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Fensala Hall


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Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
Fensala Hall is a one-storey, wooden-clad building consisting of a 1903 front gabled rectangular hall connected to a west side-gabled addition by a small bay, and a rear 1920 hipped-roof extension. The hall is located on Main Avenue at the entrance to the town of Markerville. The building is set in a rural landscape in a grouping of historic Markerville buildings on the north bank of the Medicine River.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of Fensala Hall rests in its association with Icelandic settlement and community life in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Alberta. Fensala Hall was built in 1903, fifteen years after the first Icelandic settlers arrived in central Alberta, and reflected the crystallization of a sizeable Icelandic community in the area of present-day Markerville. Icelandic immigration to Alberta began in the late 1880s with the arrival of numerous families who had previously settled in Wisconsin and North Dakota. This formed the core of an agricultural settlement that grew steadily during the 1890s with the arrival of more families and construction of a post office, school, cheese factories and a creamery. The impetus for establishing Fensala Hall came from the Ladies’ Aid Society known as ‘Vonin’ (‘Hope’), which launched fundraising efforts to raise capital for the hall’s construction and maintenance. The hall was built by local craftsmen with community labour organized through a ‘work bee’ and has served continuously as an important venue for events such as Icelandic literature and poetry readings; musical performances; community celebrations and meetings; life events such as wedding and funeral receptions; political debates; and receptions for visiting dignitaries, including three presidents of Iceland. The hall was thus an essential feature of social life in Markerville and helped pioneer families cope with the isolation of their new surroundings. The building’s name Fensala (“Home of the Gods”) was taken from Norse mythology, again reflecting the importance of Icelandic tradition in the new world. The building’s name and varied history of use thus reflects the larger process of cultural adaptation experienced by Icelandic immigrants, hosting a range of events that reflected community formation and everyday life in Alberta blended with strong cultural links to the Icelandic homeland.

Source: Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: DES 2098)

Character-Defining Elements
Key elements that define the heritage character of Fensala Hall include but are not limited to its:

-rural setting, situation facing Medicine River from across the street, views to the building from across the river;
-location, orientation and setbacks on the site; relation to other historic Markerville buildings: creamery (now Historic Markerville Creamery Museum), Lutheran (now Markerville) Church, Stephansson House Historic Site, Hola School, and the Buttermaker’s House;
-vernacular public assembly hall form, scale and massing as expressed by a complex plan including a one-storey 1903 rectangular (7 X 12 metres) hall with front-gabled roof connected in a T-plan to a 1920 rear stage extension with hipped roof;
-additional exterior details such as the double panelled wood front entrance, cornerboard trim and overhanging eaves;
-wood frame construction with original fir drop horizontal siding;
-windows and doors such as wooden sash windows and trim; wood panelled doors; and
-interior features such as the significant rooms, the 1903 hall and 1920 stage; original hardwood floors and interior doors.


Street Address:
Community: Markerville
Boundaries: Lot 3A, Block 2, Plan 0323284
Contributing Resources: Building: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
9 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
RN21 (XXI)

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
52.123578 -114.170653 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2010/06/11

Historical Information

Built: 1903 to 1903
Period of Significance: N/A
Historic Function(s): Community : Social, Benevolent or Fraternal Club
Current Function(s): Community : Civic Space

Among the immigrant groups to settle in the Dakota's during the latter 19th century were the Icelanders. Due to severe drought conditions during the mid-1880's however, several of these immigrants decided to seek new horizons in the more northerly climes of western Canada. By this time, the trail between Calgary and Edmonton had become a well used wagon road, and the community at Red Deer Crossing could offer many services to incoming homesteaders. As the district southwest of the Crossing was largely open, appeared fertile, and had just been surveyed, it was recommended by certain Icelandic South Dakotan advance scouts that it offered a good chance for a new life. These people possibly preferred this more hilly and wooded environment to the Dakotas as it was more similar to Iceland, and the Dakota flatlands had not brought them prosperity. They were also intent on mixed, and not just flatland grain farming, a pursuit more suited to parkland than open prairie.

In the summer of 1888, some fifty Icelandic South Dakotans headed north from Calgary, crossed the Red Deer River, and took homesteads off the banks of the Medicine River, mostly to the east. A community was established called Tindastoll after a mountain in Iceland. The following year, another party of Icelanders arrived from South Dakota and settled further north. This party included Stephan Stephansson, who had founded the Icelandic Cultural Society of South Dakota. While in Alberta, he would become recognized as the greatest poet in the Icelandic language since the 13th Century. His concern for his Icelandic heritage was reflected elsewhere in the community, and, in 1892, a literary and debating society was formed, the same year that a school district was established. The women of Tindastoll also formed their own community club called Vonin, meaning "hope." The first president of Vonin was Stepansson's sister, Sigurlaud Kristinsson.

In 1894, a creamery was erected on the banks of the Medicine River. A hamlet soon evolved around the creamery, and, in 1899, it was named Markerville after C.P. Marker, the Danish born Dairy Commissioner of the North West Territories who had taken a special interest in the creamery. With such strong social and cultural initiatives about, it was natural that Markerville would require a community hall. This appears to have been, primarily, the initiative of Vonin, whose annual bazaar, called the Tombola, required a venue. With strong community support, a 40' x 24' wood frame hall was erected in the hamlet in the fall of 1903. It was called Fensala, meaning "Home of the Gods."

The Fensala Hall continued as a focal point for all aspects of community life in Markerville (social and cultural) for the duration of the 20th century. The five piece Johnson Family Orchestra, a mainstay of the community for over forty years, were a continuous presence. Perhaps most important was the role the Hall played in the preservation of Icelandic heritage as promoted by Stephansson and others.


The historical significance of the Fensala Hall lies in the role it played in facilitating the preservation and promotion of Icelandic culture in Alberta throughout the 20th century. It is also important in keeping together the strongly knit Icelandic community which grew up around Markerville and nearby Hola. Along with the creamery and Stephansson's home, the Hall is a landmark of the community, and central to the historical interpretation of the area.

(Historical Interest Summary)

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0840
Designation File: DES 2098
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 36748
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 2098)
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