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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Stephansson House, Part One

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A little farmhouse at Markerville pays tribute to the life of one of Alberta's greatest pioneers and poets.

Stephan Gudmundsson Stephansson was born in Iceland in 1853. Between the years of 1865 and 1874, Icelandic farmers suffered through a succession of cold winters and wet springs. Volcanoes continuously spewed ash on their farms.

As historian Lisa Mort-Putland explains, in the winter of 1872, Stephansson left his homeland, along with many other discouraged Icelandic farmers.

He decided to pack up his young family and move to North America, going originally to Dakota and moving around, and then ending up around the Markerville area, which is just outside of Red Deer. And that's where he eventually settled with his family, and he built a little farmstead, like most pioneers of the time.
But his true passion in life was writing, and he was the most amazing poet, and is very, very famous in Iceland. He is the Shakespeare of Iceland.

A large population of Icelandic immigrants had settled in the Red Deer region. And Stephansson's family participated in the sheep and dairy industry that grew up around Markerville.

Markerville became a little hub of industry. There was a creamery nearby, and all of the farms were able to deliver cream. And a lot of the farmers, coming from Iceland, had sheep and cows, and so there was quite a little woolen industry there, as well. So Stephan was able to make a living to support his passion, which was poetry.
He was an insomniac by nature, and so while he farmed during the day, he wrote volumes at night. Rarely sleeping, he would walk out into the Prairie and look over his beloved Rocky Mountains and write about explorers and about the idea of settling in a foreign land.

The poet could never forget he was also a farmer, with a family to house and feed.

He also spent a lot of time on the farm. And, as was typical with homesteaders, in order to get your parcel of land, you needed to clear the land and have a homestead built. So he would leave his wife, Helga, and his children in his mother's original home, and he would go and clear off another quarter of land.

As the number of poems increased, so did the farm and the family. The Stephansson's grew grain and herded sheep. And they raised a family of seven children in their tiny little farmhouse at Markerville.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.