Historic Sites of Manitoba: Kirkjubol Cemetery (Hecla Island, Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park)
In 1875, a party of 31 Icelandic settlers landed on the shore of Hecla Island, known at that time as Big Island, now part of the Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park. The islanders petitioned the federal government to permit them to settle it in a different way than the norm on the mainland. They asked for 160-acre homesteads to be 20 chains (about 1,320 feet) wide, extending inland from the lakeshore. As they spread out along the shore, they gave their homesteads Icelandic names that, in many cases, described features at the site. On the southeast corner of the island was the homestead of Kirkjubol (“kirk-you-bole” = church abode), situated near Hvammur (= dell or valley) and Skogarnes (= forest point). It was called Kirkjubol because plans had called for a church to be constructed here. Fate intruded before the church building could be constructed.
During the fall and winter of 1876, there was a smallpox epidemic on the island. Three physicians, Dr. David Young, Dr. Henry Beddome, and Dr. Baldwin, came by dog team to assist but they could do little. At least a dozen epidemic victims were buried in the new Kirkjubol Cemetery. The cemetery continued to be used for other burials. There are over 40 persons known to be buried in it. The Icelandic community on Hecla Island nevertheless thrived and, by the time of a census in 1878, there were 204 residents.
Between 1879 and 1881, hearing of better land to the south, many of the islanders moved away, including some of the residents at Kirkjubol who moved to North Dakota. In 1886, the present-day Hecla Island church site was chosen, farther north on the island, so a church was never built at Kirkjubol. The cemetery’s location was lost to all but a few long-time residents. The site is forested with swamps in low-lying areas. There is a large, open clearing with waist-high grass. A two-storey log structure, still standing, was built by Kristmundur Jonsson family, who arrived from Iceland in 1893 and settled at Kirkjubol in 1894. Valdi Johnson, a descendant, owned Kirkjubol until at least 1968.
The original wooden grave markers have long-since rotted away. On 28 September 2003, a monument was unveiled at the site by four Kirkjubol descendants. It lists the names of 23 people (16 of them infants and children) known to be buried here but another 20 unidentified persons are also here. The site is accessible via a walking trail along the Lake Winnipeg shoreline. It is just under 1½ miles from the nearest road.
“Mikley: The Magnificent Island, Treasures of Memories, Hecla Island: 1876-1976” by Ingibjorg Sigurgeirsson McKillop, Winnipeg, 1976, pages 205. [Manitoba Legislative Library, F5648.H43 McK]
“Kirkjubol Cemetery resting place for Hecla smallpox victims,” Interlake Spectator, 13 October 2003, page 37.
We thank Rick Hurst and Nelson Gerrard for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 16 April 2017
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