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.
No matter which Icelandic household you go to in Canada or the USA, you will no doubt find a coffee mug with the Icelandic flag on it. In some cases this may be the only thing you will find related to Iceland but in many cases the coffee mug is only the tip of the iceberg.
While I was attending the Icelandic National League of Iceland’s convention in Reykjavík I had the pleasure of meeting Sara Painter, granddaughter of our 2010 fjallkona Helga Malis.
I have had the pleasure to see Helga many times in my Icelandic career but I have never seen her smile light up a room so much as it did the day she introduced Sara to many of her Icelandic friends and family at the INL of Iceland convention.
My heart was full of joy and sorrow. Joy because you could see the pride Helga had in her granddaughter and her heritage. Sorrow because I knew I would never be able to share Iceland with my amma or afi. However joy did over take my heart on this day.
After a great convention a select few of us were treated to a lovely evening at Almar Grímsson’s house in Hafnafjörður. A beautiful night was only trumped by the wonderful company. Greetings were given, thanks exchanged and, most importantly, stories were shared. However the best story came later, at a small pub in downtown Reykjavík with Sara.
This was Sara’s first trip to Iceland. As we sat outside on a patio at Hvit Perlan with a pint of Gull beer we talked about her trip. This was a 20 minute conversation; the rest of the conversation was about her amma’s coffee mugs.
I got to see Sara come to the realization of why her amma had everything Icelandic in her house. Why Icelandic food was being offered at all family gatherings, why Iceland is a main topic of many conversations and most of all why amma had such a fierce pride in her heritage. She finally understood. Iceland was just not a dot on the map. It is her amma’s way of life.
Many children these days don’t really care about where their family comes from. However, when you step foot off that plane and take your first breath of Icelandic air, see your first glacier or experience your Icelandic gathering, you will realize why there are so many Icelandic decorations in your amma’s house.
So next time you are over at your amma’s and she offers you some coffee, be sure to ask for it in her Icelandic mug. Not only will you get a good cup of coffee, you’ll get a great story as well.
In looking back on the last year, I think we can all be pleased with our accomplishments.
Established in 1918, the Icelandic National League has been involved in many worthy endeavours throughout the years and has sometimes had to fight for its survival. We can be proud that we have survived and that more and more people are benefiting from our programs, learning about and enjoying our heritage and ties to Iceland.
The year started out with a great party in Vancouver to honour the Icelandic Ski Team and their participation in the 2010 Winter Olympics. On behalf of the Vancouver club, INL of NA President Gerri McDonald gave them a copy of our recently completed INL History Book, which was many years in the making and showed our tenacity in finally completing this comprehensive history of our group.
Our links to Iceland were strengthened by our financial help to the Snorri Program for our youth; this year 15 young people went to Iceland for six weeks, as well as a smaller group of those a little older who travelled with Snorri Plus. Also, a group of young women came to Manitoba with Snorri West.
Our Vice President Ron Goodman participated in recommending students for the University of Iceland Scholarship Committee. In September, we increased our bond with the INL of Iceland by presentations of our Board members at their Annual convention. Pam Olafson Furstenau covered North Dakota, Brad Hirst talked on the Icelandic Camp and I spoke on behalf of INL of NA. Pam was added to the Board of INL of Iceland. In addition, our clubs hosted many tours led by people such as Almar Grímsson and Jonas Thor.
Our webmaster Holly Ralph had her challenges with our website, but perseverance led to success and an ever stronger website. The addition of a strong Facebook presence was Rob Olason and Pam Furstenau assured the addition of a strong Facebook presence which enhances our presence on the web.
In our continuing mandate to increase our visibility, we participated in festivals in Fargo in June (Hjemkomst, which featured Iceland this year) and in Mountain and Gimli in August (the Deuce of August and Íslendingadagurinn). We were particularly pleased that President Gerri’s efforts to produce an INL of NA banner bore fruit and we proudly participated in the parades in both towns, as well as having me as new President riding in an open car.
