Vikings and athletes: Big crowds expected in Gimli as Summer Games, Icelandic Festival overlap

Islendingadagurinn launches Friday night while the Canada Summer Games sailing event wraps up, and organizers expect the Manitoba Interlake town to be packed during August long weekend.

Islendingadagurinn launches Friday night as Canada Summer Games medal ceremony wraps up

The 128th Icelandic Festival runs in Gimli, Man., until Aug. 7. (CBC)

The start of the August long weekend means the end of Gimli's festivals for the summer — but this long weekend will be a particularly busy one for the town in Manitoba's Interlake as Vikings and Canada Summer Games athletes mingle.

The Icelandic Festival of Manitoba — or Islendingadagurinn, if you want to take on the challenge of pronouncing it — launches Friday evening and overlaps with some other major events happening in the town this weekend.

Festival president Robbie Rousseau called Islendingadagurinn the crown jewel of rural Manitoba festivals. 

"It is our 128th annual Islendingadagurinn," said Rousseau. "This is our 85th anniversary of the festival being held in Gimli."

At the 125th edition of the of the festival, the organizing committee set a goal to build a park around Gimli's iconic Viking statue. Three years later, that vision will be realized as Viking Park has its official grand opening on Saturday at noon.

"That we're very, very proud of. That's going to be a large celebration," said Rousseau.

He said there will be plenty of attractions for families in Gimli this weekend, including a midway, a sand castle competition, a beach volleyball tournament and Manitoba music throughout the festival.

Of course, the highlight is always the Viking village re-enactment where about 100 actors recreate the Viking lifestyle. 

"They do Viking battles daily at 3 o'clock. It's always incredible," said Rousseau.

For those who want to try some Icelandic treats, there's no shortage of mouth-watering food nearby.

"We have our beloved vinarterta," said Rousseau, describing it as a many-layered, cookie-like cake made with figs or jam. "It's your wedding cake or your celebration cake in pretty much any Icelandic family."

There's also ponnukokur, an Icelandic pancake, and rullupylsa, which is a roll made with lamb.

"We have a large delegation of people coming from Iceland, so you will see and feel Iceland in Manitoba," said Rousseau.

Mayor expects large crowds

Gimli's mayor, Randy Woroniuk, said the town has been abuzz with activity for the past week thanks to hosting the sailing events for the Canada Summer Games, as well as the Gimli Film Festival.

He expects big crowds in the town again this long weekend.

"In past years it's been up to 20,000 people have showed up in this community over the three-day weekend," he said. "The weather is supposed to co-operate and so we're looking to have quite a time here."

Woroniuk said the Games' medal ceremonies for sailing will take place Friday at 7 p.m. at the town's harbour stage. 

You can just feel the vibrancy, feel the energy as these events progress.- Gimli Mayor Randy Woroniuk

"The Vikings are actually going to be parading with the athletes and bringing them out to the harbour," he said.

"Since the start of the film festival just over a week ago, the energy has just been incredible. Every day there's lots of people walking the streets, the beach is full. It's been a really good summer for us. You can just feel the vibrancy, feel the energy as these events progress," Woroniuk said.

"The Islandic Festival is our last festival for the summer and we're looking forward to it."

As for parking, Woroniuk laughed. "Get your walking shoes on. Don't even try to get down Centre Street.

"I think you get a better experience walking, because you get to look inside the different shops, get to talk to different people. So I would encourage people to park as far away as you can and just walk."