When immigrants from Scandinavia began to come to America in the 1800s, they settled mostly in the midwest. By the 1880s the railroads made it all the way to the Pacific Northwest and within a decade, many Scandinavian organizations and churches were established in towns like Tacoma, Astoria and in the Yakima Valley. Astoria and Ballard are two cities that continue to embrace their rich Scandinavian histories and it is said that Scandinavians felt a kinship with the natural surroundings they found in Oregon and Washington and the economic opportunities here at the time such as fishing, logging and farming. Today an estimated 10% of the population of Oregon and 12% of the population of Washington share Nordic roots.
The end of World War II brought a tremendous need for university level educational opportunities in the Portland area. Portland State College (now Portland State University) was built to meet that need and offered an opportunity for local ethnic groups to be involved. John Cramer, the President of the college at the time, proposed the idea of “nationality classrooms” in which different groups would furnish a room in Cramer Hall and have the option to decorate and furnish it in a traditional style of their country of origin. The Finnish Room was the first and only of these rooms and was built by a working committee under the guidance of the Finlandia Foundation's Vice President, Vaino Hoover, in 1957. The room captures "the essence of Finland" with granite baseboards, birch panelling, woven matting and imported furniture installed by local Finnish craftsmen. The Finnish room continues to be used for Nordic activities today and marks a significant moment in local Nordic history.
In 1958 Finnish became the first Nordic language taught at the university by Professor Paul Vehvilainen, who also taught courses in German language and literature. Johanna Borrevik Fedde was hired soon afterwards to teach Norwegian, and she continued in this capacity until her retirement, in 1990. Her husband, attorney G. Bernhard Fedde, simultaneously taught courses in international law and Scandinavian history in the Political Science and History Departments. Together they left an indelible legacy at PSU and in the Nordic community at large. At present, language classes are offered in Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish. In addition, several Scandinavian literature and film courses are taught each year.
To ensure the continuity of Nordic languages at PSU, Scandinavians of all heritages came together in 1985 as the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation. There were seven founding board members and the group was dedicated to the perpetuation of Scandinavian heritage and culture as an Oregon 501 (c)(3) nonprofit corporation.
Ethnic lodges were also very popular in the area, one of the last remaining cultural buildings in Portland, built by the Sons of Norway, Grieg Lodge, is also a multi-purpose facility in SE Portland called Norse Hall and was built in 1928. Other local Nordic organizations include: the Danish Brotherhood and Sisterhood, Northwest Danish Association, United Kalevala Brothers & Sisters, Finlandia Foundation, Daughters of Norway, League of Swedish Societies, Vasa Order of America (Tre Kronor, Harmoni & Nobel Lodges), New Sweden, Swedish Society Linnea, Swedish Roots in Oregon, the Swedish Club and many traditional dancing and music groups for all ages.
The Scandinavian Heritage Foundation, now Nordic Northwest, continued (and continues today) to sponsor ongoing educational programs through PSU, but the role expanded considerably to the wider community through programs and events that increase Scandinavian cultural awareness for everyone. SHF moved to offices in a home on Oleson Road next to Fogelbo, the home of the Fogelquist family built in the late 1930s.
A Swedish couple, Mr. Oscar Olson and his wife, had the home built by Henry Steiner, one of the chief carpenters on Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood; the home was designated as a historical site by Washington County in 1989. The concept of the log house was brought to America by the first Swedish colonists who settled in “New Sweden” in 1638 (or, the present-day Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania). From the town of Mora, in Delarna, Sweden, Charles Fogelquist, his son and his wife Jessie Taylor came to Oregon and was a forester and a chief road engineer for the Bureau of Land Management in Oregon. Jessie taught piano out of Fogelbo for twenty-five years. Charles and Jessie’s son, Ross, was a German teacher and foreign student adviser in the Evergreen School District in Vancouver, Washington. Carl the XVI, the King of Sweden, knighted Ross Fogelquist in 1985 with the title of the Knight of the Royal Order of the Polar Star, first class, due to Ross’s achievements on behalf of Sweden and Scandinavia in America. Ross served as the Acting Swedish Consul for Oregon in 1993, and again between 1999 and 2001. He served as Honorary Vice Consul for the Swedish Consulate from 2001 until its closure in 2008. He is a member and officer of many Swedish, German, Austrian and Scandinavian organizations and lives in Fogelbo still today.
The same site on Oleson Road was chosen as the location for SHF’s new cultural center. Over two hundred members came together to fundraise and purchase the property on which to build. Those names of the founder's club are on display in our lobby, to celebrate the contributions of these integral supporters and advocates. The organization fundraised, designed and planned a building with Nordic elements, as a place for the community to celebrate and preserve Nordic culture. After many long years of planning and hoping and dreaming, Nordia House opened in 2015 and the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation formally changed its name to Nordic Northwest to incorporate new changes in the growing nonprofit organization. Nordic Northwest’s mission to preserve, communicate and celebrate Nordic culture, heritage and innovation is accomplished through historical and arts programming, educational services and cultural studies and collaboration with other community organizations.
Thank you for being part of our mission to celebrate and cultivate the Nordic ways of life in the Pacific Northwest.