Icelandic Voices Echo in Markland Again
01 May, 2008
It has been 126 years since the forest surrounding Markland resonated with Icelandic song as it did on Wednesday morning, May 28th, 2008. 110 teachers visiting Nova Scotia from Iceland trekked the road of this long deserted Icelandic Settlement and gathered around the site that once was the homestead of Sigurður Jónsson named Staðartunga (Homestead Point) Don Redden, a member of the Icelandic Memorial Society of Nova Scotia, stood in the cellar and told the stories of the thirty Icelandic families who settled there between the fall of 1875 and 1878. The Nova Scotia Government granted each family a log cabin on 100 acres of land in the dense forest between Mooseland and Caribou Gold Mines. He told of the hardships and struggle as they tried to eke out a living clearing fields for farms in the rocky soil, building a road through the settlement, raising families, starting a school and finally leaving in 1882 for Western Canada and USA. The teachers were visibly moved both by the stories and the fact that this unlikely spot in the wilderness, home for 200 Icelandic immigrants for seven years, has been preserved. They paid their respects with song.
The educators and support staff were visiting from a large school in Selfoss, Iceland. They
had been in Nova Scotia for the week, touring schools and facilities in various parts of the province as part of a professional development plan. The tour was organized by Dr. Jeff Orr, Director of the School of Education at Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. He had been a colleague of the school’s principal, Sigirdur Sigursveinson, at Memorial University, Nfld. in the early 1980s
The visitors met the members of the Icelandic Memorial Society at the cairn under the Canadian, Icelandic and Nova Scotia flags. The Markland tour began with a welcome from Marshall
Burgess, Society Chair, whose grandmother Sigriður Nikolina
Höskuldsson (Huskilson) lived in Markland as a baby. His family was the only one to stay on in
Nova Scotia, settling in the Lockeport area. He told of the accomplishments and some of the events of the Society and of the tremendous interest, work and dedication to the project by its members in the ten years since its inception. Tribute was paid to Eleanor (Dolly) Belmore, a founding member of the Icelandic Society, who passed away in January of this year. It was through her vision and desire to know about and remember each settler who lived in Markland that provided the fuel for this project and sustained its growth.
In the ten years since the Icelandic Memorial Society was incorporated, foundations for most
of the original homesteads have been located; pathways have been cleared to the sites and marked with historical plaques both in Icelandic and English. A memorial cairn has been erected at the entrance to the settlement, built of rocks gathered from the 30 homesteads and topped with a rock shipped from Iceland. The Society has published the English translation of a book written by Guðbrandur Erlendsson, one of the first settlers, entitled Markland - Remembrance of the Years 1875-1881 They also produced an educational documentary film and a CD entitled The Story of Markland. Research continues on family histories and plans are underway to build a replica of a log cabin on one of the sites.
A number of descendants of the settlers and dignitaries from Iceland have visited Markland over the several years, including the Icelandic Minister of Transportation, Communication and Tourism,the
Ambassador of Iceland to Canada and the Prime Minister of Iceland and his advisors, but this has been the largest single group to visit at one time. The scene on Wednesday morning of 110 Icelanders walking through the settlement could well have been one of the scenes from long ago. It was easy to visualize the Iceland settlers at their departure, walking through the quiet woods, perhaps singing, perhaps more than a little reluctant to leave the fields they had cleared with back-breaking labour, the sites of the log cabins where their children were born, and the small piles of stone that marked the resting place of eight of their people. One could say Dolly Belmore’s dream of recognition for those brave settlers had come true as the sounds of Icelandic voices again echoed in this very special place.
Shirley-Dale (Belmore) Easley