Lapland – Science and Culture

The sun’s brief sojourn over Lapland is over. Back to overcast skies and drizzly rain. It’s the sort of rain that is a bit misty and damp but no real substance and annoyingly hangs around and makes everything grey.

We planned our day accordingly and headed into the town of Rovaniemi on the ‘Santa Express’ to find the highly recommended ‘Arktikum’. The Museum has two permanent exhibitions.

  • Arctic in Change, Science Centre
  • Northern Ways, History and Culture of the Arctic Region.
The main entrance to Arktikum
Long Hallway, with two levels of exhibitions.

Adjacent to the Arktikum is also a museum focussed on the Forestry industry in the area and how they employ sustainable strategies in the management of their industry. This was an interactive exhibition aimed at school aged kids to help them understand the environmental impacts of industry and the milling processes. Finland is 76-88% forest, depending on the definition of a forest. That sounds a little strange, but it seems defining a forest is not that simple. It needs to be a certain area, with certain height of trees. There is a scanning process that takes place to keep measuring and understanding how much forest exists and is maintained.

Inside the Forestry Musuem – Siida
Wallpaper made of Silver Birch Bark.

I digress, back to the Arktikum…

We started with the science side of the hallway. We had come across some of this info as it also relates to Norway regarding the way the land formed following the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago, and how the glacial and tectonic plate movements shaped the geographical features of the landscape. The ground here is rich with minerals and ore deposits. The soil depth is fairly shallow which is why the trees, though hundreds of years old, look like saplings by other forest standards. Ground cover is rich with berries and peaty areas which provide sustenance to the types of fauna that are here – various bird species, lemmings, foxes, reindeer, elk, moose with bears and humans being top of the food chain.

Interestingly we also read that king crab for which the Barents Sea is famous, are an introduced species that are adversely affecting the native fish species and ecological system. The crabs feed on the fish eggs and young fish and therefore reduce the numbers that breed.

A very large Amethyst rock.

Global warming is having a noticeable effect here. The science museum is dedicated to researching and developing strategies to combat and educate. The warming climate is predicted to increase here at twice the rate of the rest of the world. The signs are obvious in the changing vegetation, less snow and ice. The fact that there is change is not necessarily the issue. It is the rate of change that is the problem. Research is showing that what would naturally take thousands of years to change in ‘geological time’ is happening within 1-2 generations. The issue with this is that species do not have time to adapt. This affects humans as much as the flora and fauna. Some of the statistical observations are:

  • Surface level of oceans has risen by 20cm in the last 100 years.
  • Glaciers are shrinking
  • Sea ice has decreased by 15-20% in the last 30 years
  • Sea ice is thinner – 1.8m instead of 3m.

There’s a much longer list, but I think the point is illustrated enough.

After the end of the Cold War an international collaboration began to bring about The Arctic Council. This took a about 15 years and incredible patience by the various stakeholders to develop, and it now includes the eight countries with territory in the Arctic and also has representatives from indigenous organisations as permanent members. Made possible through the Gorbachev years of Russian change and through the earlier work of the ‘Rovaniemi Process’ the Arctic Council now are focussed on promoting sustainable development in the Arctic Region in the areas of Development, Monitoring, Marine protection, Flora/Fauna conservation, and Emergency preventions and response – Remember Chernobyl?!

Coffee stop.

After a coffee stop we set off down the other side of the long hallway to read about History and Culture. Through this section there were two main exhibits that we spent time reading and taking in.

  • The history of the hotel and tourist industry
  • The history of the Petsamo Region.

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s tourism to Lapland started to develop. The construction of boutique hotels and log cabin resorts was on the rise. These were mainly for the rich however there were cabins and other levels of accommodation on offer to encourage all visitors to the ‘wilderness’.

During WWII many of these places fell foul of the conflict as the Russian and German armies fought over territory. As the Germans came in, they occupied many of these places and put them to military use, then as they retreated they also destroyed infrastructure such as bridges and roads that might give access further south.

The reconstruction of Lapland after the war was extensive and took decades. There was a shortage of everything. Materials and the infrastructure to move what materials there were.

The state set about rebuilding the resorts and hotels and the state-owned alcohol monopoly – Alko in conjunction with the Finnish Tourist Association worked together to build the major resorts and infrastructure, while other co-ops developed and started to work on the smaller hotels. The best architects were engaged and planning and designing was given high priority.

Some key areas were completed as soon as the late 1940’s, however it wasn’t until the early 1960’s that Lapland could offer what it could before the war.

Inside the Culture and History exhibition.

We jump back in time a bit to learn about Petsamo: A region of northern Finland that borders Russia. It’s importance is mainly due to it’s coastal location and access to the Barents Sea and the rich ocean resources. It came became a Finnish area as part of a treaty called the Treaty of Tartu in Oct 1920 and under Finnish administration in 1921 when border guards and officials crossed the border on skis and ‘set up shop’ so to speak.

Border surveillance was still lax during the 1920’s and there were often secret crossings for black market trade or even just to visit relatives. During the depression (1930’s), some defected to the Soviet side in the hope of better opportunities. As border control was tightened it led to suspicion, smuggling and espionage.

The Arctic Ocean Highway is a 531km highway from Rovaniemi to the port of Liinahamari. The highway was particularly significant because upon it’s completion in 1931 it connected the country to the only Port that didn’t freeze over in winter. The highway was built to allow expansion of tourism to the area an it wasn’t until 1938 that it could be used all year round.

From the late 1930s and early there was a regular air service for Helsinki to the area.

Border surveillance was still lax during the 1920’s and there were often secret crossings for black market trade or even just to visit relatives. During the depression (1930’s), some defected to the Soviet side in the hope of better opportunities. As border control was tightened it led to suspicion, smuggling and espionage.

The border between Finland and the Soviet Union as it was then, was drawn straight through a village with disregard to the inhabitants. The line even separated a farmhouse from its cowshed. The Skolt Sami of the area had a winter camps on the Soviet side, and the new border cut them off from the seasonal migration routes.

As we learnt in Vardo, the situation for Norway was different as they had water borders rather than land and the crossings went undetected until the late 30’s.

During the ‘Winter War’ (4 mths 1939-40) Finland lost the territory back to the Soviets. The war ended with a treaty that conceded that Finland would relinquish the Petsamo area, however, there was a permitted evacuation of the people in this area to be resettled within Finlands shrinking border. As a consequence, Finland allowed Germany to use their norther lands during WWII as a front against the Soviet attempt to further invade Finland. The Finnish people of the time endured wars within wars. The region of Petsamo remains part of Russia.

We were glad we learnt more about Lapland and Arctic history. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening walking around the town and had a really great dinner before heading back to our hotel.

We noticed the balcony’s are mostly glass encased.
A real tree as the Town Christmas Tree.
Lumberjacks Candlestick Bridge
The Rovaniemi Church
The Church adjacent to the War Memorial and Soldiers Cemetary

Haha…the Grinch!
Angry Birds originated in Finland. This is a playground themed accordingly.

Town Centre Lights.
Love the antler lights

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