We met in the very early morning in the Creamery Museum yard; there was a chill in the air so I gave her my Icelandic woollen shawl to put over her shoulders.
At the big rocks, I explained, is where the huldufólk live. Most people have never seen them but everyone knows of the mischief they cause.
They can sour the milk, tip over the barrel of whey, cause the spinning wheel to break down and if you ever misplace anything you just know the huldufólk moved it. The story begins when a mother decided to hide her children that were not washed when God came to visit. She sent all the children with dirty faces out the back door and they never came back. They turned into life-sized fairies much like us; they marry, have children and work but live in the rocks on the barren landscape in Iceland. Wayne Linneberg, local historian, spent one summer researching how the huldufólk got to Markerville. He found out they came with the first immigrants in 1888. You can get his research paper in the Pint Sized Gift Shop in the Creamery Museum. We walked around the Creamery looking for the hidden people, we had been told the best time to see them was at dawn. We stood on the walking bridge to see if we could catch sight of them foraging for breakfast on the riverbank. The early morning light was magical, almost super natural, so I felt sure we would spot a huldufólk – but saw nothing!
We strolled down Main Street, reading the posted plaques that let visitors know where the first building used to stand. All the time we felt we were being watched. There was a hotel, a meat market, livery stable, a pool hall, and two stores. Behind one store is where the library used to be. It was first started in 1892 at the Tindastoll post office. The farmers could get their mail and exchange books. They even had a literary society called Iðunn. Those Icelanders like to read, recite and versify.
We sat quietly on the riverbank by the giant cream can admiring the huge stocks of grain coming out the top, hoping the huldufólk would let themselves be seen near this monument honouring all the Markerville pioneers. We sat perfectly still for twenty minutes, only hearing cows softly lowing from across the river and then a mouse ran though the grass at our feet. Something had frightened it. We did not see huldufólk! I guess we didn’t believe strongly enough and they knew it.
As the light turned from gray/blue to a yellow/orange glow we walked across the street to the Fensala Hall and went inside. Huldufólk had lived here for many years. Their presence has been documented in photos taken over the years, showing the glow of their eyes when nothing else could be seen. The hidden people could really tell some tales about the parties and celebrations held here.
On New Year’s Eve 1891, the honoured poet and orator Stephan G. Stephansson said these words “If we feel our community lacks some amenities needed to make it a more pleasant place, we can do something about it. We know nature did not corral all the hardships and leave them near Red Deer… So if we feel something is amiss, let’s get our hands out of our pockets and do something about it.” That spirit is alive and well in Markerville today!”
Then we walked past Mozart Street to Johnson Street, right up the new steps of the Historic Markerville Lutheran Church, which is sitting a little higher today on a new foundation. We peeked in, I thought I heard a voice; could that be the ghost of Rev. Hjalmsson giving one of his four-hour sermons? The huldufólk remembered back then, the men would go out for a smoke but the women were made of tougher stuff. They sat in the church for the duration of the sermon. Those strong women helped form “Vonin” Icelandic Ladies Aid in 1891, which is still active today.
A short walk brought us right back to the rocks in the museum yard; Markerville is very small. The sun was fully up and we could feel its welcome warmth. We sat down to enjoy coffee with lump sugar and kleinur. Later that day many Alberta Icelanders came together in Markerville for a picnic. It was June 17th.