We welcomed back to our fold the Icelandic Communities Association club in Mountain, and are now on a campaign to attract other non-member clubs to join us. We have re-examined what our member clubs want from us, and as a result have added three new programs. The first of these is an Icelandic film program, sponsored by Donald K. Johnson, under which two Icelandic films (with English subtitles) are being screened by clubs across North America, and have been very well received. We are also working on a Settlement Tours program, under which clubs will be visiting each other and their local settlement areas. The first of these will coincide with June 17 celebrations in Winnipeg and will include our cousins from North Dakota and Minnesota.
The latest initiative is one being chaired by Rob Olason and titled INL of NA Reads. Members are being encouraged to select a book which all of us can read and discuss. The winning title will be announced at the Convention in Edmonton in April. Nominations are open on the INL of NA website http://inlofna.org/
Which leads to talk of conventions, the lifeblood of our organization. Toronto hosted the 2010 convention in April, which featured a tour of our settlement areas of Hekla and Kinmount, a varied selection of programs with speakers from Iceland, USA and Canada, films, a windup brunch with inspiring motivational speaker Linda Lundström and lots of interaction between us all. The well loved Haraldur Bessasson received the Laurence Johnson Award for Lifetime Achievement. At that time I became President with Ron Goodman of Calgary as 1st Vice President and Claire Eckley of Minneapolis as 2nd Vice President and a strong team to support us.
Since then we have increased the number of conference call executive meetings, as we had a number of issues to resolve. The main one has been the issue of conventions – how to fund them in the light of decreased financial assistance from Iceland, how to simplify them, how to ensure lots of ‘face time’ for all of us to get to know one another better, how to help smaller clubs mount them, what role in the finances INL of NA should play. Brandon has indicated their willingness to organize the 2012 convention on the understanding that they alone would not bear the financial risk. In the meantime, the strong Edmonton club is in the midst of organizing what looks like a great 2011 convention which includes many interesting elements, not the least of which is a visit by Iceland’s president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, as well as our astronaut Bjarni Trygvasson. Dates are April 28 to May 1 and registration is open now, with an Early Bird deadline coming up.
I made the rash promise of attempting to visit all the clubs during my second term, and so far have managed to get to Fargo, Mountain, Gimli, Lundar, Arborg, and Blaine, with plans in January for Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle and maybe even an exploratory visit to the (not yet member) clubs in California. It has been very rewarding to meet all these club members and hear of their triumphs and issues.
Another rewarding feature of 2010 was the close co-operation between INL of NA and Lögberg-Heimskringla, under the leadership of editor Bill Valgardson, and now interim editor, our own Joan Eyolfson Cadham. The paper just keeps getting better and better, and all are encouraged to submit stories and to subscribe. For those who are concerned about paper clutter, or protecting trees, L-H offers an online edition that is only $35 a year.
The International Visits program was active, with writer Christina Sunley of California introducing the Icelandic translation of The Tricking of Freya in Reykjavík and Akureyri, with very good results. October was the month when we all got to learn how to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull with the highly entertaining and informative whirlwind tour of Kristinn Guðjónsson to twelve clubs, under the IVP.
November saw a successful campaign to help those in need in Iceland to celebrate Christmas, with a donation from clubs, members, and matching INL donation of $2,000, to a total of over $10,000 to the five Mæðrastyrksnefnd charities. Again, INL Iceland aided us, with Almar and Ásta Sól making the presentations.
Perhaps the biggest success story of the year was the 2011 calendar, featuring Icelandic food and recipes, organized by the very capable Gwen Mann and her committee. It was an immediate sellout, followed by a second printing and then a third one, with the demand still unfilled. Our thanks to Garry Oddleifson for his unflagging efforts in getting them distributed. Dianne O’Konski and her committee are hard at work on the 2012 and 2013 calendars, which will feature Icelandic fauna and flora – the submissions have been numerous and beautiful.
2011 promises to be a good year for INL of NA, with celebrations coming up honouring the 100th birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, the father of independence in Iceland, a great convention, new programs to look forward to, an ongoing campaign to attract more member clubs and members, and lots of good fellowship and fun.
