. After extensive travel and donations, it now serves as the back bone to the New Iceland Heritage Museum.
Honours received for their outstanding contributions to the Icelandic Communi
- 1980 Honorary Membership in the Icelandic National League of North America
- August 2, 1993 -Order of the Falcon in Gimli, MB.ship in the INL of Iceland
- April 2007 –Laurence Johnson Award at the INL of NA Convention in Winnipeg
Stefan Julius Stefanson passed away in Gimli on January 2, 2008. His funeral was in Gimli. A memorial service for Olla and Stefan was held in Iceland in February 2008.