Our History

Rogue Sermon leads to formation of Winnipeg Icelandic Church

Magnus Skaptason -1850-1932 and the “Break Away Sermon”

Magnus Skaptason was born in Iceland; his father was a physician. Educated in Iceland, ordained a minister in 1875, he served 12 years in Iceland. The Icelandic Lutheran Church was more liberal than many Lutheran churches in North America.

With his wife and children, he arrived in Canada in 1887, to minister to six parishes along the shore of Lake Winnipeg: Hecla, Riverton Hnausa, Arnes, Gimli and Willow Point.

Read more: Rogue Sermon leads to formation of Winnipeg Icelandic Church

125th Legacy Project – Memorial Garden

Not a gardening project…..(at least not yet)

The Memorial Garden is a space where we will honour those who have passed on. There are many ways to create this type of space of some of the design elements we will explore include the following:

  • Will we have a scatter garden area for ashes?
  • Will there be small memorial plaques for names and dates or not?
  • Will we have a “Memorial” book to create a history?
  • Will this space be for pets as well as people?
  • Should the space be open for anyone or just people who are members or active in the Church?
  • Will we have a space to sit in the garden area?
  • Should we have some kind of UU art or sculpture like an outdoor chalice?
  • What are the various types of operating models for memorial gardens so as to be self-funding for care and upkeep?

If you find these questions interesting and would like to be involved please talk to Liz Redston for more information at 204 475-1204, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please download and print 125th Memorial Garden Handout and Survey (PDF) and include it in your email to Liz, or put it in her mail folder at church. 

The Remarkable Laura Goodman Salverson

Virginia Martin
October 2015

Laura Goodman Salverson, the award winning author self identified as a Unitarian in her listings in Who's Who in Canada in the 1940s and 1950s. She is also listed as one of the speakers seventy five years ago when the church celebrated its 50th anniversary. Attempts are being made to locate additional information about her 1941 presentation.

Laura was born in Winnipeg. Her parents were immigrants from Iceland. The family struggled economically and moved frequently. She left Winnipeg as a child but returned in the early 1940s and lived here for about 15 years. Laura was the first person of Icelandic heritage to win a Governor General (GG) award. She won two within two years. Her novel, The Dark Weaver, won the GG for fiction in 1937. Her autobiography Confessions of an Immigrant's Daughter won the GG non fiction award in 1939.

Read more: The Remarkable Laura Goodman Salverson

The History of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg

The First Icelandic Unitarian Church

Freethinkers among the Lutheran Icelanders who immigrated to Manitoba after the 1865 eruption of Mount Hecla founded our church in 1891. Its first minister was Bjorn Pétursson, energetically assisted by Jennie Elizabeth McCain, the Unitarian missionary in St. Paul, Minnesota. They married, and she succeeded him as minister in Winnipeg after his death.

Read more: Our Church History

Conceptual Design

We have a beautiful conceptual design for our property designating space for a Memorial Garden adjacent to our Sanctuary on the south east side.

Memorial Project Goal

Using a collaborative feedback process, develop a conceptual design and detailed plan for the proposed Memorial Garden; identify potential fund raising options for completing the project and support the on-going care and upkeep of the Memorial Garden.

How to Get Involved

Join the upcoming discussions in March to talk about what a Memorial Garden means to you?  Over the next year we will:

  • Host a congregational presentation and discussion on Memorial Garden planning – options and ideas
  • Create a working group to help research ideas and examples from other UU Churches and elsewhere
  • Develop recommendations based on the congregational input process and present to all for discussion and decision on a final design concept
  • Create a detailed plan for the Memorial Garden design and a process guide for how to manage and maintain a Memorial Garden for generations to come
  • We are not looking at fundraising for construction in 2016
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you would like to be part of the working group

June Gislason 1921-2014

June McKnight, born in 1921, lived on the family farm, and completed her education in Homewood, Manitoba. She moved to Winnipeg where she earned both her teacher's and principal's certificate. Her first teaching position was at Steep Rock in 1940.

She met her husband Thor during her time at Steep Rock. Thor's family was Unitarian. The couple was married in 1943 by Rev. Phillip Peturson, the long time minister of the church. The family moved to several places in Manitoba. In 1954 with their four children they moved to Winnipeg.

June continued to teach and earned her bachelor's degree in 1975 when she was 54 years old. She was a dedicated teacher and was recognized by the Canadian College of Teachers in 1981 as 'Teacher of the Year" in Manitoba. She developed and piloted a number of innovative programs which resulted in her being described as 'The teacher's measure of a teacher."

June was a long-time member of the Unitarian Church. She contributed to the Religious Education Program (RE). In the mid eighties she was a teacher and chair of the RE committee. During an interim between appointments, she also served as Director of Religious Education.

Read more: June Gislason

A Brief History of Our Stained Glass Windows

by Donald A. Bailey Sunday, 6 October 1996, of the First Unitarian Universalist Church - Abridged

The Artist: Fridrik Sveinsson/Fred Swanson (1864-1942)

A house painter and sign painter by profession, Fridrik Sveinsson had been born in Iceland in 1864, but he moved to Canada as a child and then to Winnipeg in 1882. Although his brother attained the rare distinction for an Icelander of becoming a Roman Catholic bishop, Fridrik Sveinsson became a charter member of the First Icelandic Unitarian Church, founded in Winnipeg in February 1891.

Read more: Our Historic Stained-Glass Windows

Björn, Jennie, and the First Icelandic Unitarian Society: A Love Story

Early in 1886, Björn Pétursson, a 59-year-old Icelandic immigrant who had been in North America for about a decade, read an advertisement for the Post Office Mission, an early Unitarian outreach effort. He sent away for materials and received a reply from Jennie McCaine, who was the general secretary of the mission in St. Paul, Minnesota. Over the course of the summer and early autumn, Björn devoured the materials Jennie had sent him and, in mid-October, he wrote to her, saying, “I am fully satisfied that I belong to your church, heart and soul. ... I recognize in the Unitarian movement the reformation I have long hoped for and expected and should be glad to get a chance to promote the same among my countrymen …”

Read more: Björn, Jennie, and the First Icelandic Unitarian Society: A Love Story

125th Anniversary – Historical Snapshot

Winnipeg Unitarians and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage

A few days before we celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of our congregation, Manitobans will mark the centennial of women winning the vote in this province – the first province to enfranchise women. The two anniversaries are not unrelated.

Read more: Winnipeg Unitarians and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage