MINOT, N.D. (KXNET) — On this week’s One-Day ND Destinations, we’re branching out from our usual hangouts in or near Bismarck for a trip to our sister station in Minot.
Although Bismarck may be the capital city, Minot is known as one of ND’s cultural hotspots when it comes to keeping in touch with the state’s roots (at least, in regard to the European side). North Dakota’s primary foreign influences stem from a mix of Scandinavian and Germanic immigrants, and their influence can still be seen to this day. Nowhere is this clearer than in Minot — which not only celebrates its roots every year at the Norsk Hostfest, but features a huge display of European history and architecture year-round at the Scandinavian Heritage Park.
This free location is open daily, and includes a huge number of buildings, statues, and features for visitors to explore. However, it hasn’t always been the tribute to European heritage that residents know it to be.
“It has changed considerably over time,” explains Scandinavian Heritage Association Vice President Kev Davick. “Before the features were built, it was dedicated as the Shirley Bicentennial Park in 1976. In 1988, the Scandinavian Heritage Association was incorporated, and began its vision to represent the 5 Nordic countries of Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.”
Soon after the Heritage Association’s founding, an agreement was formed with the Minot Park District, which permitted the construction of the Scandinavian-styled structures that we see in the area today. As word of the new park’s development spread, both through ND residents and those who frequented Hostfest, it began to attract more buildings, more tourists, and even more interest from overseas — even allowing Minot to develop a ‘sister city’ relationship with Skien, Norway — and now serves as a world-recognized symbol of the enduring legacy of Scandinavian culture.
“It was a local vision that reached out to an international audience,” Davick continues. “Word was spread by the annual NHF, its vendors, participants, and guests.”
Much like the Hostfest itself, the park continues to be a mainstay of Minot’s cultural scene, as well as one that only grows over time. With such a location being readily accessible in one of North Dakota’s biggest cities, it only stands to reason that it’s worthy of becoming a perfect One-Day Destination. And if you’re not sold on paying it a vist from just this information, perhaps an overview of everything the park has to offer — as well as some photographs of the area — will be just enough to convince anyone to take a trip there.
Aside from the Visitor’s Center, the Plaza Scandinavia is the first thing many guests see when arriving at the Scandinavian Heritage Park. Although the area surrounding it is impressive, the real work of art here lies just below the visitor’s feet. The center of the plaza hosts a 75-foot-long map of the five Nordic Countries, crafted out of multicolored granite. The bronze plaques embedded into the ground highlight the names and capital cities of each country in question. Those viewing the plaza can also climb the nearby observatory to interact with a rotating globe and get a birds-eye view of the full plaza. In terms of the park’s offerings, the Plaza Scandinavia is the most recent, having been dedicated in 2005.
Gol Stave Church Replica
Arguably the most iconic structure of the Scandinavian Heritage Park, this full-size replica of the Gol Stave Church (which currently resides in Bygdoy Park in Norway) is also the tallest in the area. A groundbreaking ceremony for the church, attended by both Scandinavian and American dignitaries, was held in October 1999, and its’ first service was held only two years later. The tremendous 60-foot by 45-foot structure features all of the iconic features of Scandinavian Stave Churches — including high roofs, sculpted creatures, and roofing patterns designed to resemble fish scales.
The interior of the church features wooden patterns, support beams, and winding corridors to reach each exit of the building. In the main church hall, visitors can see religious items and tapestries.
Interestingly enough, the symbolism between the building and the religion it promotes can be seen in the structure itself: according to an excerpt from Norway’s Stone Churches referenced on the Scandinavian Heritage Park’s website, the accentuated corner posts represent “the four gospels whose teachings are the supporting foundation of all Christianity.” Likewise, the beams they rest on “Signify God’s apostles, the foundation of all Christianity”, the floorboards represent “the humble men who bow in honour the more they are exposed to the trampling feet of the congregation,” and the surface of the roof symbolizes “the men whose prayers protect Christianity from temptation.”
Scandinavian Heritage Museum
A short walk past the Gol Stave Church Museum and the Sigdal House will take visitors to the Scandinavian Heritage Museum — a former home now stuffed with cultural relics from all five Scandinavian countries. The most impressive discovery to be found in the building is the original model used to create the Gol Stave Church Museum, but there are plenty of other objects to see, including sewing machines, replica Viking ships, and clothing, tools, and instruments of Scandinavian design.
