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Icelandic Emigration

This aerial photograph shows the rolling terrain and the Medicine River that attracted Icelandic settlers to the Markerville area of Alberta. Although by no means the largest group of Scandinavian settlers, unique national values and experiences provided Icelandic settlers with the tools needed to survive in the difficult pioneering conditions of western Canada.

Icelanders had first begun arriving in Canada in the 1870s, hoping to escape deteriorating economic conditions in their homeland. The country has few natural resources, and can afford to support only a relatively small number of people. Farming and shepherding had been becoming more and more difficult, due to recent crop failures and epidemics of sheep diseases. Also, many Icelanders resented the Danish tenant farming system, whereby the natives rented land from the Danish crown.

The original Icelandic settlers in Alberta did not arrive directly from Iceland, but from the United States. The move to Alberta was actually the third pioneering attempt by these people, after having originally settled in Wisconsin or Manitoba, before moving to North Dakota. But as the settlement population continued to grow, and farming conditions worsen, the settlers were willing to listen as scout Sigurdur J. Bjornson described the land in the park belt area of what was to become the province of Alberta. Not only was the soil favourable for farming, he asserted, but there was plenty of fish and water available, as well as food for livestock. The journey was long and difficult, but finally, on 27 June, 1888, the pioneers loaded their luggage and wagons across the flooded Red Deer River. In 1889, more families arrived in from North Dakota. The community at Markerville, near Red Deer, was to survive and thrive because of the distinctive spirit in which the Icelandic people met the challenges of the Canadian west.

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  • Stephansson House: Part One - Stephan Guthmundarson Stephansson was a famous Icelandic poet before he came to Markerville, Alberta. Hear about Stephansson and his little farmhouse near Red Deer.
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  • Stephansson House: Part Two - The Stephansson farmhouse, at Markerville, Alberta, grew with the Stephansson family, room by room. Stephansson House is now a historic site.
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  • Stephansson House: Part Three - Listen to the history of Stephansson House's unique architectural details, from its brilliant colours to its eight lightning rods!
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  • Stephansson House: Part Four - Stephan G. Stephansson has been called the Shakespeare of Iceland. Hear some of Stephansson's poems, and learn about the man himself.
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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.