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Saving Markerville’s latest heritage site took a community effort

The Buttermaker’s House officially opens on Sept. 15
The newly renovated Buttermaker’s House in Markerville will be officially opened on Sept. 15 as a heritage site. It is shown with a metal floral sculpture that was donated to the Stephan G. Stephansson Icelandic Society.(Facebook image).

It took a village to turn the Buttermaker’s House from 1912 into the latest of Markerville’s historic sites.

From fundraising to furnishing, the four-to-five-year renovation project “was a real community effort,” said John McKechnie, one of the project co-ordinators.

It all started in 2017 when the home’s former owners gave Red Deer County and the Stephan G. Stephansson Icelandic Society first dibs on acquiring it as a historic resource.

McKechnie said the home had been built for a butter maker William Haine Jackson, who had recently immigrated to Canada from England and was hired to work for the Markerville Creamery.

The “25-foot-square” house where Jackson lived for a decade is important to Markerville’s history because the local creamery owned by Dan Morkeberg was renowned for producing some of the best butter in the province, winning many awards over the years.

“The house had been here since about the beginning and it’s part of the Markerville story,” said McKechnie.

Red Deer County recognized its historic significance and bought the house for the society for about $125,000. But an additional $217,000 was needed to renovate and stabilize the dilapidated structure, so the society began seeking government heritage grants and started a community donation campaign.

With the help of professional contractors and volunteers, the home was lifted off its unstable foundation and put onto a new poured basement. The front porch was rebuilt and the roof re-shingled.

After asbestos abatement, interior walls were stripped back to the studs so new insulation could be added. “There was absolutely no insulation before,” recalled McKechnie.

He noted the house originally had two bedrooms, but one was converted to a bathroom in the late 1960s to replace “the old outhouse by the river.”

Renovators removed about six layers of wallpaper from the bedroom and parlour. Pieces of it were kept as reference samples for a potential future project. Although McKechnie feels the home’s interior walls now look good painted, he knows there are companies that can re-create old wallpaper patterns, so this project could taken on someday.

Once the interior was done, volunteers with the society began looking for furniture and wood stove donations. McKechnie said some came in from as far as Edmonton, where the local Icelandic club donated an era-appropriate china cabinet and old bed frame.

“Another family, near Benalto, was cleaning out their father’s home on the farm and ended up donating a lot of antique furnishing to us,” said McKechnie.

After its official opening on Sept. 15, the Buttermaker’s House will join other heritage displays in the Markerville area — including the home that belonged to Icelandic poet Stephan G. Stephansson, the Markerville Creamery, local church, Fensla Hall (the oldest continually operating community hall in Alberta) and the nearby Hola School.

But if people want to tour the house this upcoming long weekend, McKechnie said they can inquire at the creamery and he will try to accommodate requests.

Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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