While the largest and most appealing structures in the Heritage Park are the Gol Stave Church, the Scandinavian Heritage Museum, and the Visitor’s Center, this isn’t to say that it’s the only intriguing replica to be found. There are plenty of smaller buildings — both replicas and original constructions — that can be observed or explored in the area.
Stabbur: Stabburs are Norwegian storehouses, typically built with raised floor levels and detached wooden steps. The original version of this building was constructed in 1775 — however, the replica we see today was shipped from overseas and reassembled in Minot during the 1990 Norsk Hostfest, making it the first building to be added to the park. Looking at the design, however, you wouldn’t be able to tell, as the structure is beautifully designed and dotted with intricate carvings.
Sauna: A tribute to the Scandinavian countries — including Finland — wouldn’t be complete without a Sauna. In Finnish culture, Saunas (effectively steam baths) are essential parts of any home, and inviting guests into the sauna is an extremely common experience. This authentic Finnish sauna was completed in 1997. The sauna, incidentally, is the origin of one of the Scandinavian Heritage Association’s favorite stories about the park and those who visit it.
“A few years ago,” recalls a park volunteer, “I met a father and daughter from Finland. They were on a trip across Canada to tour all the provinces when they stopped in Saskatchewan. Learning that they were from Finland, a station attendant asked them if they were going to Hostfest in Minot. They didn’t know about the festival, but were intrigued, so they journeyed across the border into Minot. They stopped at the park before the festival and toured it. After the tour, they met me in the Visitor’s Center. The father and daughter both said that the park was amazing, but the most favorite part was the Finnish Sauna. With tears in his eyes, the father told me that seeing the Finnish Sauna really touched his heart. He explained that it is a great symbol of his homeland, and he was so appreciative of it being represented here in the United States.”
Sigdal House: This log house stems from Vaatnas in the Sigdal area of Norway, built over 200 years ago, and lived in until the 1930s before eventually being added to the park in 1991 after a careful log-by-log rebuilding. Entering the small area allows parkgoers to observe the interior of a small Norwegian cabin, complete with multiple bedrooms and a living room. The park’s resident troll also rests in the cabin when he’s not busy bothering travelers from bridges.
Windmill: This replica of a Danish windmill was originally built in 1928 to support Carl Olson’s family in Powers Lake. It was later donated in the 1960, but eventually damaged by both man and natural forces. However, It was officially dedicated on October 12, 1992, at the same time as the Flag Display.
Pavillion and Picnic Shelter: On October 7, 2003, the Nordic Pavillion for the Arts and Picnic Shelter was established. While it serves the general purpose of a place to rest and take in a show, it is particularly notable for its design. Created by retired Minot architect H.L. Bud Hoeffel, it consists of a triangular roof held up by concrete pillars (which are covered in stone) and wooden support beams.
Flag Display: This array of flags not only presents the flags of the United States and Canada, but also the five flags of the Scandinavian countries.
Rock of Ages: This massive boulder serves as the guardian of a time capsule that was placed under the earth in honor of the Minot Ward County Centennial. The capsule is meant to be opened on November 24, 2036. While there’s no way to currently observe the capsule itself, both the plaque memorializing the event and the rock the capsule is located under are always visible at the park.
Buildings aren’t the only aspects of the park that are worth discussing. Scattered throughout the area are a series of statues dedicated to iconic individuals of Scandinavian and European heritage. Here’s a list of the famous figures.
Leif Erikson: Records from Iceland’s family sagas state that Leif Erickson was a Nordic explorer, who was the first man to establish a settlement at Vinland (often believed to be located on the eastern coast of North America) in roughly 1000 A.D. This would make him the first European to set foot on the continent, at least 450 years before Christopher Columbus. This statue, sponsored by the Icelandic Heritage Society, serves as a monument to every North Dakotan (and North American) with a family legacy from across the pond.
Hans Christian Andersen: Danish author Hans Christian Andersen wrote everything from plays and novels to poems and travel books. However, he is most well-known for being the creator of many famous fairy tales. In total, he wrote 156 fairy tales across nine volumes — including the original versions of ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘The Princess and the Pea’, ‘The Ugly Duckling’, and ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ — many of which have the important message that beauty comes more from the inside than physical appearances. This statue built in his honor is actually the newest sculpture at the park, and was dedicated on October 5, 2004. If you look closely at the statue, you can identify multiple references to his works — including a duckling and a pair of scissors.
