During the late 1800s and early 1900s, central Alberta was home to one of the greatest Icelandic poets of all time. The journey from Iceland to the North-West Territories (what is now Alberta) took pioneers through the Dakota territory. In an effort to escape drought conditions, many settlers looked north for more favourable surroundings. About 50 Icelanders had come to an area west of the Red Deer River in 1888 and founded the Tindastoll settlement. A group including Stephan G. Stephansson arrived in Alberta one year later and created the nearby Hola settlement. These two settlements formed Alberta’s only Icelandic colony. Over the next few years, the settlement began to expand and started to flourish after a creamery was established in the area in 1899.
Stephan G. Stephansson lived somewhat of a double life. He worked as a farmer during the day and moonlighted as a poet. Although he had done some poetry prior to moving to Canada, his work really blossomed after moving to the Prairies. He balanced his busy work life as a member of the Hola School board and at the creamery with his growing family and resided at Stephansson house until his death in 1927.
The House Expanded as the Family Expanded
Stephansson House has been restored to its 1927 appearance complete with bright pink paint and lime green trim. During the restoration, crews found some of the original paint and were able to match the house you see today to what it looked like many years ago. The house is primarily log construction with some frame additions. These new additions, including a study, a front room and upstairs areas, were created circa 1892 to accommodate Stephansson’s growing family. He eventually added a kitchen and front bedroom as well. The entire structure is covered in tongue and groove siding. It features fir floors, restored linoleum wall coverings, newspaper wallpaper, second floor sleeping areas and pre-World War I landscaping.
Look closely and you might notice three lightning rods on the gable cedar shingle roof. These were installed by Stephansson after the unfortunate death of his son, Gestur Stephansson, who was killed by a lightning strike when he was just 16 years old. Gestur was buried at The Christiannson Cemetery – a private burial plot reserved for members of the Christinnson and Stephansson families. Stephan Stephansson was later laid to rest in the same cemetery in 1927.
Party Line Pianos
The phone that you see inside was once connected to a party line. This early form of communication allowed neighbours to share a single telephone line allowing anyone on the line to pick up and hear the phone calls of others. This technology still existed in some parts of Alberta well into the 1980s. Rosa Stephansson (Stephen’s youngest daughter) would often use the party line as a place to give piano recitals to anyone that picked up the phone.
Embracing the Pioneer Lifestyle
The Stephansson family, along with most farming families of the day, did not live a lavish lifestyle. Some of the furniture you see inside the house, including his writing desk and bookcase, were handmade. Other household items were either gifts from teachers that stayed with the family or ordered through mail order catalogs. Stephansson embraced the pioneer lifestyle and his home reflected that.
Stephansson House is located approximately 30 minutes west of Red Deer and is open to the public from 10AM – 5PM daily (May to September).