In the Trading Union grocery store in Petersburg I met Shirley. She and her husband fell in love with Petersburg when they visited in 1976. In 1978 they moved here permanently. She said that she enjoys living in all of the scenery. I have to agree that it is gorgeous.
Just about any direction you look in Petersburg there is an amazing view. From the road that goes by the airport you can see this on a winter morning…
And if you turn around you can see the mainland, the Coast Mountains, and Devil’s Thumb.
This granite pinnacle dares climbers to challenge its 9078 feet. Not the highest mountain, but it provides some unparalleled difficulty.
It is one impressive rock.
Set in the middle of all of this grandeur is a collection of approximately three thousand souls.
Petersburg is a commercial fishing town that supports the
arts. The harbors are full of fishing boats from tidy gillnetters
to muscular seiners to massive packers. The town is enhanced with murals, decorative brass inlays in
the sidewalks, and, of course, rosemaling. The rosemaling is a hint as to how Petersburg is both a fishing town and an art town; it is Alaska's Little Norway, living and celebrating Norwegian history and traditions.
I visited with Sally Dwyer at the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. She filled me in on some of the town history, and told me of her family being here for over one hundred years. She said that in years past when letters came from The Old Country (Norway) they were considered news and passed around so that everybody in town could read them. Sally feels that the Norwegian culture has enhanced the core values of the town, bestowing a strong work ethic plus pride in keeping homes and boats sound and tidy.
In the summer the town bustles. Fleets of boats move in and out for various fishing seasons. The three canneries employ hundreds of workers and pack millions of cans of fish.
In December, on a day with a temperature of twenty degrees (-7 C) the harbor is still busy. People are working on their fishing boats and there are boats moving in and out of the harbor.
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Little Norway has kept the bilingual signage to a minimum.
This is a friendly town, where smiles and greetings come easily, where people wave and pedestrians have the right of way. See this little sign that is posted at the edge of town? They mean it. If I even looked like I wanted to cross the road the cars stopped so that I could cross safely. Refreshing, huh?
Newcomers may wait awhile to be fully accepted by the townspeople. Just remember, this is a town aware of its long history. They have plenty of time to get to know you, so no need to get in a hurry.
Now back to the artistic side of Petersburg...
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Harold and his boys collected the wood and cork fishing floats that are no longer used. Today's net floats are primarily made of plastic. The old ones have grain and character. One day there was a great pile of them and Harold told his boys to clean them up. The boys strung them on ropes and hung them from the side of the garage. 'The Wall' has become a beloved part of local art.
The Whale Observatory, built by David McFadden, beckons you
to step inside and enjoy not only the expansive view in front, but of the building
itself. Pretty curves and substantial wooden supports create a building of graceful
strength set against the raw beauty of Fredrick Sound and the jagged Coast
Mountains. By the way, this is a great place for birdwatching!
A year ago I wandered along the Sandy Beach Trail for the first time. I was intrigued to find a bridge with a Troll House that has benches for sitting to enjoy the view or to visit with new friends. I giggled. The Troll House has delightful angles, and is so welcoming.
In the middle of the bridge there is a step up. I walked along, with thoughts of daily life playing through my head, until I took that step up. The bridge bounced! I stopped, suddenly completely aware of my surroundings, and felt a part of the creek, the beach, the woods. It hadn’t occurred to me before that there are no railings on the bridge, yet it felt safe and strong…and alive. The logs supporting it are cantilevered, and do not have supports that impact the creek below, but move slightly as people walk across. Kudos to Dieter Klose for excellent design!
Windows and doors all around town are surrounded by rosemaling. This traditional Norwegian art form is well represented by the quality paintings done by talented Petersburg rosemalers. The red shutters on the Sons of Norway Hall were painted by the Muskeg Maleriers. The blue rectangle is on the Hammer and Wikan Hardware storefront and was painted by Christy Hammer. The shutters on the dormer window were painted by Cathy Harris. This beautiful work adds visual music to the town of Petersburg.
The last photo above is an advertisement for a boat repair business. I do not know anything about Synthesis Boat Repair, but if their work matches the care that was put into this sign, then it must be good.
This hardworking town takes time to celebrate two big Norwegian traditions. Mayfest is a four day celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day with live outdoor music, food, events, and Vikings. There is just nothing like seeing a big Viking in furs and horned helmet coming at you on the street! There are worse ways to get carried away.
At Christmas time julebukking is a huge town event. In times
past the men disguised themselves as women and the women disguised themselves as men and went from
house to house where great spreads of traditional Norwegian foods were laid out for the julebukkers. People tried to guess who was behind each mask.
Decades ago the businesses of Petersburg joined the food part of the julebukking tradition as a thank-you to the town. For the three days before Christmas you can check the schedule to see which business is serving their specialty. Coastal Cold Storage – all you can eat Cajun or plain fresh shrimp! Lee’s Clothing – Sig’s Pickled Herring and Smoked Salmon! Trading Union – Ken’s Special Egg Nog! Petersburg Rexall Drug Store – expect a long line for their Pastrami Sandwiches! And there is more. The list is long, and if there are lines to wait in then that is even better so that you have time to talk with everyone. It is a fun, social atmosphere, and the best food!
There's wildlife around Petersburg, too. It is common to see Sitka Blacktail Deer in town. The birdwatching is delightful, and there is even a boardwalk to a blind so that you can watch the swans that visit at certain times of the year.