If you blink when you pass the Markerville Creamery, the entire hamlet is so small that you just might miss it! However, Markerville is very quaint and an interesting spot to observe. This old Blacksmith shop looks like something right out of a John Wayne western movie and is only a few hundred feet down the road from the wooden-truss bridge (2nd photo) leading into town from the south.
The story of how Icelandic settlers ended up in Markerville is quite a tale in itself! The combination of resentment at Danish control over their lives and property in Iceland combined with dwindling natural resources and livestock epidemics led to the decision by many families to emmigrate to North America in the early 1870s (to Manitoba and the USA mid-west south of the Great Lakes). Gradually, the waves of immigrants moved further west, reaching North Dakota in 1878 - and it was settlers from there that continued their move westward when they arrived in present-day Markerville on June 27, 1888.
The closure of the Creamery dealt a major blow to the hamlet, but those citizens remaining try their best to maintain the history of their little piece of the Canadian west.
This particular view of a Coyote beating a retreat in tall grass was taken not too far from the small community of Spruce View, as Ryan and I drove back to the house after picking up some construction supplies from the local hardware store. In this case, we had the two dogs with us and, before I could get properly set up for a shot, they immediately began barking at the coyote when we stopped and rolled the window down! We spotted coyotes on more than one occasion from the upper level of the new house and Sue mentioned to me that she and Carolyn could hear what appeared to be two packs of the animals baying at each other when they took the dogs for a walk. Although originally inhabiting only the southwest USA, when settlers arrived and began killing off every wolf (the coyote's natural enemy) they spotted, the way was opened for coyotes to expand across all of North America. They reached New Brunswick, on the east coast of Canada about 10-15 years ago.
On every drive I took I spotted some sort of bird of prey! The most common were Swainson's Hawks, a 19-22 inch species that cruises the prairies looking for rodents, rabbits and small birds or reptiles. They also seem to like perching on power poles like the one in the 2nd photo (note: it is OK to sit on top of an energized insulator - just don't touch the wooden cross-arm with the other foot!). One moonlit night while driving back to Chantel's, Carolyn and I also spotted a huge owl (I think it was an 24-33 inch Great Grey Owl, the largest type in the Americas) also on top of one of the power poles. When we stopped, it quietly flew to another pole and then took off again when we continued past it.
On the short drive from Chantel's cottage (Accoms tips) to the new house I saw an Alberta tourism sign pointing down a road to the 'Historic Stephansson House'. Finally, one day I took a few minutes off to make the detour to see what this was all about.
It turns out that Stephan G. Stephansson (1853-1927), was an Icelandic immigrant who settled here with his family and his mother in 1889, eventually becoming one of Iceland's most famous poets. At 19 years of age (and part of the first waves of Icelandic emmigrants) he left Iceland for Wisconsin, USA in 1873 with his parents and other family members. About 10 years later, now married and with a child, he and his parents continued westward to North Dakota where they scratched out a meagre existance. Following the death of his father and one of his sons, the remaining members of the family decided to give up on North Dakota and headed for the new Icelandic colony in Markerville.
Although he was self-educated and had just completed his third bout of emmigration, it was during his years in Markerville that his poetic nature finally came through. Being an insomniac, he often wrote all night long in Icelandic, eventually producing and having published a 6-volume book called "Andvökur" (Sleepless Nights). It is funds from his prolific writing success that today continue to support the Markerville Creamery tourist site.
When I pulled up to the Alberta Tourism site, it was locked up and there was nobody in sight. I took a walk up the snow-covered hillside through the tall trees for a look at the restored 1927 era Victorian-style homestead where he spent many a night working on his poetry. When I returned to the tourist facility site, I could see various interpretive displays inside, so simply took a photo of them by putting my camera over the locked gates to that part of the building.
From May 16 to September (daily 10 am - 6 pm) interpreters dressed in Icelandic-style recite Stephansson's poetry and tell stories of Icelandic pioneers - $3 Adults, $2 Youth/Seniors
We did make a few trips into Sylvan Lake to pick up supplies from their supermarket, hardware stores, liquor store, gasoline stations and even a car wash on one occasion. On one of those trips Ryan and I happened to be in the centre of town beside the lake itself when I noticed all the activity that was taking place out on its frozen surface!
