For Albertans of Icelandic descent, the fjallkona
"women of the mountain" is a symbol of their cultural
and historical links with their ancestral homeland.
Each year, they gather on June 17th at Markerville in
central Alberta to mark Iceland's National Day. At this
celebration, they name a woman fjallkona as the living
representation of their ties to Iceland.
Like many other European countries, the practice of representing
Icelandic national identity in feminine image is deeply embedded
in history and often part of movements toward national
independence. In 1750, an Icelandic student studying in Denmark
wrote a poem where he described the a woman named Isafold, who was
part of the mythology of the ancient Norsemen. It was this poem
that voiced Iceland's struggle as a colony of Denmark and a
movement to "purify" Iceland of foreign influences,
glorifying its past.
But the actual practice of naming a living fjallkona is
recent, beginning in 1924 in the Vesturislendingar (West
Icelander- a term referring to those who have emigrated to Canada
and the United States) settlements of North America. It has now a
practice in some festivals in Iceland to name a fjallkona.
In Alberta, a fjallkona was named for Edmonton's Icelandic
community since 1957, but since 1978, an Alberta fjallkona
The honour is accorded to those who have shown a commitment to
Icelandic heritage through community service and promoting and
preserving this heritage. In some instances, the Alberta fjallkona
is not of Icelandic descent but has supported Icelandic memory and
The fjallkona head dress and veil is symbolic of the
Icelandic landscape of volcanic mountains and glaciers. The mantle
trimmed with fur represents the slopes, valleys and coastlines and
the crown stands for Iceland's long days of light during summer
given its northern latitude.
Joanne Olafson was named fjallkona at Markerville in 1996.
Before the crowning, the Icelandic anthem marked her arrival and
entrance. Upon being crowned, usually by Alberta's Icelandic
consul, she gives an address stating her commitment to faithfully
representing the community's heritage and presiding over Icelandic
events and festivals in the coming year.
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.