This Viking sailboat replica is helping boost tourist traffic to the Danish Canadian Museum near Spruce View.

Danish Canadian Museum awarded for increasing exhibits, tourist traffic

Viking boat and pioneer house exhibits have helped double the number of visitors since 2013

First, a wooden Viking ship was added to the Danish Canadian Museum near Spruce View.

Then one of the prefab pioneer houses used to entice Danish settlers to Alberta was moved to the site and restored.

Now the ambitious rural museum can add a prestigious Travel Alberta award to its collection.

The Danish Canadian Museum is the 2017 recipient of the Wynn McLean Rural Champion Award for drawing an increasing number of visitors to the area — including to the “Scandinavian Trail” that includes the Dickson Store, Markerville Creamery and Stephansson House.

Executive-director Brian Desjardins is thrilled his museum is being recognized for outstanding accomplishments, innovation and leadership from among many submissions from across rural Alberta.

“This will really put us on the map, if we weren’t already.”

In fact, the facility, which previously won a tourism award from Red Deer County, is becoming known around the world since being chosen to host from May 25-28 the national Danish-Canadian Conference (held last year in Montreal).

Museum president Svend Nielsen believes the provincial award comes at the perfect moment. “What better time to win… as we celebrate our 25th anniversary this year?”

Desjardins believes the facility is benefitting from a heightened publicity campaign, as well as impressive exhibits that have helped double tourist numbers to 8,000 people last summer, compared to 4,000 in 2013.

One of the most popular draws is a full-sized replica of a Viking boat, kept inside a Naust (a ship house).

Desjardins said the hand-carved boat, commissioned from a Danish shipbuilder, was installed in 2009. The Freydis Joanna (named for the sister of Leif the Lucky, presumed to have landed in Newfoundland) is an authentic recreation of the small sailboats used by Viking raiders as landing craft because they were easier to handle along coastlines than larger longboats.

The wooden, peak-roofed Naust was built in 2015 with 500 volunteer hours using historic techniques, including no nails or bolts. Both projects cost $100,000, financed by the Egon Sommer family.

Desjardins said the Nielsen CP Rail house is one of many sold to Danish settlers. They were enticed to move to dry southern Alberta in the early 1900s with “ready-made farm packages” that include fenced land, a house, shed and barn.

Aksel and Marie Nielsen raised seven children in their CP Rail House near Standard, Alta., before it was donated in 2007 by a new owner. Desjardins said visitors will see it restored when the museum re-opens on May 12.

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