Norsk Star State: Norwegian roots run deep in Minnesota

When King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway visit Duluth on Monday, they'll never be far from signs of their homeland. They'll spend time in Norway Hall, just around the corner from Takk for Maten, a restaurant that features Scandinavian meals. ...

Norwegian immigrants
Norwegian immigrants pose for a picture on the passenger and freight steamer America sometime between 1900 and 1910. They are in Lake Superior and Duluth is in the background. (Photo courtesy of the Northeast Minnesota Historical Center, Duluth)

When King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway visit Duluth on Monday, they'll never be far from signs of their homeland.

They'll spend time in Norway Hall, just around the corner from Takk for Maten, a restaurant that features Scandinavian meals. The king will rededicate Enger Tower, named for a Norwegian American who donated the land where it sits and the money that built the tower.

They won't see Leif Erikson Park, named for Norway's most famous explorer, and they won't eat lefse and lutefisk in a church basement, but those also are reminders of Duluth's Norwegian heritage.

Minnesota's population includes 851,000 Norwegian Americans, by far the most of any state, according to the website In Duluth, 16.8 percent of the population has Norwegian ancestry, second only to German ancestry, according to

What drew Norwegians to the Northland?


"In a word, opportunity," wrote Christopher Susag, who co-authored a history of Duluth's Norwegian fraternal organizations in 2006, in an e-mail.

"Norway had a fairly prescribed class structure around 1825," wrote Susag, a psychology instructor at Walden University in Minneapolis. "Social customs and a rising population limited financial and social opportunities there. Upward mobility in the U.S. seemed much more accessible to many."

Norwegian immigrants developed commercial fishing along the North Shore, worked in Iron Range mines and participated in the trades needed to develop Duluth and the region, Susag wrote.

Some of them came from Norwegian farms, said Gudrun Hoivik, who emigrated from Norway to Duluth in 1950.

"People coming from farms were very multitalented out of necessity. On the farm that my dad grew up on, it had a beautiful workshop," she said. "So they had these skills when they came."

Once the first Norwegians came to an area, others often followed, particularly after the Homestead Act of 1862 made Minnesota land available almost for the asking.

"Young men came to Minnesota in droves, homesteaded land and would then write home with tales of success (often grossly exaggerated)," Susag wrote. "Upon reading a letter from a family member or reading a newspaper article printed in one of the many Norwegian American newspapers of the time, family and friends in Norway would load up their wooden chests and set sail for the region."

Family connections brought Egil and Gudrun Hoivik to Duluth among a later wave of immigrants.


Egil Hoivik emigrated from Norway to Duluth to study engineering in 1949 at the invitation of an aunt who lived here. Gudrun and Egil had been high school sweethearts in Bergen, Norway. She followed him to Duluth at age 23 with the encouragement of his family, and they were married here. After 10 years in the Twin Cities, they returned to Duluth in 1965 and have lived in a cozy home in the Woodland neighborhood since then.

By the time the Hoiviks came, the Norwegian culture was long-established in Duluth. In 1870, there were 242 Norwegians in Duluth, Susag and Mari Trine wrote in their publication, "Norwegians Uniting in Duluth." In the next 30 years, the number rose to 7,500. By then, the Normanna Male Chorus already had been singing for seven years in Duluth. The Nortun Lodge of the Sons of Norway had their organizational meeting in 1902 and the Nora Lodge, Daughters of Norway, followed in 1903. Fram Lodge, Sons of Norway, served West Duluth beginning in 1942.

Churches founded by Norwegians also contributed to the culture, Hoivik said, and still do. "They add color to the town with their music and their food."

Outside of the Nortun Lodge and the Norse Federation, which meets in churches and restaurants, the Norwegian fraternal organizations and singing groups are gone. But the influence of Norwegians on the Northland culture remains, Susag said.

"With so many Norwegian Americans in Duluth, the identity provides a sense of history and belonging," he wrote. "Today this group identity may not be as salient in a daily way as it used to be. Still, it is a source of pride for many and something that roots them in the Duluth community."

Amy Norris, a Duluth native with Italian and Croatian bloodlines, said she noticed that pride as she helped prepare for the royal visit in her role as public information manager for the city.

"I knew that there were lots of Norwegians that moved to Duluth," she said. "But what I did not realize ... was how proud they still are of their Norwegian heritage, how they celebrate their Norwegian heritage and how they are recognized by their Norwegian heritage."

Norwegian Americans are "tenacious" about keeping their traditions alive, Hoivik said. But when it comes down to it, those who emigrated from Norway aren't all that different from those who came from other nations.


"I think the people who dare to come are very adventuresome," she said. "They have a certain goal, a certain motivation to try something new."

Norwegian singing group
The Duluth Nordic Choral Ensemble poses for a photograph sometime in the 1930s to early 1940s. At one time there were numerous Norwegian fraternal organizations and singing groups in Duluth and around Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of the Northeast Minnesota Historical Center, Duluth)

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