Thank you to all of you out there who have worked so hard to ensure the continuing success of the INL of NA, including our Executive, Presidents, all members, and secretary Gwen Grattan. Höldum áfram!
Bill Helgason of Winnipeg sent this account written by his amma, Oddný Sveinsdóttir of her travels from Iceland to Winnipeg in 1886. Oddný was respected as a strong and independent woman.
She often wrote poetry under the name of “Indo.” She was 20 when she took the big step, travelling alone from Iceland to Canada.
The story was first printed in the Winnipeg Free Press in 1927 and, later, in The Icelandic Canadian, in 1974. Part 1 of 2.
The snow-clad mountain tops of Iceland were fast disappearing in the distance, when I, a girl of 20 years, awoke to the fact that there was nothing left for the eye to rest upon but the grim aspect of the dark green rushing billows, which slammed themselves against the side of the ship as though desirous of swallowing it at one gulp.
It was a small steamer loaded with a miscellaneous cargo, fighting its way over the uneven surface of the ocean, battling, as it seemed, with a foam-flecked beast whose myriad eyes glowered and threatened through the dusk, ready to hypnotize the slow-moving black speck and make it do its bidding. The 200-ton little steamer carefully threaded its way through the fast-gathering darkness with a few coughs and snorts, paying no heed to the black clouds overhead nor the moaning of the angry waves around it.
It was neither the rocking of this Noah’s Ark, nor the weirdness of the scenery which had the desired effect on my peace of mind. I had wished to forget the memories that came crowding my thought, memories of good-byes to friends and the beauties of nature which I loved and missed so much. My feeling was similar to that of an ostrich who wants to bury his head in the sand. Only I must have lacked the courage, for I found it safer to stay on deck and cling to the wooden bench where I had found a seat.
Only occasionally dared I raise my eyes to the few stars which the moody sky allowed to twinkle once in a while. It may not sound nice, but it gave me the cold shivers when I thought of going down below amongst the other immigrants, for that bunkhouse happened to be right above the region where the sheep and horses were quartered; the odour arose like a spiral column through the thin boards between the animal freight and the human express. I had never before seen such a queer mixture. Nearly everything huddled together: men, beasts and baggage of all kinds and description, in the bowels of that brave little ship. And all those different goods were on their way to Canada, “the land of the free.”
My reverie was suddenly interrupted by a slim youth coming towards me, stumbling over the tangled mass of ropes and canvas littered all around the forecastle.
I was pretty certain that this youth addressed me in Danish, though in my hazy state of mind, it sounded like gibberish, which did not penetrate to the grey matter in my top story. At last I understood him to be offering me a drink of red wine out of a tumbler in his hand, which might have been a red dye for all I knew. I guess he took me for some lonely bird, and out of the kindness of his Danish heart wanted this red liquid to warm my chilled personality; but all I did was to shake my head until he had to turn away with a sigh either of content or weariness. I really felt like some peculiar kind of an insect, not only in ideas but in looks as well.
I was dressed in the travelling garb of an immigrant, black satin waist and a fine homespun skirt of dark colour, with black straw hat and two braided pigtails hanging down my back, and dainty-looking sheepskin slippers on my black stocking-clad feet. You, my good reader, need not curl your lips in a smile when you see that expression, for when those slippers are made by a person with a little taste, they are very pretty. They are made from black-dyed soft skin, with a binding all around of a cured cream-colored skin, and shaped to fit the foot of the wearer neatly, as the Icelanders have a knack of performing their hand industry. I have seen garish-looking footwear in Canada, but none neater looking than these properly made sheepskin slippers. Please let that sink in, as the slang goes, even if some of you have the distorted idea that Iceland is inhabited by imitations of the Eskimos.
My journey took a whole week from Iceland to the shores of Scotland and to the port of Leith, where change was made early in the day and we were piled into the train, which took us to the outskirts of the city of Glasgow.
