Preserving the buttermaker’s house

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MARKERVILLE – The pioneer home of a legendary buttermaker, who quietly made his mark in the pioneer Icelandic hamlet and then in Innisfail as a businessman and mayor, will be preserved for the generations ahead.

The Buttermaker House, built in Markerville more than a century ago for W.H. Jackson and his family, is also being earmarked by the Stephan G. Stephansson Icelandic Society for provincial and municipal historical designation.

“He (Jackson) was a quiet, understated man who did not seek the limelight but worked to improve conditions wherever he was,” said Jackson’s granddaughter Joan Sandham, a society volunteer, who is compiling a history of her unassuming grandfather for the Buttermaker House restoration project.

The 800-square-foot one-bedroom bungalow, located directly across from today’s Markerville Creamery Museum, is considered historically significant for its connection to the historic creamery, the era it was built, as well as for the past residents of the home – notably Jackson. There is also the connection to the family of Dan Morkeberg, who ran the creamery from 1899 to 1924, and was responsible for building the Buttermaker House in 1913 for Jackson and his family. They lived in it until 1923.

Society officials say the house will complement the historic nature of Markerville as it is about the same age as the creamery, the historic Lutheran church and the pioneer Fensala Hall.

“The addition of the Buttermaker House would further enhance the programs and events that are available,” said d’Arcy Gamble, society president. She said several future usage ideas have been discussed for the home, including expanding school programming into it, displaying the interior as a model 1913 pioneer home, or being part of an oral history presentation of Markerville and area.

Preservation of the Buttermaker House was made possible when Judy Winn, the home’s last owner, approached the society to see if members were interested in acquiring it for their programming. The society then went to Red Deer County for financial assistance to buy the home. The county agreed to donate $125,000 from its Municipal Reserve Fund to purchase the house. However, there was a stipulation the society apply for both provincial and municipal historic designations and that the restored structure is accessible for the public. The sale was finalized Aug. 31.

“We are very, very appreciative of Red Deer County’s recognition of the significance of keeping this historic resource. If they had not stepped up to the plate to support we would have probably passed it by,” said Gamble. She added the society’s restoration committee has begun the lengthy research process to earn historical designations, a process that could take a full year. If the society does earn provincial designation it can then apply for restoration monies, matching grants that could bring in as much as $100,000 for needed restoration. In the meantime, the society is planning a fundraising campaign for the first stage of restoration – fixing the crumbling foundation.

While the Buttermaker House will add significant value to Markerville as a tourism destination stop, it also raises the historical profile of Jackson, an important but understated figure, not only of the hamlet’s past but Innisfail’s as well.

Before Jackson became Markerville’s famed buttermaker he was already impressing Innisfailians with his skills, notably J.R. Moore, Innisfail’s first buttermaker who was in charge of the town’s first creamery.

But Jackson then went to Markerville for a decade after being lured by Morkeberg and the promise of a house built just for him and his family.

However, in 1923 Jackson returned to Innisfail to manage a new creamery on the east side of town. Twelve years later Jackson was appointed manager of the seven-outlet Independent Creameries Ltd, and his love and commitment for the business contributed to its product being recognized nationally and winning awards.

Jackson was also involved with the Alberta Dairymen’s Association from its formation in 1919, and held several offices, including secretary, director and chairman.

And he loved Innisfail. He served on the school board for many years, was an active community-minded Freemason at the Innisfail Masonic Hall, and a town councillor for more than 20 years, including a three-year stint as mayor from 1945 to 1948. Jackson passed away in 1975 and is buried in the Innisfail Cemetery.

“He very quietly went about service. He didn’t brag or put himself first at any time,” said Sandham. “I think that often happened to people who work hard in the background. They aren’t recognized the way they should be.”

Joan Sandham, granddaughter of W.H. Jackson

“He very quietly went about service. He didn’t brag or put himself first at any time. I think that often happened to people who work hard in the background. They aren’t recognized the way they should be.”

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Johnnie Bachusky

Johnnie Bachusky joined the Innisfail Province as editor in 2013. He covers Innisfail and Red Deer County news, police, crime and municipal politics. He is also a photographer and columnist.