Rogue Sermon leads to formation of Winnipeg Icelandic Church

Magnus Skaptason -1850-1932 and the “Break Away Sermon”

Magnus Skaptason was born in Iceland; his father was a physician. Educated in Iceland, ordained a minister in 1875, he served 12 years in Iceland. The Icelandic Lutheran Church was more liberal than many Lutheran churches in North America.

With his wife and children, he arrived in Canada in 1887, to minister to six parishes along the shore of Lake Winnipeg: Hecla, Riverton Hnausa, Arnes, Gimli and Willow Point.

Read more: Rogue Sermon leads to formation of Winnipeg Icelandic Church

The Remarkable Laura Goodman Salverson

Virginia Martin
October 2015

Laura Goodman Salverson, the award winning author self identified as a Unitarian in her listings in Who's Who in Canada in the 1940s and 1950s. She is also listed as one of the speakers seventy five years ago when the church celebrated its 50th anniversary. Attempts are being made to locate additional information about her 1941 presentation.

Laura was born in Winnipeg. Her parents were immigrants from Iceland. The family struggled economically and moved frequently. She left Winnipeg as a child but returned in the early 1940s and lived here for about 15 years. Laura was the first person of Icelandic heritage to win a Governor General (GG) award. She won two within two years. Her novel, The Dark Weaver, won the GG for fiction in 1937. Her autobiography Confessions of an Immigrant's Daughter won the GG non fiction award in 1939.

She completed high school and had ambitions to be a writer. Self educated, she published a number of books, over 150 short stories and a volume of poetry.

Ahead of her time, in the 1920s and 1930s she addressed women's social issues and struggles in a compassionate and eloquent voice. She dedicated her 1925 novel, When Sparrows Fall, to:

“Nellie L. McClung
Who has been a voice for the voiceless
The humble women of her land.”1 

Her writing is compelling for many reasons but two stand out:

The first is the story of her remarkable life. She overcame ill health, poverty, a need to earn a living and limited education to fulfill her dream of becoming a writer. She worked as a maid, a seamstress, a retail clerk, a nurse’s aid and ran a boarding house- many of the jobs immigrant women hold today . She became a published award-winning writer in her second language, a rare accomplishment. In Confessions she wrote:

“I had never heard any technical points discussed. I had no idea such material was available. I knew nothing in fact except what I wanted to represent…I wanted to write a story which would define the price any foreign group must pay for its place in the national life of its country of adoption." (p.511)

A second reason, her work so compelling is her insight into and eloquence in illustrating women’s issues. In the 1920s and 30s, she wrote of domestic abuse, the hypocrisy of organized religion, the exploitation of older sisters who were expected to look after their younger siblings while their brothers were not expected to help.

She wrote of the difficulties of young working women who had to keep up appearances and would cut food to pay for laundry, of the status and working conditions of household help, of the difficulty of finding employment, of piece work in factories, of a loveless marriage entered into for economic reasons. Her description in her autobiography of working in her aunt’s maternity hospital is especially provocative.

She published material that identified a number of women's issues, especially immigrant women's concerns. All of her books are out of print now but many are available at used book stores and on the web.

She was also the founder and first editor of the Icelandic Canadian (now the Icelandic Connection). Laura wrote many articles for the publication. She also was president of the Winnipeg Chapter of PEN.

She was ahead of her time in another way too. I have a copy of her autobiography signed in 1939. She wrote: "Yours for Canadian Literature" above her name!

Laura's Publications


Confessions of an Immigrant’s Daughter 1939


The Viking Heart 1923

When Sparrows Fall 1925

The Dark Weaver3 1937


Wayside Gleams 1924

Short Stories

These are only a few of the about 150 short stories she wrote.4

“Hidden Fire” (1922) MacLean’s and Maple Leaf (won prize from Women’s Canadian Club of Saskatchewan).

“The Greater Gift: A Christmas Story” originally in The Western Home Monthly and later reprinted a number of periodicals and anthologies. Most recently in Writings by Western Icelandic Women (1996) Edited by Kirstin Wolf

“When Blind Guides Lead” (1925) MacLean’s (Feb)

“The Alabaster Box” (1927) MacLean’s (Dec)

“Queer Heart” 1935-36 The Canadian Magazine (August)

“Slipper Ease” 1936-37 The Canadian Magazine (October)

She wrote at least four historical adventure novels including several about Viking settlements in Minnesota. Some were first published in serial form in magazines. One novel, Johan Lind, a serial in Western Home Monthly was never published as a book. I do not find her historical novels as compelling as her contemporary ones, although I have only read two of them.


