Industrial Arctic

How Sweden has developed her Northland


Industrial Arctic

How Sweden has developed her Northland


Industrial Arctic

How Sweden has developed her Northland


THE LAPLAND EXPRESS pulls out of Stockholm every afternoon at two-thirty; swiftly it glides northward over electrified lines. All night it runs through tall pine forests. In the morning it crosses the Arctic Circle, to speed all day over the wastes of Lapland, pull over the low mountains on the Norwegian border, dive precipitately down a great fiord, and draw up finally at the extreme North Atlantic port of Narvik.

That journey, moved over onto the map of Canada, would extend from Lake Athabaska to Aklavik, at the mouth of the Mackenzie River. Why should Sweden maintain such a service to the Arctic? Because of a heavy, greyish-black stuff which lies up there in whole mountainfuls, and which is more precious to our modern world than gold or diamonds—iron. And because of great timber, pulp, power and gold developments along the way.

I say developments advisedly, because Sweden’s Northland is being developed, not exploited. Her forests are not being stripped and ravished and left a tinderbox of waste; cared for and replenished, they contain forty per cent more wood today than 100 years ago! Her gold is not being gouged out to the accompaniment of wild, antisocial speculation. Her vast Arctic iron resources are being efficiently operated by private interests, while the nation shares fiftyfifty in the profits and the thousands of miners enjoy the highest living standards of their craft in Europe. The great waterfalls of the North have been acquired by the State and are being developed in orderly progression, soon to be linked by a trunk line to Stockholm.

Shall we step aboard the Lapland Express, then, and go North for a closer look at all this?

Forest Replacement

1 I 'HE TIMBER region is the first we pass through. -L Sweden’s forest industry is superbly organized. The sawmills are located at the estuaries of the rivers; alongside each is a pulp mill, to which passes every scrap of waste from the sawing. The pulp mill also profits by having its logs—the thin, crooked or inferior ones—brought cheaply down the river with the sawlogs. Through this arrangement, too, logs that offer as little as a single two-by-fourinch piece of lumber can economically be used up.

Floating channels—15,000 miles of them—have been rigged up in Swedish rivers, so that the logs are continuously and smoothly guided downstream. The floating is handled by a co-operative association of all the timber interests operating on that particular river. Once at the estu-

ary, the logs are sorted out according to their brand.

Private logging firms own just over one quarter of Sweden’s forest land. Farmers and landed proprietors hold nearly one half; and the State and municipalities own the rest. Whereas legislation practically prevents the private logging companies from adding to their forests, it is the fixed policy of the State to increase its holdings whenever an adjoining wooded property is offered for sale at a reasonable price. When units of a certain size are built up, the State goes into the logging business. It pays the local taxes just like anyone else, and makes a profit for the people, running up into millions of dollars.

Forestry has been developed to a science in Sweden. The nation’s forests are measured, and estimated to contain 1,420 million cubic meters of wood. The annual growth is calculated at forty-seven million cubic meters; the “crop” taken out is between thirty and forty millions. Her forest land is Sweden’s greatest single natural resource, and she intends that it be permanently maintained. For thirty years it has been unlawful, not merely to slash forests but even to thin them out unduly. Immature trees may not be cut at all, and the replacement of all mature timber cut must be provided for either by natural regeneration (the ideal held out), or by planting seedlings.

To this end, the State provides annually from its nurseries forty to forty-five million seedling trees and many tons of pine and spruce seed. Its foresters dig four to five thousand miles of forest ditches, clean out hundreds of miles of brook, and visit annually all of Sweden’s 20,000 logging sites. This work of supervision and education is carried on by the Forest Commission Board, and by its branches in ever}' county. It is supported by a tax of 1.3 per cent on the stumpage value of all timber cut. Forest operators, large and small, have come to co-operate so well that the commission’s annual list of specific prohibitions of activity now numbers only about 100, and its court actions less than half a dozen.

Different Gold Camp

TDASSING THE region of heaviest logging and approach-

ing the Arctic Circle, we reach Sweden’s ten-year-old Klondike, the Boliden gold field. “Klondike” indeed! Abandon all your notions of a gold camp when you enter Boliden. Here is neither hotel, saloon, nor house of prostitution. Instead, homes, gardens and children predominate. The town, which has over 2,000 population, is pleasantly planned out in a grove of silver birch. Spaced out along

curving streets are the white-stuccoed homes of the miners, many of them built by their own labor (as a down payment) and financed under a company scheme. Each has ample garden space, and lawns, flowerbeds and whitepainted garden furniture are the rule.

Life is as normal and healthy and happy in Boliden as it can be made at such a latitude. Even the winter’s lack of sunlight is partly made up for by sun-ray treatments. There is a handsome Finnish bath, a community hall for movies and concerts, a big, first-class school, a sports ground, and an illuminated skating pond with a little heated dressing house. Over at the mine there is a fine canteen-restaurant for the miners, finished in the modern style. In the town’s central square a splendid store of the national consumers’ co-operative sells a wide range of goods at near Stockholm prices. On an elevation near by is a group of three residence-clubs for the clerks and engineers, married and single—although there are few single men at Boliden. I found a young engineer friend living here in most modern comfort, eating three meals a day in a modernstyle dining room that would have done credit to a Paris hotel—and paying $26.25 a month for it all !

