Translator’s Foreword

This collection gathers together 155 letters to the editor published in the Icelandic-language children’s newspaper Sólskin (Engl. Sunshine). The letters date from Sólskin’s inauguration in October 1915 to April 1918, after which the paper underwent a major format change. Sólskin was a part of the weekly broadsheet newspaper Lögberg, founded in 1888 and published out of Winnipeg. Sólskin was created and edited by Lögberg’s then editor Dr. Sigurður Júlíus Jóhannesson (1868–1956), also known as Siggi Júl, who first served briefly as the paper’s editor in 1914 and then again starting in late 1915. He departed from the role in November 1917 on account of his public opposition to conscription. The Sólskin letters were mainly written by first-, second-, and sometimes even third-generation immigrant children living in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, North Dakota, and Washington state. The collection presented here includes a few letters written by adult members of the North American-Icelandic community where they explicitly reference their own children or refer to their own childhood experiences. It also contains two letters written by a teenage Halldór Laxness (1902–98) who was still known as Halldór Guðjónsson at the time. These two letters are among the eventual Nobel laureate’s earliest published writings.

The letters are organized chronologically with the date of publication and the volume and issue number of Sólskin in which they appeared in square brackets in the upper right-hand corner of the page. They were almost exclusively printed in Icelandic, with the one exception of a letter written and printed in English. Other letters were evidently written and then translated from English to Icelandic, presumably by the editor himself. In the following collection, excepting the one letter printed in English, transcriptions of each letter in the original Icelandic appear first followed directly by my English translations. With respect to the Icelandic transcriptions, while I have tried to correct any clear typos, readers of Icelandic may note that the original texts contain some spellings and other orthographic features that differ from contemporary standardized Icelandic. In addition, while readers may be enticed to approach these letters with an intent to examine the children’s use of the Icelandic language in particular, doing so risks overlooking the adult editor’s role in bringing these letters to print. For example, in several instances, letter writers specifically asked the editor to correct any mistakes that might appear in their letters. In a few other cases, parents evidently wrote letters on behalf of their children, and there are likely other letters that were written wholly or with the aid of the letter writer’s parents, older siblings, or other adults.

Along with their letters, many children submitted stories, poems, jokes, etc., that were printed Sólskin. I have chosen to omit such material here since most of this material was copied from other print sources and in order to keep the focus on the letters themselves. However, where possible, I have located and noted where the writers may have encountered the previously published material accompanying their letters, with hyperlinks to open access versions of these sources where possible. These notes likely offer some insight into the reading habits of children in the North American-Icelandic community at the time. In those instances when their submitted material was included within their letters, the omitted text is marked by three dots in square brackets, i.e., “[…]” In other instances, where letters mention or allude to material previously published in Sólskin, I have also tried to provide relevant context. One noteworthy event mentioned in many of the letters from August 1917 onward was the creation of the Sólskin-fund. The purpose of the fund was to collect money to go toward improvements for the Betel home for the elderly. The home first opened in Winnipeg in 1915 following a campaign by a group of North American-Icelandic Lutheran Women and later moved to Gimli the same year. Many issues of Sólskin following the creation of the fund are filled with lists of names and their respective contributions to the fund. These lists are not normally included here unless specifically attached to a letter, where short lists may be written out and longer lists summarized in the notes.

The letters printed in Sólskin and collected here are valuable historical sources with respect to the lives and experiences of members of the North American-Icelandic community in the early 20th century. More than this, they provide specific and relatively rare insight into the perspectives of children in the community as recorded during childhood. In this way, they present new opportunities for research on the culture and history of the North American-Icelandic community, which has otherwise tended to focus on adult lives and experiences or, when addressing childhood, on the recollected experiences of adults. The letters are valuable sources in several other research contexts too, including but not limited to the study of Prairie history, diaspora, migration, and settlement studies, children’s culture and history, and the use of ego-documents for historical research. On a more personal level, I hope that the descendants and relatives of some of the letter writers, particularly those unable to read the letters in their original Icelandic, will find value in this collection.


Christopher Crocker

Winnipeg, MB