It was a queer feeling which I experienced on that train journey, as if I was thrown into the two reverse conditions of heaven and hell; sometimes disappearing into the bowels of the earth, then again coming out into the bright sunshine, soaring above ground, seeing all kinds of lovely scenery. I did really have a half mind to throw myself out of the train window for the purpose of enjoying the sight of the green fields and dales of bonny Scotland, but soon ignored the notion as not healthy.
The train held a certain horror for me; I could not help comparing it with a black wriggling worm who had a smoke-stack on his head and a devil’s eye in the centre. If you have ever seen a herd of cattle driven into a stockyard through slush and rain, perhaps you can visualize the picture of my 900 travelling companions, myself included. There were also some Scotch and Irish emigrants. It was a long walk from one end of the city of Glasgow to the other. It took us from 9 o’clock in the evening till 2 in the morning. I don’t doubt that we all represented a rare-looking phenomena to the eye of the Glasgow citizens, for even at that hour they were busy staring at us. So many of us were clad in dark clothes that it must have looked like a funeral march.
I am not stretching the yarn when I tell you that I was ready to fall down with fatigue… Let me tell you I felt more joy in setting foot on that gangplank and leaving that shore behind than I ever felt in anything in my life.
I arrived at the Olafson’s farm in North Dakota in August 1998. Being a 16-year-old boy from a little town in Iceland, I had no idea what to expect in the country of dreams and opportunities.
There were several reasons I chose to go to the States. Since I was a little boy I have always wanted to live there, I don’t know why but that had been my dream.
Also, I did want to expand my English vocabulary. I had learned English in school and from movies and TV shows, but I wanted to learn it better and the way to do that, I think, is to live in a country where you have to talk the language all the time.
I didn’t have a family to stay with when I walked into the plane in Keflavík airport. But AFS, the student exchange program, told me that I would get one. When I arrived in New York I heard about a family in North Dakota who would let me stay for two weeks until I found a permanent family. That was on the Olafson’s farm, Curtis Olafson and his family near Mountain, North Dakota. When they met me, they decided to keep me for the whole year.
The first thing I noticed at the farm was a pile of corn almost as high as the outbuilding near by and a big machine which I soon learned they called a tractor. Don’t get me wrong. I know what a tractor is but the size of this thing was almost double the size of the tractors in Iceland. And that was the case with everything else. The combines, trailers, the trucks, the fields, everything was really big. The farm is probably as big as three average farms here in Iceland. I learned more about the machines when school was over in the summer 1999 when I helped a little on the farm and got to know farming in the States better.
Thrilled by the size of all these machines, I was excited about getting to know the people at the farm and the farms and towns around it. I went to Thingvalla church just down the road from the farm. There I met some of the people from the area. They were mainly older and what surprised me was that they greeted me in Icelandic. All of them were really excited about talking to the boy who came from the country of their ancestors. I enjoyed talking to them about Iceland and hearing the stories about the people who moved from Iceland to North Dakota.
The older people were friendly and so were the kids from the school. Everyone accepted me really well and I have never felt as welcome anywhere. There was nothing I would rather do then take part in the people’s everyday lives and try to blend into their culture. I went to church every week, something we don’t do in Iceland. In fact, I never go to church in Iceland except around Christmas. But I felt that going to church wasn’t only to listen to the priest, who was really funny and interesting, by the way, and pray but also as a gathering of the people after mass in the church basement. This was something I really enjoyed.
School was fun. I did my best and it showed in my grades. I was kind of competing with many good learners at the school and I wanted to follow them in grades. Also I played basketball for the school. I enjoyed the practices and the games and also seeing other schools when we went there to play a game. I went to a prom which is something I had only seen on the TV. I still tell people about the prom and that I had the opportunity to go to one. I still have my prom picture, of course.
What needs to be said is that people in North Dakota are really friendly. Everything is big compared to my little Iceland and the culture, though similar to the culture in Iceland, is something I really enjoyd witnessing. The day I will be there again, for visiting or living, who knows, won’t come soon enough.