In 1878 Pastor Páll Thorláksson set out from the Gimli settlement in Manitoba, Canada, to find a new location for an Icelandic settlement. He traveled with 20 men on a steamboat to Winnipeg and then on to Dakota in search of land in Pembina County. He would become known as “The Father of the Icelandic Settlement in Dakota.”
One of the first explorers of Pembina County was Jóhann Pétur Hallson. He and his son, Gunnar, built the first Icelandic home in the new settlement. Named in his honor is an Icelandic church in Icelandic State Park, and a cemetery at the church’s original site nearby.
There aren’t as many Icelanders in North Dakota as there are Germans from Russia or Norwegians, but what they lack in numbers they make up for in enthusiasm. Icelandic communities in North Dakota will celebrate the 119th Deuce of August celebration this year.
Many people think the Deuce of August honors Icelandic independence from Denmark. That is not the case. Icelandic Independence Day falls on June 17. Jon Sigurosson was a patriot who worked hard to achieve Icelandic independence. In honor of his efforts, it’s his birthday that is recognized as Icelandic Independence Day.
But back to the Deuce of August, it was on this date in 1874 that the new Constitution was presented to Iceland by King Christian the IX of Denmark. The King asked all the churches in the country to hold services on August 2nd. The tradition spread to North America. The celebration came to Winnipeg in 1890, and by 1899, the tradition had spread to Pembina County.
The Deuce of August is sponsored by the seven member towns of the Icelandic Communities Association of Northeast North Dakota. The annual event is held in Mountain. The other communities are Gardar, Hollson, Vidalin, Fjalla, Thingvalla, and Svold. It is the largest Icelandic festival in the country. People come from across the United States, Canada, and Iceland to participate. The North Dakota Tourism Department confirms that it is the oldest ethnic festival in the state. The town of Mountain with a population of about 100 plays host to thousands of people every year.
One of the most popular attractions is the Genealogy Center, staffed by Icelandic Roots genealogists. Other activities include band concerts, street dances, car shows, a parade, and the sale of Icelandic souvenirs. Organizers stress that while some activities are familiar, they offer new things every year to keep the festival interesting.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher.
Cavalier County Republican. “117th Deuce of August Celebration in Mountain.” http://www.cavaliercountyextra.com/2016/07/23/117th-deuce-august-celebration-mountain/ Accessed 11 June 2018.
Yahoo News. “Icelandic Deuce of August.” https://www.yahoo.com/news/icelandic-deuce-august-independence-festival-draws-thousands-tiny-134253799.html Accessed 11 June 2018.
North Dakota Horizons. “North Dakota Icelanders.” https://www.ndhorizons.com/articles/50/north-dakota-icelanders-a-small-community-celebrating-heritage-in-a-big-way.aspx Accessed 11 June 2018.