In this case, the town's snow-removal equipment has cleared off a patch of ice near the shore so water trucks can lay down a film which will freeze into a nice smooth skating surface. Some people are already skating while others have hockey sticks ready to start a game.
Further out, I noticed a 4WD truck pulling an ice-fishing shack across the snow and other people were having a great time flying kites with no aerial obstructions anywhere near! So, bring your skis, skates, hockey sticks, fishing lines or kites and enjoy the winter!
In actual fact, though, Sylvan Lake is a really fast-growing area thanks to its popularity as a summer resort get-away spot. The lake is ringed with cottages and homes and while leaving town we passed a huge new housing development area atop one of the hills overlooking the lake.
It was the afternoon of Christmas Day, 2007 when Ryan and I decided we needed to take a short break from our house construction duties! Fortunately, with their house being located in the wilds of Alberta, all we had to do was step outside and we were already there.
Our plan was to take a spin along the frozen Medicine River, which happens to flow past the front and side of their property. Since there was not yet a lot of snow on the ground, we were able to use both the Snowmobile and the All Terrain Vehicle (Quad) that is normally used in the summer months. Neither machine had been operated for quite a while but the snowmobile started immediately. We attached a rope to Ryan's ATV and I dragged him across the fields for a few minutes while he popped the clutch until its engine finally caught and started.
We were then off, across the field, down the riverbank and out onto the frozen sheet of ice. Luckily, most of the river was covered by a thin layer of snow, making for great traction and control as we headed off neck and neck around the turns hitting 70 mph in places! Fortunately, it was also only about -4 C on this mild day, so our faces did not freeze at those speeds. Everywhere you look in Alberta, you will see snowmobiles in winter and Quads in summer keeping the locals happy!
In our case, we didn't stay out too long and then it was back to work!
Although originally opened in 1899 by the Icelandic immigrants who settled here, the creamery you see today is a restored version showing what it would have looked like in 1932. From its inception until its closure about 70 years later, the Markerville Creamery was the main source of income for this small hamlet. These Icelanders were obviously good businessmen, since they wisely named their community after the Dairy Commissioner - Mr. C.P. Marker! During its years of operation under the auspices of the Markerville Butter & Cheese Manufacturing Association, the Creamery had been one of the foremost producers of quality butter in Alberta. It sort of reminds me of a similar situation in my home town of Sussex, New Brunswick where the Sussex Cheese & Butter Company was one of the mainstays for years - it too closed its doors in the 1970s era.
Today, guided tours of the facility take guests through the whole process of manufacturing butter, after which you are free to tour their attached Kaffistofa restaurant and gift shop (2nd photo). The gift shop once used to be the office of the creamery boss, Mr. Marion Morkeberg while the restaurant was an ice-room. You can try an authentic Icelandic meal or browse for trinkets at your leisure. As for me, the place was shut up solidly in December!
The Creamery is open from May 15 to Sept 7, daily 10 am - 5:30 pm. Admission is C$5 families, C$2 adults, $1.50 youth/senior (+65) and Under-6 free.
In my various drives through Alberta, I've always enjoyed its constantly changing scenery. There are huge fields, river valleys, isolated stands of trees, old abandoned buildings, new buildings, animals and birds, strange-looking heavy machinery dedicated to the search for oil - it doesn't take much to amuse me!
The changing seasons can also transform even the same landscape into something completely different. In this case, the small Medicine River was a typical scenic backdrop when I visited in November, 2007 but within a month it was frozen solid (2nd photo). Carolyn and their two dogs (Golden Retriever 'Dexter' and Collie 'Kira') followed Ryan and I onto the river when we went for our snowmobile/quad ride. However, as soon as we started up the river the dogs immediately ran as fast as they could to keep up. We stopped and let Carolyn take them back to the house because there was no way they were going to be able to match our speeds.
The Medicine River is not very large or long, rising only about 55-miles away to the northwest below the community of Buck Lake. It only has another few miles to flow from where we were before it becomes a tributary of the Red Deer River which eventually empties (via other rivers) into Hudson Bay far to the east in North America.
Even though 8 months of the year in Alberta are unreliable, you can bet that the summer months are hot, and sunny, so the first thing to do when you get there is grab a lawn chair, lay out your towl ans soak up the sun...it is usally pretty busy by the mid morning, so if you want prime seating, get there early!