STEPHAN G. STEPHANSSON
He is one of the greatest our country has ever produced.
It was an exciting afternoon, Friday, August 7th, 1964, as 20 people of Icelandic descent waited anxiously in one of the airport suites for the Prime Minister of Iceland, Dr. Bjarni Benediktsson, his wife, Sigridur Bjornsdottir and son Bjorn, to arrive. Finally, the big moment arrived and the Prime Minister and his party were ushered into the room by president of the Icelandic Society in Edmonton, Mr. Leifeir Oddson. Pert, little Arlene Valgardson presented Mrs. Benediktsson with a bouquet of flowers and curtsied. Doctor Benediktsson, his wife, Mr. Grettir Leo Johannson, Consul to Iceland, from Winnipeg and his wife walked among the people and were introduced. Everyone had the opportunity to talk with the gracious guests and many pictures were taken.
At 3:00 p.m. they were escorted to their car by a member of the R.C.M.P. and left to attend a tea in their honor given by Lieut. Gov. Mr. J. Percy Page and Mrs. Page at the May fair Golf and Country Club. Also attending were Mr. and Mrs. Gettir Johannson, Mr. and Mrs. Leif Oddson and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Sumarlidason.
Later that day there was a banquet in honor of Dr. Benediktsson and his party at the Scandinavian Centre. They were chaff cured from the Macdonald Hotel to the dinner by Messrs. Gunnar Thorvaldson and Walter Arason. The guests proceeded through a receiving line to their tables for dinner. Before dinner commenced Mrs. Gus Roland played God Save the Queen, followed by the Icelandic National Anthem, sung by Mrs. R. Decosse. Mrs. Chris MacNaughton, Fjallkona for 1964, gave the blessing.
Following the dinner, president Leif Oddson gave an interesting speech welcoming our visitors and presented them with a wooden fruit bowl, hand-crafted in Edmonton. Dr. Benediktsson replied, first briefly in Icelandic, then in English. He gave an outline of the first Icelandic settlers to come to Canada and commented on how well they had done. He also said these people had opened the window to the world for the people who remained in Iceland. Dr. Benediktsson remarked that he was surprised to find the number of people who still spoke Icelandic or understood the language.
A short but extremely entertaining program followed the dinner. Mrs. Margaret Decosse sang two selections in Icelandic and Mrs. Viola Wallbank sang a medley of western songs. Two sets of high guys and gals from the international Order of Foresters square danced to caller Gerry Landers. Dr. Benediktsson commented later that it was the first time he and his family had seen square dancing. Coffee and dainties were served and people were free to chat with the honored guests and friends.
The Prime Minister was pleased to discover a relative among the guests — Mr. Barney Eyford of Hay River, N.W.T.
At the close of the evening a circle was formed around Dr. Benediktsson and his party and everyone serenaded them with "Now is The Hour," Mrs. Decose sang a final song in Icelandic and the guests departed.
The next morning the Prime Minister and party were taken in a motorcade to Red Deer where they were guests at a luncheon presented by the City of Red Deer, E. E. Stephenson of Red Deer and Walter Maxson of Innisfail at the Capri Motor Hotel.
Dr. Benediktsson and his entourage next motored to Markerville, which is 20 miles southwest of Red Deer, to pay homage to noted Icelandic Canadian poet Stephan G. Stephansson (1853 - 1927). The Prime Minister visited the late poet's farm home, laid a carnation spray at his grave then motored to the park where a cairn was erected in 1950 by the Historic Sites Monuments Board of Canada.
Later at a coffee party at Fensla Hall in Markervllie, Dr. Benediktsson reflected on Stephansson's work, "He is one of the greatest our country has ever produced."
On Sunday, Dr. Benediktsson and his party left for Vancouver via Banff and Kelowna and he will visit the United States before returning home.
Dr. Benediktsson was invited to Canada to take part in Gimli's 75th Anniversary celebrating Icelandic Day