The Boliden Company is making a lot of money, but, in the way now generally adopted in Sweden, it is looking after its employees’ health and happiness, and accepts a certain responsibility for their future. This community will not simply be abandoned when the mine plays out; the company is setting aside a substantial reserve which will enable it to carry on with a new mine near by.

Only one deposit, the richest in the area, has been opened up as yet. This mine is a fairly large one, however, yielding 17,500 pounds, or an even one per cent of the world’s gold production, out of the 400,000 tons of ore mined annually. Through a difficult and complicated process of concentration (the common cyanide process cannot be u$ed), byproducts of copper (6,000 tons annually), silver (40,000 pounds) and arsenic in sufficient quantity to cover the wffiole world demand, are recovered. Since no outlet exists at present for the arsenic, it is being stored in a gigantic hermetically-sealed magazine, while chemical engineers search for new' uses for it.

Efficient Transportation

FROM BOLIDEN the post auto takes you the sixteen miles back to the railroad for twenty-five cents, and a trim little Diesel rail-bus carries you in an hour to the main line again. For a stretch of several hundred miles along here the line is not electrified, but at Boden, Sweden’s one important fortress, you turn onto the electrified Lapland ore line. This most northerly electric railway in the world is operated with impeccable efficiency. The passenger trains clip along at forty to fifty miles an hour. Two daily through trains come up from the South; besides the Express there is a slightly slower train which leaves Stockholm in the morning.

The Lapland Railway was just being started as the last spike was driven on the Canadian Pacific. But its British builders went bankrupt after completing the first section, and it was not finished until 1902, by which time it was the property of the Swedish State. The ore traffic grew steadily; coal brought in from England and Geimany was expensive, while water power lay ready to hand, so it was decided to electrify the line. By 1922 this was done to the whole of the line, except the twenty-five-mile Norwegian stretch. The costly experiment has proved a big success; not only has the iron trade continued to grow, but electrification has permitted both size and speed of the trains to be almost doubled.

An hour out of Boden you cross the Arctic Circle, at the station Polcirkeln. You are in the Arctic, and all the prosiness of your comfortable train compartment cannot quite rob you of its thrill. Of course you would rather have gone “in” by dog team or by Hudson Bay supply steamer, but how much chance have you of ever getting such an opportunity-—not even to mention the time and money it would need? Here you only need a week-end, and a $12 return ticket.

At Polcirkeln there are still tall pines, gardens and occasional farms. Even two hours farther North, at the iron-mining centre of Gellivare, you will find the town's surprisingly attractive boulevards lined with good-sized trees. By the time you reach Kiruna, however—a grey, grim city of 10,000 inhabitants 100 miles north of Gellivare —there are only twisted scrub birches and mossy tundra. There is a minimum of scenery, and yet on this fine autumn day of sunshine and scudding clouds, the dull reds and sombre yellows of the moss and trees, and the reflections in the myriad limpid little lakes and ponds, make a glorious spectacle.

Kiruna, like Gellivare, sits beside a mountain of iron ore; these are the greatest and richest deposits in the world. The Kiruna deposit is much the larger, and from its mine the ore pours out over the electric railway to Narvik like the ever-running sands of time - thirty-five tons to a car, forty-four cars to a train, sixteen trains a day. Only on

Sundays and on the few days in the winter when the fresh snowfall is too heavy for the trains, does the movement halt.

“End of the World"

TDAST KIRUNA, the landscape becomes more and more desolate; the only signs of life in all this wilderness are occasional Lapp hay-fields, tiny patches of slough bottom from which the grass has been cut or pulled and hung up to dry on a pole framework, fastened down with more poles and with stones. The Lapps live in essentially the same manner as they did 5.000 years ago—following their reindeer herds to the mountains in summer and returning with them to the plains in winter; using them for food, clothing and transport the while. In the main the Swedish Government leaves them alone, and what education is brought to them is imparted under Lapp conditions, in a skin tent or under a turf shelter in the hills during the summer.

A few of these interesting primitives (one of their number, Johan Turi, has written and drawn out their story in an amazing book, “Turi’s Book of Lapland”) will be seen along the way. Short and stocky and decidedly Mongolian in feature, they wear in summer a picturesque costume of blue cloth trimmed with red and yellow stripes, the fullskirted smock caught in by a broad leather belt. A big floppy tassel on the cap. leggings, and little tumed-up shoes complete the picture.

Soon you reach the shores of great Lake Tornetresk. It was very near here that three noblemen of the court of Louis XIV stood in the year 1671 and carved on a slab of wood (it is still preserved in an old Lapp church) : “We have journeyed to Asia and to Africa. We have crossed the big sea to America. But now we know we have come to the end of the world.” Looking around at this boulder-strewn desolation, the endless tundra, the deathly still lake, and the dark, rounded masses of weary, worn-out mountains which raise themselves around it, and forgetting for a moment your geography, you can easily imagine how they felt.

