Guttormur Jónsson Guttormsson (1878-1966)

Riverton, Manitoba

Guttormur J. Guttormsson (1878–1966) was born at Víðivellir, a farm near Riverton in New Iceland, a settlement of Icelandic immigrants in the interlake region of Manitoba. Guttormur’s parents, Jón Guttormsson and Pálína Ketilsdóttir, had immigrated to Canada from the east of Iceland in 1875, though his mother died when he was just seven years old and his father when he was sixteen. Guttormur received just a few years of formal education before he was forced to leave school. He spent most of his life earning a living farming the land first settled by his parents. Despite his lack of proper schooling, Guttormur was a voracious reader, and his extensive self-education, it seems, played no small role in fostering of his own poetic impulses. Guttormur’s first published book of poetry, Jón Austfirðingur og nokkur smákvæði, appeared in Winnipeg 1909, and was followed by several other published collections, Bóndadóttir (1920), Gaman og alvara (1930), Hunangsflugur (1944), Kvæðasafn (1947), and Kanadaþistill (1958). Kvæði: úrval (1976) and Áróra/Aurora (1993), a book of English translations of some of Guttormur’s poems, were both published post-humously.

Guttormur’s poetry is remarkable for its literary and aesthetic merits, but also for the fact that, though the poet was born and lived his whole life in Canada, it is written in Icelandic. Icelandic was his first language and, it appears, the channel through which his poetic impulses discovered their expression. Guttormur’s literary yield was not, however, restricted solely to poetry, and this was evident with the publication of his Tíu leikrit (1930), which Professor Watson Kirkconnell described as “an isolated phenomenon in Icelandic-Canadian literature.”

Guttormur J. Guttormsson was awarded the Distinguished Decoration of The Order of the Falcon by the Icelandic government for his contributions to Icelandic literature in 1939, and ten years later was further recognized with the Decoration of Grand Knight of The Order of the Falcon.

Shortly after Guttormur’s death in 1966, at the age of 88, his extensive library and his writing desk were donated by his family to the University of Manitoba, housed in the Icelandic Collection of the Elizabeth Dafoe Library.