Though Astoria’s industrious culture testifies to its Scandinavian heritage, no full-scale monument exists to recognize the Finns, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Icelanders who left their homeland in the late 1800s and early 1900s to populate the area.
But the Astoria Scandinavian Heritage Association is working to change that.
Recently, the nonprofit association received a $2,500 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation to launch the first phase of a multi-year project that will culminate in a monument titled “From Scandinavia to Astoria.”
The design and location have yet to be determined, but the goal is set in stone: to celebrate the Scandinavian immigrant experience while educating the public about the Scandinavian tradition.
“The Scandinavians have made a big impact on the fabric of the North Coast area,” said Janet Bowler, the project’s grant writer and publicist. “The ethics and the values carry over to today.”
Sense of identity
Once the committee knows the what and where, they will begin raising money from individuals and businesses. “We can’t finish it on our own. We need community support,” she said.
Ideally, the proposed monument would be installed in 2017 and unveiled during that year’s 50th annual Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, held every June at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds.
Realistically, however, the heritage association hopes to break ground on the structure, or at least reveal the final design concept, at the event.
“We’d like to have it underway,” said Loran Mathews, a project leader and president of the heritage association, which supports the midsummer festival.
Leaving home forever
The Scandinavians who emigrated to the North Coast — some by way of North Dakota and Minnesota — knew they risked never seeing their birthplace again.
“They came over in a time, when you left home, you probably were leaving home pretty much forever,” Mathews said. “You might get back once or twice, but you were pretty much leaving.”
Once here, they fished, farmed, logged, worked in canneries, ran boarding houses, established churches and helped shape the hardworking character of Astoria.
The idea of building a permanent monument to honor Astoria’s Scandinavian ancestors, and the sacrifices they endured by coming to the region, had been kicked around for at least a year before the committee applied for the grant, said Carole Lyngstad, a project leader.
Low, mid-range and ‘fantasy’ design
She and Mathews have been meeting with city officials to nail down a list of viable sites, preferably ones with lots of foot traffic and decent parking nearby. The Parks and Recreation Department is assessing all of the public land within its domain, and the results will inform the heritage association’s options.
With the site chosen, the design work can get underway. The grant will go toward drafting a low-end design, a mid-range design and a “fantasy design” — a design that would reflect the project committee’s dream monument, Bowler said. Local Scandinavian organizations will get to weigh in during the drafting stage.
Though the fundraising — which may include more grants — will influence the design, the heritage association is aiming higher than just erecting a plaque on a granite slab somewhere. At minimum, the monument will tie in the Scandinavian flags, Bowler said.
“When you know your heritage, it gives you a sense of identity, and I think that’s one reason Astoria’s so popular right now — because we know our heritage and we have a sense of identity,” she said.