Stephan G. Stephansson
"Events dictate the growth of poetry just as spring controls the budding of the grass."
Stephan G. Stephansson
Icelandic-Canadian poet Stephan G. Stephansson was born in the Skagafjörður district of Northern Iceland on October 3rd, 1853. In 1873, Stephansson and his family immigrated to North America—first homesteading in Shawano County, Wisconsin, then in Pembina County, North Dakota in 1879. In 1889, Stephansson moved with his wife, three young sons, his mother, and his sister and her husband to the Markerville district of Alberta.
A hard-working farmer and community leader, Stephansson served the community in many ways. Among the founders and builders of the first school in the Markerville district, he was also secretary of the Markerville Creamery (the economic hub of Markerville) and Justice of the Peace. Stephansson was a progressive farmer, who experimented with growing grain. Along with providing for his wife and eight children, Stephansson wrote over 2300 pages of poetry and over 1700 pages of letters, essays, articles, and short stories. A sufferer of insomnia, Stephansson farmed by day and wrote by night.
Stephansson wrote almost entirely in Icelandic—leaving his frank, descriptive, and lyrical works to the skills of translators. Stephansson’s writing expressed his pride and admiration for both his mother country and his foster-land. The immigrant experience, landscape, community, and human ambition and progress were among his literary topics. As a pacifist and atheist, perhaps in his later years an agnostic, Stephansson's views on war and religion were also communicated in his writings.
Stephansson’s collection of poems entitled Andvökur (Wakeful Nights) was published in six volumes—the first five during his lifetime. In 1917, various Icelandic societies and individuals invited 63-year-old Stephansson back to Iceland, where he spent the summer on a speaking tour. During his travels, Stephansson wrote a number of significant poems, letters, and addresses.
Icelandic literary scholars considered Stephansson one of the major poets of North America. References include the essays “Canada’s Leading Poet” by Watson Kirkconnell and “The Greatest Poet of the Western World” by F. Stanton Cawley. A considerable body of work regarding Stephansson’s legacy exists in the form of essays and press announcements, and in a biography written by Icelandic scholar Viðar Hreinsson.
Stephansson passed away on August 10th, 1927 and was interred in the family cemetery near his homestead where family and friends erected a cairn at his gravesite. In 1951, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada erected a monument in Stephansson Park at Markerville. In 1953, a monument to Stephansson was erected at his birthplace at Skagafjörður, Iceland. On August 7th, 1982, Stephansson House, the poet's restored farmhouse, was opened to the public as an Alberta historic site. In 2003, a monument was erected for Stephansson at his homestead near Mountain, North Dakota. In 1982, the Writers Guild of Alberta established the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry—an annual prize created to help preserve Stephansson’s legacy.
News & Events
August 8, 2018
Rector from the University of Iceland Visits Alberta
Photos and story by Birna Bjarnadóttir
This summer, from July 3rd to 10th, Dr. Jón Atli Benediktsson, Rector (President) of the University of Iceland, visited Calgary, Banff, Markerville, and Edmonton with his family. Their hosts, Stephan Vilberg and Adriana Benediktsson, introduced them to some of the highlights in the region: the party met with members of the Icelandic clubs in Calgary, Markerville, and Edmonton; and Dr. Benediktsson had several meetings with leadership from both the University of Calgary and University of Alberta. The Banff Centre and Stephansson House were other much-enjoyed destinations.
The main purpose of the Rector’s Alberta visit was to introduce the University of Iceland's "Stephan G. Stephansson Endowment Fund." Please refer to the news story below.
Stefanía Óskarsdóttir, Friðrik Jónsson, Dorothy Murray, Sandy Murray, Jón Atli Benediktsson, and Benedikt Atli Jónsson at the Stephansson House in Markerville.
Dr. Jón Atli Benediktsson with host, Stephan Vilberg Benediktsson.
While in Markerville, the Rector placed flowers on the grave of Stephan G. Stephansson and visited several other historic sites including the Markerville Creamery.
July 24, 2018
Stephan G. Stephansson Endowment Fund - University of Iceland
Photo and story by Birna Bjarnadóttir
In 2016, the University of Iceland established an endowment fund in the name of Stephan G. Stephansson in honour of his life and work and the profundity of his artistic expression of the experience of migration.
The objective of the fund is to promote scholarly research in Iceland and North America in the field of migrant literature, in memory of Icelandic immigrant poets and writers of North America.
Learn more about this fund and how you can contribute.
June 2, 2018
Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry 2018
Congratulations to Edmonton poet Benjamin Hertwig for receiving the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry at this year's Alberta Literary Awards Gala on June 2nd. Slow War (McGill-Queen's University Press) is a book about personal and collective trauma, the stories we tell after war and the ways those stories can contribute to, or detract from, the process of healing. Hertwig's debut collection was also a finalist for the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry.
Stuart McDowall presented the award on behalf of the Stephan Benediktsson family.
The Stephan G. Stephansson website is maintained by a group of volunteers in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Inquiries and comments are welcome at: .
Visit the following websites for more information relating to Stephan G. Stephansson and the Western-Icelandic community: