Icelandic Poet Found Fame

There's a piece of Icelandic history just off Highway 2 between Calgary and Edmonton.

It's a sign pointing to the historic home of a young man named with a gift for words — Stephan Stephanson.

He arrived in Central Alberta from Iceland in 1889 to begin working as a railway survey crew member.

Now to escape Iceland makes sense. But exactly why a lad who hailed as the island's greatest living poet ended up seeking inspiration in landlocked Markerville, well, that's a mystery the history books don't answer.

To Icelanders, he was part poet, part prophet leading a wave of immigration to a strange land with nary an ocean in sight and soil in lieu of their native lava rock.

He arrived penniless and lived by farming, hunting and working the railway. Writing poetry was a nighttime diversion, conducted under the flickering flame of coal gas lamps.

His poetry, often reflecting his love for his new Alberta home, remains well known in Norse communities to this day. He is one of the very few Canadian poets to be commemorated by a Historic Sites and Monuments Board cairn.

He wasn't popular in every verse. As a socialist, he denounced the First World War, which was not in tune with the prevailing public mood of the day.

"In Europe's reeking slaughter pen, they mince the flesh of murdered men," he wrote.

Stephanson was posthumously declared poet laureate of Iceland in 1927.

His home, for anyone wandering off the highway for half an hour, is a must-see shrine for every Alberta visitor with Icelandic blood in his veins.


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