I’ve mentioned my dad in a few posts, because something we did or somewhere we went reminded me of him, or I knew he would have been interested. Well, I know he would have pushed aside his plate of sardines for a chance to get an up-close look at Scandinavia without leaving the United States. Minot is home to the Scandinavian Heritage Park and Norsk Hostfest celebration. My dad, a first generation Swedish-American, would have loved seeing the park and taking part in the heritage festival.
Scandinavian Heritage Park
We visited the heritage park first. The park offers visitors a taste of the five countries that comprise Scandinavia – Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland. Each country is represented with an exhibit, at a minimum.
As you start your tour, check out the statue of possibly the most famous Danish celebrity of all time – Hans Christian Andersen. The author penned some of the greatest fairy tales and stories in history. His writings include “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Emperor’s Clothing” and “The Snow Queen.”
Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, in 1805. He died at the age of 70 while living in Copenhagen.
The park is home to an actual working Danish Windmill. It was used on a North Dakota farm before being donated to the heritage park.
The first European known to have actually visited North America was Viking Leif Erikson. The Norse leader – from Iceland – is believed to have stepped on North American soil long before Christopher Columbus visited the Caribbean. Erikson was born in 970 and died in 1020 at around age 50.
A Finnish sauna allows visitors a look at an actual sauna building. The building is small. It has two rooms.
The heritage park honors two Norwegians for their role in downhill mountain skiing. Sondre Norheim, a Norwegian who immigrated to North Dakota, is considered the father of modern downhill skiing. He worked on equipment and technology developments to help improve the sport. He is buried in Minot.
Norheim is honored with an eternal flame. It features five aluminum skis (representing each Scandinavian country), a globe for the international contribution he made and a flame that was transported from the fireplace of his childhood home.
Casper Oimoen, another Norwegian who relocated to North Dakota, represented the United States in two winter Olympics. He was captain of the United States team in 1936.
The largest attraction at the heritage park is a replica of a Stave church from Gol, Norway. The wooden church resembles a church built in 1280. There are only a few Stave churches left in Scandinavia. They represent the transition from Norse religion (Thor and Odin are likely the best known) to Christianity. Lutheranism is the popular Christian religion in the region.
My second favorite attraction at the park (next to Leif) is the Dala horse. The Swedish symbol stands about 30 feet tall and is colorfully painted.
An actual Norwegian house was brought over to be part of the Scandinavia Heritage Park. The Sigdal House is more than 200 years old. It has two bedrooms, as well as a large front room.
A stabbur is a Norwegian storehouse. The park has a replica that visitors can enter and check out. The original building for this design was built in 1775.
The heritage park is completed with a museum that features items from all the Scandinavian countries. Inside, visitors can find traditional clothing, dishes, photos, dolls and much more.
If you visit Minot in late September, you can time your visit with the Norsk Hostfest (pronounced whosefest). The annual event occurs the last week of September at the North Dakota state fairgrounds.
We spent a fun afternoon at the Hostfest. I was craving Swedish meatballs when we arrived. But, since I can make them at home, we opted for a Norwegian potato dumpling called the Klub and a Viking (breaded meatball on a stick). The Viking is a popular item at the Hostfest. For dessert, we had Rommegrot (Norwegian porridge).
The largest Scandinavian festival in North America, Hostfest features traditional food, entertainment, vendors and some unique characters. Lisa and I met Grandma Schatz. She is a giant woman (actually on stilts) who uses a nine-foot walker to get around with. As I asked her for a picture, she told me I had to take a number. I reluctantly tore off the number 9. She looked at my ticket.
“Number six,” she said. “Number seven. Number eight.”
“Number nine?” I showed her my ticket. “Well, there you are.”
I snapped a photo of her and Lisa together. She was such an entertaining character (Grandma Schatz. Not Lisa. That’s a different story). She gave us a discount coupon for Swedish meatball dinner at a local truck stop.
She wasn’t the only character we would encounter. People dressed in traditional clothing were all around us. A couple of guys wearing Viking helmets posed for us. We later saw them singing as a duo as one of the musical acts.
Traditional music and dance abounded during the festival. My dad played the accordion, so I was pleased when we caught a band using the instrument.
Visitors were encouraged to take part in some of the traditional dances.
The entertainment included a variety of performers, such as Sara Evans and Neil Sedaka. Their concerts were extra charges from the general admission tickets. However, plenty of free entertainment was provided. Possibly the most popular free act was the Nelson brothers. You may remember them from the 1990s when they had long hair and went by Nelson.
The duo, now nearing 50, perform a series of tribute concerts to their dad. Ricky Nelson was a teen idol during the 1950s and ‘60s. He died in a private plane accident in the late 1980s. He challenged Elvis Presley as America’s teen idol. A clip that he and his dad – Ozzie – put together for their television series (“The Ozzie and Harriett Show”) is considered the first music video.
The Nelson sons performed several of their dad’s hit songs and a few lesser known ones. They tossed in a few of their own, too. Since their dad passed away on New Year’s Eve, they found they can’t do a tribute concert around Dec. 31 because it’s a difficult time for the family. Instead, they use the Hostfest as a time to celebrate Ricky’s life and legacy. The packed crowd supported the idea.
As we were leaving the Hostfest, I was a little bummed I didn’t see a troll. Trolls play a role in Scandinavian folklore. They were creatures that lived in caves, mountains, or isolated rocky areas. They were not helpful to humans. As we were almost to the exit, what do I spy? It’s a troll, using a bush as camouflage. He stopped long enough for me to get photographic proof that he existed.
Oh, and my dad would be proud; we left with Dala Christmas ornaments for the family.
We had a great time in Minot at both the Scandinavian Heritage Park and the Norsk Hostfest. We recommend visiting the park any time of the year. We also encourage you to visit the next Hostfest, which will celebrate its 41st anniversary.
Disclaimer: Thank you to Travel North Dakota for the complimentary tickets for Hostfest. However, all opinions and views are ours.