To many in the Icelandic-Canadian community, Stephan Vilberg Benediktson is commonly known for his close, familial association with the much-celebrated poet Stephan G. Stephansson. While Stephan is the grandson of the prolific bard, Stephan is also known and respected for his international successes in the oil and gas industry, his dedication to his family, and his many valuable contributions to the Icelandic community in both Canada and Iceland.
Stephan was born in the central Alberta town of Innisfail on June 22, 1933 and was raised in the nearby farming community known as the Heckla District (named after the volcanic mountain in southern Iceland). His father, Sigurdur (Siggi) Vilberg Benediktson, passed away when Stephan was only nine years old, leaving his mother, Rosa (née Stephansson), to manage the farm and raise her four, young children: Iris, Stephan, Conrad, and Theodor. At fifteen, Stephan quit school to help on the farm and work at odd jobs on nearby farms. At the age of eighteen, Stephan left home to work on drilling rigs in Alberta and in the Northwest Territories. A few years later, Stephan had the “good fortune” to be hired by Imperial Oil—a company that helped jumpstart Stephan’s long and successful career. With prudent encouragement from his mother, twenty-four-year-old Stephan—now a husband and father—took a leave of absence from Imperial and completed his high school education in Red Deer. Stephan continued his education at the University of Alberta, where he earned a Civil Engineering degree in 1962.
Stephan spent five decades working in the oil and gas industry in various capacities and in a number of countries. Between 1954 and 1978, Stephan worked for Imperial Oil and Exxon affiliates in Canada, Texas, Australia, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia. In the mid 70s, Stephan worked for Northern Development in Ottawa and then as Vice President for Amerada Hess Company in the United Arab Emirates. From 1983-87, Stephan served as the “Director General” for Bridas, an Argentine company located in Buenos Aires. Stephan returned to Calgary in 1987 and, at different times, started Benson Petroleum Inc., Petro Santander, and Kroes Energy. Stephan retired from oil and gas in 2001, yet remains a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Stephan’s experiences in the industry cannot adequately be summarized in a few sentences, and, in 2003, Stephan wrote and published his story in Stefan’s Story: A Half Century in the International Oil Business. Many people and opportunities helped this young, Alberta farm boy develop into an accomplished, international businessman; yet, Stephan asserts his success would not have happened without the encouragement of his mother to go back to school and the generosity of Charlie Visser, Imperial Oil’s drilling superintendent, who gave Stephan leave from his job in order to pursue an education.
While oil and gas no longer occupies his time, Stephan keeps busy with family, travel, and a variety of interests. Stephan has three children—Stephan, Susan, and David—and six grandchildren from his first marriage with Audrey Jones (originally from London, England). In 1994, Stephan married Adriana Kroes from Bogota, Colombia and has extended his family to include four stepchildren—Alfredo, Monica, Simmon, and Johnathan—and two more grandchildren. Stephan divides his time between homes in the Alberta foothills; Atlanta, Georgia; and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. At various times throughout his life, Stephan owned and managed wheat land as well as cattle ranches. For twenty some years, Stephan operated an 1100-acre cattle lease west of Cremona, Alberta, which he sold in 2008. Stephan’s recreational pursuits have included squash, skiing, and polo. At the 2008 Senior’s Polo Tournament in Palm Desert, California, Stephan (age seventy-five) won the prize for the oldest player in the tournament. Conceivably, Stephan’s many years of riding to and from school helped establish a solid foundation for his equine talents.
Although Stephan and his parents were born and raised in Canada, Stephan is very proud of his Icelandic heritage and is an important figure in the Icelandic-Canadian community. Stephan served as Honorary Consul of Iceland in Alberta from 1997-2001 and states, “I enjoyed my time as Honorary Consul for Iceland in Southern Alberta more than any position I have ever occupied, corporate or otherwise” (Lögberg-Heimskringla, June 2005). Stephan has a keen interest in the Icelandic hamlet of Markerville, Alberta—home of the historic Stephan G. Stephansson House, where the poet wrote his 2300 pages of poetry and 1700 pages of letters and essays. Stephan has generously supported various initiatives in Markerville, such as the restoration of Fensala Hall and the Lutheran Church. It is widely understood that out-of-town guests cannot visit Stephan and Adriana without making the 170 km journey to Markerville and the Stephansson House.
For many years, Stephan has been a generous and engaged patron of the literary arts. In 2008, Stephan and Adriana established the Benediktson Fellowship at the Banff Centre located in beautiful Banff, Alberta. This fellowship provides two artists—with preference to Icelandic and Mexican artists—with the ability to pursue their creative talents through world-class programs and residency at the centre. The Benediktsons also sponsor the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry, which is awarded annually as part of the Alberta Literary Awards by the Writers Guild of Alberta. Stephan has been a long-time sponsor of the Icelandic newspaper, Lögberg-Heimskringla, and generously supports various other Icelandic-Canadian initiatives and events.
To foster the legacy of his grandfather, Stephan created the “Stephan G. Stephansson” website (www.stephangstephansson.com), which provides a biography and a selection of translated poems, along with journal articles and academic essays about the poet. Like many Icelanders, Stephan has taken it upon himself to publish books—not as the writer, but as the publisher. Stephan established Benson Ranch Inc. in 1978 to hold and operate his farm and ranch properties. Over the past twelve years, however, Benson Ranch has primarily focused on book publishing. In the same year as Stefan’s Story (2003), Stephan published Stephan’s Daughter—a biography of Stephan’s mother, Rosa Benediktson, written by Joanne White. In 2008, Stephan published his mother’s memoir, Looking Back Over My Shoulder: A Memoir by Rosa Siglaug Benediktson, which was transcribed from Rosa’s hand-written manuscript found in 2007. Wakeful Nights: Stephan G. Stephansson, Icelandic Canadian Poet (2013) is Stephan’s latest book, written by the Icelandic writer and scholar Viðar Hreinsson. This 555-page, comprehensive biography, which won a Silver Medal at the Independent Publisher Book awards 2013 offers an excellent history of the Icelandic immigration to the New World in the last-half of the nineteenth century, while providing a fascinating and entertaining portrait of the Icelandic-Canadian pioneer and poet, Stephan G. Stephansson.
At eighty-two, Stephan no longer drills for oil, manages cattle, or plays polo; however, his enthusiasm for life keeps him playing (and winning) on many different fields.
Written by Moorea Gray,