Casper Oimoen: A world-renowned athlete, Oimoen was referred to as ‘the best skier in the United States’ in 1931, and is widely credited with making the forward lean a key aspect of ski jumping. In 1932, he served as a member of the U.S Olympic Ski Team, and their captain during the 1936 Winter Olympics. Oimen was later inducted into the U.S Skiing Hall of Fame, and granted the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award in 1973. A portrait of Casper currently hangs in the Hall of Fame in the state’s capital building.
Dala Horse: The Dala Horse is the most recognized symbol of Sweeden in the world. While originally made of plain wood and created as children’s toys, more recent iterations of the Dala Horse feature bright colors, patterned saddles, and painted harnesses. This large 30-foot statue of the symbol was dedicated by the Swedish Heritage Association in 2000, and stands as a monument to the craftsmen and soldiers who created and popularized the Dala Horse as a form of domestic art.
Sondre Norheim: Compared to some of the other statues, Sondre’s is a name you might not be familiar with — but still an important one, especially when it comes to the history of sports. Sondre is often referred to as the ‘father of modern skiing’, and is immortalized as such both at the heritage park and on his grave. While he technically wasn’t the inventor of the sport, Norheim is seen as not only a master of the art (having won the first national skiing competition in Norway), but also a pioneer in its technology, having been responsible for combining skiing with jumping, designing the prototypes for modern equipment, and introducing Norwegian words like ‘ski’ and ‘slalom’ to the rest of the world. This memorial to Nordheim’s legacy was dedicated during the 1987 Hostfest, and a duplicate of the statue (which stands in Mordegal, his birthplace) was later established in 1988.
Eternal Flame: One statue is not the only tribute to Norheim in the Scandinavian Heritage Park. A flame from his birthplace was transported from Norway to Minot, and used to light this ever-burning fire in December of 1993 by former governor Edward Schafer. Designed by Minot artist Sheldon Larson, the monument is a testament to Sondre’s legacy. According to the Scandinavian Heritage Park, the suspended globe represents Norheim’s contributions to skiing, and the skis holding up the ball and flame represent the five Scandinavian countries.
While the park is mainly occupied by structures, there is plenty of beauty to be found in the hills and pools of the park as well. Of particular note is the towering waterfall structure, where roughly 600 gallons of water flow over the rocks and into the nearby stream every minute. There are also plenty of smaller ponds located near the windmill which are dotted by spectacular pink and purple flower beds.
For those who would rather be near greenery, a courtyard located near the Gol Stave Church Museum, offers a quiet place to relax in memory of Myron Peterson — the chairman of the committee dedicated to establishing the park’s replica church.
Scenic, sweeping views of the park can also be found by scaling the multiple hills in the area.
The Visitor’s Center, in addition to being an impressive design from an architectural standpoint, serves as a perfect first or last stop in any trip to the park. Inside, one can not only find the main offices of the Scandinavian Heritage Association and the Norsk Hostfest, but a huge assortment of souvenirs — including European chocolate, handmade Dala Horses, jewelry, and gifts themed to both North Dakotan and Scandinavian culture. While you’re there, be sure to sign the guest book, view the Scandinavian Heritage Wall of Honor, and have your picture taken with the troll sitting on the bench at the center of the building’s gift shop.
Over the years, the Heritage Park has seen many new additions — not only in terms of structures and statues, but also in the number of tourists and city-dwellers who find their way to the area. Thankfully, these new influences appear to be very well-received.
“The public response has been wonderful,” Davick states. “Many local people come to have lunch during the day, walk their dogs, or catch a few Pokemon. Just this last year, we have had visitors from at least 12 different countries, and all 50 states. Driving through our parking lot, you will see many different license plates from all over. It is always fun to have new air force personnel and families check out the park when they move to Minot.”
While it’s true that the park over time has grown into a tremendous tourist attraction, it’s important to remember that it was designed for more than one single purpose. In addition to serving as a popular Minot destination, it aims to help preserve the Scandinavian influence on North Dakota, as well as introduce many to the history and heritage of their ancestors alongside events like the Hostfest. Judging by the popularity of both these annual festivities and the year-round availability of the park, it is safe to say that it has succeeded at this goal, and will continue to do so for decades to come.
“The Scandinavian Heritage Park is a lasting legacy,” Davick continues. “A gift of remembrance to future generations. Our children, grandchildren, and generations yet unborn will be the heirs of our rich Scandinavian heritage because we cared enough to preserve and nurture the culture and traditions that were so much a part of our ancestors’ lives.”
The Scandinavian Heritage Park is free to visit, but hours are seasonal, and guided tours are also available for groups. In order to learn more about the park’s offerings, hours, or contact information, visit their website here.