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The Crowning of the Fjallkona

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 has presided.

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 traditions.

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.
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