But you go on, past the “end of the world,” over the low divide which separates Sweden from Norway, into a dark canyon, the gloomiest and most desolate place yet, through interminable snow sheds and—suddenly you emerge into a bright new world, high above a great fiord. Far below,

home-coming fishing schooners make water-bug tracks across the unruffled surface. The train races down the brief Norwegian section to Narvik, the end of your journey. You are now only 900 miles from the middle point of the east coast of Greenland.

Narvik is a grey, colorless town; often it is drizzling with rain. Yet there is magic, too, in Narvik. The magic is in the constantly-tooting whistles and the dull rumble of the ore trains, and in the buzzing activity underneath the myriad lights down at the quays. All day long, all night long, the ore trains roll in; just as steadily the ships load and sail out. The ore dump forms a tableland, a sort of plateau above the quays. Walk over and pick up some of the stuff. Heavy as lead. Pick up another chunk. Soon it will begin to weave its magic spell over you; black magic. Away up here at the top of the world is flowing the lifeblood of civilization. Maybe this iron had built the TransSiberian Railroad, the Cape-to-Cairo line, the Berlin-toBagdad road. It is nearly all going to Germany now, three quarters of it, to Krupp, to make cannon and tanks probably. Black magic; the making or the ruin of civilization.

Arctic Conveniences

DUT AWAY with gloom! Let us get out of drab little Narvik and return to Kiruna to visit the remarkable mine from which all this stuff comes. The “mine” is simply a big hole, a crater, in the top of a mountain. They have been scooping away with giant shovels in this hole for thirty years. They have taken out eighty million tons, and the experts say that a billion more remain. This preposterous mountain has a 100-yard-wide strip of ore running in a ridge three and a half miles long, then dipping down under a lake and emerging a mile away in another mountain ! The ore extends 800 feet above ground, and appears in the deepest drillings 2,600 feet below the surface of the lake. The ore is worth $10 a ton on the quay at Narvik, and it costs only seventy-five cents a ton freight to put it there.

The Lapland iron mines are run by a partnership of State and private interest. As the owner of most of this Northern waste, the State, according to Swedish law, is entitled to a half share in the wealth produced. But the development of the mine is in energetic private hands. By hauling the ore over its railway the State makes a further handsome profit— enough to put the whole State system on the right side of the ledger.

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The Kiruna mine (and that of Gellivare too), besides yielding its owners a good profit, gives its miners a decent living. They have a five-day, forty-hour week. They earn on the average 300 to 400 Swedish crowns a month (equal to $100 or so) ; crane operators and drill smiths make twice as much. At quitting time the miner can leave his dirty clothes in a locker, take a Finnish bath and a sun-ray treatment, and ride home in clean clothes on a free company street-car. His home is fitted with electricity and other modern conveniences. His children go to schools noted all over Sweden for their excellence, and receive free medical and dental care, with free hot lunches thrown in for good measure.

I don’t mean to infer that these people are living or working in paradise, but the company is really doing what it can. For one thing, they are still isolated in the dreary Arctic. The railway tries to help out here by arranging an exceptionally low fare “to Sweden” as they say up here. The telephone people have set a thirty-cent tariff for a three-minute talk over the 1,000-mile wire to Stockholm. Co-operative headquarters make a partial rebate on the freight costs of their far northern branches, so that prices up there are little higher, and the cost of living is actually lower, than in Stockholm. It is a fact that company and State, and everyone else who has a hand in it, have combined to try to give these miners on whom so much of Sweden’s prosperity depends as decent a life as possible.

Northern Power Stations

SO MUCH for Lapland’s black magic;

the North country has its white magic too—Europe’s greatest waterfalls, convertible into electric energy. One of these falls, that at Porjus, has been developed

already, and supplies power for the railway and the mines, and all the towns and cities of Lapland.

How can you generate electricity from a waterfall in the midst of an Arctic winter? That is the problem they had to solve at Porjus, the most northerly hydro-electric power station in the world. They dammed the end of a long, tonguelike lake, and set their intake deep below the surface, below the winter ice-line. Through the solid rock they excavated a tunnel which carries the water to the turbines, located, with the generators, in a big room cut in the rock 165 feet below the surface. They then cut another tunnel to carry the water away and dispose of it downstream. And this is not the last word in 1937 hydro construction, but a plan conceived and carried out in 1910!

A few miles below Porjus is another power site equally as good, and near by is one far larger. There is more power here than the Northland, in any conceivable future, can use. But soon it will be needed in the South of Sweden, and already a trunk line is being pushed slowly northward to connect Porjus to the Southern State power grid (one third of Sweden’s electrical energy is generated in the State system). Sweden’s southern rivers have their heaviest flow in the winter season and are low in the summer, while in the Arctic conditions are just the reverse; it is hoped to equalize the power fluctuations thus caused.

The problems of transmission over such distances remain tremendous, but the engineers have set themselves to achieve it successfully by 1945. And after that? The development of other and bigger Arctic power sites is already worked out on their scratch pads.

Sweden, like Canada, is Northern land. Like Canada, much of her prosperity depends on her forests, mines and waterfalls. She has developed these in a notably sane and farseeing manner. It seemed to me that there was much that we could profitably learn from her.