A keen group of 23 Delta History Hunters, including regulars and newcomers, gathered at Trinity Community Lutheran Church hall in Point Roberts on April 25. Awaiting our arrival on this wonderfully sunny spring morning, were three members of the Point Roberts Historical Society and Icelandic community, with ginger cookies and coffee ready in the urn. Sylvia Schonberg had organized the trip with DHH Claudette Hayward, and greeted us on arrival, together with Pauleen de Haan. She then handed over to Joan Linde, who gave an informative talk on the history of the Icelanders in Point Roberts.
The original Icelandic settlers arrived in 1893, some by way of Winnipeg, and claimed squatters’ rights. Included in a 1904 list of squatters are such families as the Thorsteinsons, Solomons, Samuelsons, Gudmundsons, and Myrdals. They were not originally able to pre-empt land as the Point was held by the US Coastguard; the Icelanders only gained the right to own land after 1905. They made a living from fishing and cannery work, raising cows and growing vegetables. Salmon were caught in traps and reef nets offshore. Craft work was important to the community, and still is: beautiful hand-made quilts and a display of potholders decorated the church hall.
We continued our tour by looking inside the historic church, which is a hundred years old. It is simply decorated in wood, with white painted walls and ceiling, with a narrow-plank, fir floor. The arch of the ceiling and the curved balustrade at the altar are reminiscent of the congregation’s sea-faring ancestors. The magnificent pipe organ, a work of careful restoration, is new to the church.
The sunshine beckoned us outside and we drove the short distance east along A.P.A. Road (the initials stand for Alaska Packers’ Association) to the cemetery at Lily Point. Here we wandered among the grave stones, surrounded by green lawns, trees bursting into leaf and birds singing. Joan, Sylvia and Paulette shared stories of their families who are buried here, many of them bearing the same names as on the list of original pioneers. Sometimes the spelling differed slightly. We finished at a stone monument to the Icelandic Settlers of Point Roberts, which the President of Iceland, Her Excellency Vigdis Finnbogadottir had unveiled on October 22 1988. After thanking our hosts for the tour, the DHH had a choice of directions to drift in. Many strolled through the woodland of Lily Point Park to the first cliff lookout over Boundary Bay. Here a display panel describes the A.P.A cannery that once stood on the shore, 200 ft below the cliff top. Only a stretch of wooden pilings on the beach now remain. The sea was flat calm and ravens and eagles soared beneath us. Returning to the cars, we then drove to the Point Roberts Community Hall, where our hosts were once again ready to show us a display of extraordinary quilts by artist, Judy Ross. In 2001, many abandoned houses and buildings were being torn down. Judy quickly took colour photographs of them, before the bulldozers moved in, as well as other old houses in the area, and created a series of illustrative quilts. She later donated all 18 quilts to the Point Roberts Historical Society. Other mementos from the Icelandic community and old photographs are also collected here and the Society hope to have a permanent museum space for these and other artifacts in the future.
About half of us lingered on at the Point and had a delicious lunch at Brewster’s restaurant. H. Brewster was one of the original Point Roberts’ Squatters as identified in Ed.C Ellet’s December 1904 report.
Thank you to all our kind hosts for a wonderful day in Point Roberts, WA, USA. We hope to be back again one day, perhaps with time to explore the cannery sites and Lily Point Park.