The Markerville Lutheran Church and its history has great significance for many of us living in and around the Markerville community.
Our grandparents and great-grandparents were involved in the planning committees, the construction and the ongoing care and operation of the church.
In 1900, with the assistance of a Lutheran missionary pastor sent from Winnipeg, a congregation of 130 members was formed from the districts of Markerville, Tindastoll, Solheima, Burnt Lake and Red Deer.
It was named the Alberta Congregation. (Remember, this was even before Alberta became a province.)
In 1906, this Alberta Congregation, already served by Rev. Petur Hjalmsson, decided to build a church in Markerville. So in January 1907, the congregation formed a building committee and construction began. Two thousand board feet of timber was hauled from Innisfail, while blocks of limestone for the foundation were hauled from the Red Deer River Quarry. The church was completed by the end of May that same year. It was a job well done in spite of difficult circumstances and financial plight. Further to God’s blessings, it was fully paid for in 1911 through various fund-raising events and donations.
After a few years, widespread interest, religious differences and the development of the communities led to financial problems that make keeping a full time clergy difficult. Rev. Hjalmsson, who continued to live in the district, conducted baptismal services, confirmation classes, funerals and weddings on an “as needed” basis for the next 35 years.
Then in the 1940s Lutheran worship services were once again held weekly, with the addition of Sunday School for the children. The 1950s saw a change of clergy, a very musical Presbyterian minister who started a choir. Rev. Ralston was followed by Rev. Yoos, also Presbyterian, who came in 1956. He cared for the congregation on a regular basis until 1963.
Some of the folks who served for many years during these decades were: John Christvinson, the bell ringer and secretary treasurer for almost 60 years, Phyllis Johannson, who faithfully served as organist and pianist for over forty years, Albert Johannson, Little Joe Johannson and Ken Sveinson who each served as president for twenty or so years, and Gisli Eirikson, secretary treasurer for 18 years. Sandee Birse organized Christmas Eve services that have attracted “full house crowds” since 1981.
The Icelandic Ladies Aide “Vonin” also played an important role in the care and concern of the church. In 1912, their minutes referred to fund-raising to assist in the “beautification and cleaning” of the church, and just last year, that was our same topic as our Vonin meeting discussed a cleaning day and purchase of new curtains.
Despite the decreasing numbers in the congregation, many improvements were made over the years. The present chairs were purchased second hand from Innisfail Theatre in the 1940s. This was also the year when the wood and coal stove was replaced with an oil burning furnace, followed by a newer gas furnace in 1999. Electric power came in the early 1950s and, in honour of the pioneers, a cross was erected behind the pulpit and communion rail. The coloured glass windows were installed in 1987 by various families in memory of loved ones, and then replaced again, after the 2006 vicious hail storm. Of course, the church has been painted and shingles replaced a number of times with labour and materials often donated by members of the community. We also acknowledge the financial gifts and frequent encouragement and support received from the Calgary and Edmonton Icelandic Clubs.
From 1966 – 2007, the church, commonly known by then as Markerville Community Church, was looked after by a small committee in conjunction with the Tindastoll Cemetery. Then, in 2007, with the permission and blessing of the Stephan G. Stephansson Icelandic Society, work began to obtain proper up-to-date and legal title so that transfer could be made to the Icelandic Society. After much researching of documents and trips to the lawyer, the original Alberta Icelandic Lutheran Congregation of Markerville, Tindastoll, Solheima, Burnt Lake and Red Deer became registered as the Markerville Lutheran Church with legal title transferred to Stephan G. Stephansson Icelandic Society in February 2008. This event opened up more realistic possibilities for restoration and the ongoing care and keeping of the church. It meant we could apply for financial assistance and for Provincial Historic Resource Designation. So, with a committee, volunteers and local financing in place, we made provincial as well as county applications.
The applications called for records of original construction, architectural significance, names of people involved and their connection to the church and community. A major factor was the church remaining on its original site and being still structurally sound and upright with the exception of the deteriorating foundation. Historical records showed the church as an early and excellent example of Lutheran church architecture. It may have been the only Icelandic Lutheran Church ever constructed in Alberta.
In April, 2009, we received Provincial Historic Resource Designation. Alberta Historical Resources describes “the simple form of the building, its largely unornamented exterior, and the projecting central tower with steeple are typical of rural Lutheran churches in Alberta. The same sensibility informs the design of the interior space, which features white walls and simple, well-crafted furnishings and finishings. The church remains largely unaltered since its construction and represents one of the earliest, most typical, and most intact of the many historic Lutheran churches constructed in Alberta’s rural areas.”
Provincial and County grants also became available, and so restoration began. The roof was re-shingled in 2008. Then in spring 2009, the church was moved off the old crumbling foundation and a crawl space basement was dug and poured, followed by a move onto the new foundation. The interior and exterior were painted, and 2010 saw landscaping and walkways established and development of a parking lot.
Historic Markerville Lutheran Church has been and continues to be a unique landmark, clearly visible among the other structures of the hamlet and adding ambiance to the community. Besides being a quiet, unique setting for special church services, weddings, family celebrations, gospel concerts, etc. it has become a tourist attraction among the other century-old designated historical resources – Historic Markerville Creamery and Fensala Hall – all of which are owned and operated by Stephan G. Stephansson Icelandic Society.
We welcome visitors, especially during our summer season May to September. Meanwhile, we are in thanksgiving and celebration mode as we continue to work at fulfilling our mission of “preserving and interpreting history along with promoting culture and community fellowship.”
The church will be open the day of the INL of NA luncheon in Markerville. The luncheon is at the Fensala Hall which is one block from the church.