British Columbia

How a Christmas baking contest and CBC Radio led to a family reunion

When Allison Stevenson shared a family recipe for a Christmas baking contest on CBC Radio, a listener hundreds of kilometers away realized they might be related.

A unique family recipe shared in a CBC Radio baking contest connected two branches of a family tree

Vinarterta is a classic holiday treat for Icelandic-Canadians. (John Einarson/CBC News)

A family recipe has reconnected two branches of a family tree that has Canadian roots extending back to 1930s Winnipeg.

Daybreak Northwhich airs in Northern B.C., was holding a holiday baking contest in which listeners were invited to share their traditional family recipes. 

The Byrons and Stevensons are separated by a long drive, but were able to connect with each other by listening to the same CBC Radio program. (Google Maps)

Allison Stevenson of Fort Nelson contributed her favourite: the vinarterta, a Canadian-Icelandic cake made with alternating layers of cookies and prune jelly.

She also shared a bit of family history in an email to the program.

"My family (who immigrated to Manitoba from Iceland in the 1930s) has a tradition of making a vinarterta every Christmas, but our family does something extra special instead of white icing we make it pink!" she wrote.

"We call it the Byron family tradition. My grandfather's last name was Bjornsson, but when his family immigrated to Canada it was anglicised to Byron and our family has grown ever since."   

Connected through cooking

That caught the ear of Sylvia Byron, who lives 900 kilometers away in Vanderhoof, B.C.

An image from the Byron family tree, shared by Allison Stevenson. (Allison Stevenson)

"My husband's family is Byron, renamed from Bjornson when they moved to Manitoba from Iceland," she wrote in a message to show hosts Carolina de Ryk and Robert Doane. 

"And his aunt makes a wicked good vinarterta."

Byron and Stevenson started doing some research into their respective family trees and discovered they are, indeed, connected.

"It sounds like Sylvia is my second cousin's wife," wrote Stevenson.

Byron was then able to confirm that her husband's grandfather and Stevenson's grandfather were brothers.

Reuniting with roots

For Byron, the discovery is a pathway to help her children connect with their roots.

"I get really excited when I hear about Icelandic stories in B.C. because most of it's in Manitoba," she said. "I'm so excited to bring in heritage to my children's lives because the Icelandic piece is a little bit missing to us."

She already had plans to incorporate vinarterta into their family's holiday celebrations this year, but now she is adopting the Byron family tradition of making a Christmas vinarterta with pink icing. 

The two families are hoping to meet in person in 2017.

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