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Markerville Lutheran Church

Markerville

Other Names:
Markerville Community Church

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Markerville Lutheran Church is a small church located in the Hamlet of Markerville. It is a rectangular, gable-roofed building measuring approximately twelve metres by seven metres in size. Its exterior walls are clad in wooden drop-siding and the roof is clad in cedar shingles. Four rectangular windows line its east and west elevations. A square bell tower with an eight-sided steeple projects from the front (south) facade. The bell tower features the main entryway and a gothic-arched transom, four gothic-arched louvered openings, two arched windows, a curved wrought iron sign and a circular wooden decoration. A serious hail storm in 2006 smashed the original coloured glass windows on the west elevation. The glass from these windows was collected and used to make stained glass windows for the front of the church. The church is situated on a landscaped lot and lies in close proximity to other historic buildings, including the Markerville Creamery and the Fensala Hall.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Markerville Lutheran Church lies in its association with Icelandic settlement in Alberta. It is also significant as an excellent and early example of Lutheran church architecture and may be the only Icelandic Lutheran church ever constructed in the province.

In 1888 and 1889, two groups of Icelandic settlers from the United States migrated to Canada. They filed for a homestead in a relatively isolated area around the Medicine River and established a number of small rural communities. The community of Tindastoll (later renamed Markerville) developed into the major supply centre for the Icelandic settlers. Although Tindastoll was growing, there was no Icelandic church or minister in the settlement until 1898, at which time a young student of divinity arrived from Winnipeg to temporarily minister to the Lutheran community. By the close of the first decade of the 1900s, Markerville boasted a post office, a school, a creamery, a community hall, a hardware store, two general stores, a blacksmith, a butcher, a pool hall and a library. A church to serve the Icelanders' religious needs was not constructed until 1907 - two decades after settlement - possibly because of deep religious divisions within the community. During the mid-1800s, the Icelandic Lutheran community in the United States was split between those who adhered to the generally liberal theology of the Lutheran Church of Iceland and those who followed the more conservative principles of the Norwegian Synod of the American Lutheran Church. In Alberta's Icelandic settlements, social clubs and debating societies often served the same social purpose that the church occupied in other ethnic and religious communities. Religious services in Markerville were carried out by traveling clergymen and were held in private homes and in community halls. A congregation was officially established in 1900. In 1905, a full-time minister was hired. Two years later, construction of a church began. Community groups, notably the Ladies Aid Society known as "Vonin", raised funds for building materials and furnishings. The church was completed in May 1907. The church's full-time, resident minister adhered to the conservative Lutheran tradition. He was dismissed in 1909 after only two years with the congregation. Although he continued to serve on a part-time basis until 1935, the Markerville Lutheran Church was served mainly by traveling ministers. Regular services ceased in 1963.

The Markerville Lutheran Church is an early and excellent example of Lutheran church architecture and may be the only Icelandic Lutheran church ever constructed in Alberta. The simple form of the building, its largely unornamented exterior, and the projecting central tower with steeple are typical of rural Lutheran churches in Alberta. The same sensibility informs the design of the interior space, which features white walls and simple, well-crafted furnishings and finishings. The church remains largely unaltered since its construction and represents one of the earliest, most typical, and most intact of the many historic Lutheran churches constructed in Alberta's rural areas.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 2269)


Character-Defining Elements
Key elements that define the heritage value of the Markerville Lutheran Church include such elements as its:

Site
- prominent situation on a corner lot in the Hamlet of Markerville;
- grass landscaping;
- hedge running the perimeter of the property.

Exterior
- white exterior walls;
- square bell tower with eight-sided, flared, wood shingle-clad steeple, decorative brackets and dog-tooth shingle trim centrally-located on and projecting from the front (south) elevation;
- Celtic cross surmounting the tower;
- four gothic-arched, louvered ventilation openings in the belfry;
- two rectangular window openings with gothic arches on the east and west sides of the bell tower;
- medium-pitched, wood shingle-clad gable roof;
- south-facing front entryway surmounted by a gothic-arched transom of colored glass located in the base of the bell tower;
- circular, wooden decorative element on the south side of the bell tower surmounting the main doorway;
- fenestration pattern of four rectangular window openings on the east and west elevations;
- secondary entrance located on the eastern edge of the rear (north) elevation;
- exterior walls clad in wooden drop-siding;
- sandstone foundation;
- wrought iron "1907" date and arched sign reading "Markerville Lutheran Church" surmounting the front entry.

Interior
- white interior walls clad in vertically-oriented, v-joint lumber;
- barrel-vaulted ceiling clad in horizontally-oriented, white-painted v-joint lumber;
- open floor plan of the worship area;
- stained wood finishes on the relatively simple altar rail and lectern;
- presence of original 1907 organ, donated by the "Vonin" Ladies Aid group;
- presence of folding theatre-style seating, acquired second hand from a nearby theatre in the 1940s;
- extant original wood strip flooring;
- extant original, light gray-painted mill work and wood trim on window and door frames;
- stained glass from the remains of storm-destroyed west facing windows used in newly made stained glass windows on the bell tower.


Location



Street Address: 66 Johnson Ave, Box 837, Markerville AB T0M 1M0
Community: Markerville
Boundaries: Lot 1A, Block 5, Plan RN21 (XXI)
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1
Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s): 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
RN21 (XXI)
5
1A


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
52.124716 -114.170053 Secondary Source NAD83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2009/08/26

Historical Information

Built: 1907 to 1907
Significant Date(s)
Theme(s) Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Architecture and Design
Peopling the Land : Migration and Immigration
Historic Function(s): Religion, Ritual and Funeral : Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Current Function(s): Religion, Ritual and Funeral : Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Architect:
Builder:
Context: 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.

For years, social events conducted by the sisters of Vonin were presented from a Lutheran perspective. Indeed, their socials seem to have taken the place of regular church services until 1905, when the Reverend Sjera Peter Hjalmsson arrived from Winnipeg with his wife, Jonina, to establish a Lutheran church as part of the Icelandic Synod of western Canada, headquartered in Winnipeg. Serja had been trained in theology in Copenhagen and Reykjavek. He immediately began to conduct services in the newly constructed Fensela Hall, but strongly urged the members of his congregation to pull together to construct a regular church. Finally, in the spring of 1907, a group of men, including John Olsen, Asmundur Christianson, John Hillman and Chris Johanson, formed a committee and planned to construction of a wood frame church building on NE26 TP36 R2 W5, on land donated by J.M. Johnson. This was in close proximity to the other buildings constituting the community of Markerville, which were also constructed on Johnson's land.

Work on the new church began immediately, with sandstone for the foundation being hauled in from the Red Deer River. By the end of the year, the building was completed, with a bell tower and a wooden Celtic cross added the following year. Sjera Hjalmsson continued to serve the Markerville Lutheran Church until 1935, although, in later years, he was blind. He passed away in 1950. All the while, Jonina continued to play the organ, while A. J. Christvinson served as secretary-treasurer to the congregation from 1915 until 1964.

As a community, Markerville never became big enough to become incorporated as a village. It was too close to Innisfail and Penhold on the Calgary & Edmonton Railway, and so grain shipment and major shopping for the district settlers took place at either of these two centers. Markerville nonetheless continued to harbour the trappings of Icelandic culture, made stronger by the international reputation of the poet, Stephan Stephansson. Structural evidence of the founding of this community, including the community church, therefore survived, and, together, present a strong element of Icelandic culture in Alberta.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-1352
Designation File: DES 2269
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 36754
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
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