Memorable Manitobans: Rögnvaldur Pétursson (1877-1940)
Cleric, building contractor, editor.
Born in Iceland on 14 August 1877, he emigrated to the United States with his family when he was six years old, but later went to Winnipeg. He studied at Wesley College (now the University of Winnipeg) from 1896 to 1898 and then went to Meadville Theological school to train for the Unitarian ministry. He became minister of the First Icelandic Unitarian Society in 1903, ushering in a period of growth for the organization. Pétursson argued for the fundamental unity of religious experience, combining Icelandic mythology with Christian scripture, through the insights of modern philosophy and science. He played a vital part in the creation of the First Federated Church of Unitarians and other Liberal Christians in 1920.
He was the founding President of the Icelandic National League in North America, established to promote good citizenship and pride in ethnic heritage amongst Icelanders in North America. He organized the North American delegations to the millennial celebrations of Iceland’s Althing, the world’s oldest Parliament in 1930 and nearly a decade later, organized the Icelandic exhibition at the New York World’s Fair. In 1904, he launched the monthly literary magazine Heimir, of which he served as editor until 1910.
A prolific writer, many of his works appeared in magazines and newspapers, and wrote Ferðalýsinger (Travelogues) in 1914, and a decade after his death, a posthumous anthology of his sermons and lectures, Fölger er foldin (Fair is the Earth), appeared. In 1928, he received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Meadville University, and in 1930, a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Iceland. In 1939, only weeks before his death, he was made a Grand Knight of the Order of the Falcon by the Icelandic government.
He died at his Winnipeg home, 45 Home Street, on 30 January 1940 and was buried in the Brookside Cemetery. He was survived by his wife Holmfridur J. Petursson, daughter Margaret Petursson, son Thorvaldur Petursson, son Olafur Petursson, son Peter Jonas Petursson, brother Hannes Petursson, and brother Olafur Petursson.
Some of his construction works in Manitoba included:
“Dr. Petursson, pioneer pastor, buried today,” Winnipeg Tribune, 3 February 1940, page 3.
“Minister leaves $72,831 estate,” Winnipeg Tribune, 23 May 1940, page 14.
“Early Icelandic builders in Winnipeg” by S. Aleck Thorarinson, Logberg Heimskringla, 30 March 1967, page 5.
Camelot Apartments, 400 Assiniboine Avenue, Peterson Projects, February 2008.
Icelandic Unitarians, http://members.shaw.ca/icelandic-unitarians/My_Homepage_Files/Page3.html
This page was prepared by Kris Keen and Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 1 June 2022