Unveil National Monument to Stephan G. Stephansson On Labor Day —Provincial Park Dedicated— Tributes Paid Poet
Markerville Honors Great Icelandic Poet
Tributes to the work and character of Stephan G. Stephansson, one of the great poets in the Icelandic tongue, who lived for the last twenty-eight years of his life at Markerville, were paid at the unveiling of a national monument to him at Markerville on Monday.
Icelandic Canadian Poet "Born in Skagafjord, Iceland, on 3rd October, 1853, he settled in 1889 in the Markerville district, where he lived until his death on the 10th of August, 1927. Ranked among the great poets of Scandinavian literature, he endured the hardships of the pioneer, and in much of his work depicted the life and scenery of Western Canada, which shared his affection with the land of his birth."
The above is the inscription on the memorial plaque at Markerville unveiled on Labor Day by Jacob K. Stephansson, only surviving son of the poet. The occasion was an impressive one, the unveiling ceremony being attended by about three hundred and fifty people, many of them coming hundreds of miles to be present. It was organized by the Historic Sites and Monuments board of Canada, the Alberta Provincial Parks Board, and a local committee of Markerville people acting in co-operation.
A platform had been built just west of the monument, and scats provided for about a hundred spectators. Prominent among the flowers banking the platform were bouquets of Iceland poppies.
Dan Morkeberg presided, and after the singing of "O Canada", spoke of his own association with the poet, over a period of twenty-eight years. Markerville, he said, had originally been an Icelandic settlement, being founded by thirty families, all Icelandic, all homesteaders. Stephansson had arrived in 1389, and it was fifty years ago that the speaker first-met him. He spoke warmly of the poet's neighborliness, trustworthiness, his pioneer, spirit and deep sense of religion. The chairman read three letters he had received, all expressing regret that the writers could not attend. They were from Philip Pederson, president of the Icelandic National League of Canada; Richard Becks, professor of Scandinavian language and literature at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, and A. L. Marks, Calgary, president of the Canadian Authors' Association.
J. H. Holloway, chairman of the Provincial Parks Board, spoke of the Alberta policy of establishing parks, commemorative of notable events, places and people. There were now about forty provincial parks, most of them in or near population centres. This was the first established to honor the memory of an outstanding cultural leader, and established in a rural setting. He acknowledged gratefully the cooperation of the (Dominion) Historic Sites and Monuments Board and the local committee.
M. H. Long, M.A., F.R.S.C., professor of history at the University of Alberta, and a member of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, followed with an explanatory statement regarding the monument. He paid tribute to the valuable help received from the park management committee and several local individuals, including Mr. Morkeberg, C. H. Snell, W. H. Stringer, and O. Sigurdson, who had interested himself in securing a suitable monument to the poet at the Markerville cemetery. Secondly, he appreciated the readiness with which Professor Skuli Johnson had come from Winnipeg to take a leading part in this ceremony.
The Historic Sites and Monuments Board had now been operating for thirty-one years. In that time they had recommended the erection of about five hundred monuments. This one would be the twenty-first in Alberta. It was Dr. Watson Kirkconnell who had suggested a monument to the memory of Stephansson. Investigation as to his worthiness had revealed him as, in the opinion of Icelanders the world over, one of the greatest Scandinavian poets of all time. Unfortunately, he wrote little in English, so most Canadians were not familiar with his work. But for sheer bulk, apart from its excellent quality, it was outstanding. Stephansson wrote more poetry than C. G. D, Roberts, Bliss Carman and Robert.
Service all put together—and first rate poetry, too.
Mr. Long then introduced Jacob K. Stephansson, the only surviving son of the poet, who had been selected as the fittest person to unveil the plaque. The inscription is on a bronze plaque, on the south side of a hewn granite memorial cairn, simple and dignified in design. After the poet's son had pulled the ribbon that released the two flags, Canadian and Icelandic, Prof. Long read it aloud.
O. Sigurdson, for twenty-seven years a neighbor and close friend of the poet, then recited something of the history of the monument to his friend's memory — not this one, but the one at the Markerville cemetery — for the; cost of which he had acted as collector, speaking highly of the generous responses he had received.
RED DEER ADVOCATE, SEPTEMBER 1950.