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Author: Debbie Olsen

Debbie is a writer, researcher, traveller, mom, wife, foodie, gardener, housekeeper, taxi driver, photographer, and occasional hormone-crazed maniac. She has contributed to eight Fodor’s guide books about Alberta and writes regular columns for the Calgary Herald and the Red Deer Advocate.

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As my husband and I strolled toward Markerville Lutheran Church, I couldn’t help but notice a young girl dressed in a bright green skirt and red cowboy boots leading a grey pony down the street. The funny thing was, no one else seemed to notice at all. In rural communities, you can walk livestock through town and nobody bats an eye. I took a picture as she passed in front of the church, which was built in 1907 and features a gabled roof and a square bell tower with an eight-sided steeple.

Inside an Icelandic-Canadian Community

Canada has the largest ethnic Icelandic population outside of Iceland. In Alberta, many of these early immigrants settled near Markerville, a small rural hamlet about 29 km (18 mi.) southwest of Red Deer. Today this quaint community is home to a number of historical sites and museums that tell their story.

After snapping a few more photos of the church, we headed towards the Markerville Creamery Museum, which was built in 1902 and has been restored to its 1932 appearance. We’ve brought our children to this museum on several occasions and it’s always a great family outing. Youngsters like learning the history of the creamery from interpreters dressed in traditional attire, but they enjoy eating ice cream at the creamery café even more.

Poet of the Prairies

From downtown Markerville, we hopped in our car and made the short drive to Stephansson House, a provincial historic site that was once the homestead of a man who has been called “the greatest poet of the western world.”

The sun was just bursting forth from behind the clouds as we pulled up in front of a little wooden house painted pink with green trim. Nestled in the heart of Alberta’s prairie farm region, this provincial historic site tells the fascinating life story of Stephan G. Stephansson, an Icelandic immigrant who came to central Alberta to carve out a better life for himself and his family and in the process became a famous poet.

The house has been restored to its 1927 appearance and inside the door we were greeted by a young woman dressed in 1920s garb. As she led us through the house, she talked about the life of Alberta’s early homesteaders and the everyday life of the poet of the prairies.

Wakeful Nights

I have always loved the story of Stephan G. Stephansson, because it reminds me that it is often our trials that shape us into the people we are meant to be. Stephansson suffered from insomnia and even after working long hours at a physically demanding job, he was unable to sleep. As he sat awake night after night, he made use of the quiet hours to write poetry in his native language. He wrote more than 2,300 pages of poems that were eventually published in a six-volume collection entitled Andvökur (Wakeful Nights).

His lyrical, descriptive and hauntingly beautiful work made him famous in his own country and is appreciated around the world. The tour ended in the office where Stephansson spent those endless nights. As I examined the desk where he wrote his many poems, I couldn’t help but wonder what the world would have missed if this gifted individual had not struggled with insomnia.

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