1 Salverson. (1925) When Sparrows Fall. Thomas Allen, Toronto

2 Bumsted describes it as “a highly acclaimed autobiography”

3 The only publicly owned copy of The Dark Weaver in Winnipeg is in the Icelandic Collection at the University of Manitoba. It is non-circulating.  My cherished copy was a gift.

4 Foster, Merna p. 222. A number of Laura’s short stories are available on Microfiche in the Winnipeg’s Millennium Library. Four, ‘Hidden Fire’, ‘The Greater Gift’, ‘When Blind Guides Lead’ and ‘The Alabaster Box’ are reprinted in Wolf


Bumsted, J.M. Dictionary of Manitoba Biography. Accessed online. Feb. 22, 2009

Foster, Merna (2004) 100 Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces. The Dundurn Group, Toronto. A Daughter of Iceland, Laura Goodman Salverson’. pp 222-223

Hjartarson, Paul (1990) Laura Goodman Salverson. Dictionary o f Literary Biography. Vol. 92. Canadian Writers 1890-1920. p. 319

Martin Virginia (2011) Laura Goodman Salverson: A Reader's Reflection: The Icelandic Connection. Vol. 63 #4. pp 163-167.

Roy, Wendy, (2005) The ensign of the mop and the dustbin: The maternal and the material in autobiographical writings by Laura Goodman Salverson and Nellie McClung. essay in a collection Auto/biography in Canada edited by Julie Rak. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press.pp247-262

Thordardson, Elin (2009) The woman who reappeared. Vol. 62, no. 2 The Icelandic Canadian

Wolf, Kirsten, Editor (1996) Writings by Western Icelandic Women. U of Manitoba Press. (p. 177-209)

June Gislason 1921-2014

June McKnight, born in 1921, lived on the family farm, and completed her education in Homewood, Manitoba. She moved to Winnipeg where she earned both her teacher's and principal's certificate. Her first teaching position was at Steep Rock in 1940.

She met her husband Thor during her time at Steep Rock. Thor's family was Unitarian. The couple was married in 1943 by Rev. Phillip Peturson, the long time minister of the church. The family moved to several places in Manitoba. In 1954 with their four children they moved to Winnipeg.

June continued to teach and earned her bachelor's degree in 1975 when she was 54 years old. She was a dedicated teacher and was recognized by the Canadian College of Teachers in 1981 as 'Teacher of the Year" in Manitoba. She developed and piloted a number of innovative programs which resulted in her being described as 'The teacher's measure of a teacher."

June was a long-time member of the Unitarian Church. She contributed to the Religious Education Program (RE). In the mid eighties she was a teacher and chair of the RE committee. During an interim between appointments, she also served as Director of Religious Education.

Read more: June Gislason

Björn, Jennie, and the First Icelandic Unitarian Society: A Love Story

Early in 1886, Björn Pétursson, a 59-year-old Icelandic immigrant who had been in North America for about a decade, read an advertisement for the Post Office Mission, an early Unitarian outreach effort. He sent away for materials and received a reply from Jennie McCaine, who was the general secretary of the mission in St. Paul, Minnesota. Over the course of the summer and early autumn, Björn devoured the materials Jennie had sent him and, in mid-October, he wrote to her, saying, “I am fully satisfied that I belong to your church, heart and soul. ... I recognize in the Unitarian movement the reformation I have long hoped for and expected and should be glad to get a chance to promote the same among my countrymen …”

Read more: Björn, Jennie, and the First Icelandic Unitarian Society: A Love Story

125th Anniversary – Historical Snapshot

Winnipeg Unitarians and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage

A few days before we celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of our congregation, Manitobans will mark the centennial of women winning the vote in this province – the first province to enfranchise women. The two anniversaries are not unrelated.

Read more: Winnipeg Unitarians and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage

Celebrating 125 years: Our UU Winnipeg History

February 1st 1891 – The First Icelandic Unitarian Society under Rev. Björn Pétursson and Jennie McCaine Peterson was created, after years of missionary work with Icelandic immigrants, with a church at the corner of Sherbrook and Pacific.

Read more: Celebrating 125 years: Our UU Winnipeg History