The colourful history of Kvarøy

Kvarøy, which actually consists of two islands – Inner Kvarøy and Outer Kvarøy – is part of the Municipality of Lurøy in Nordland County, Norway.

The islands are situated just south of the Arctic Circle and Vikingen, a small landmark island with an Arctic Circle Monument. The name Kvarøy is probably derived from a Norse word meaning rim or edge. Centuries ago, when Norway was under Danish rule, the names were spelled Quarøen.

For many centuries the two islands defined “a natural edge” of the preferred shipping lane between Selsøyvik Trading Post and the port of Solvær in the Lofoten Islands – hence the name.

The last year-round inhabitants moved away from Outer Kvarøy at the end of the last millennium, a decade and a half ago. Before that, also this island had been inhabited continuously, probably since about the 8th century.

Outer Kvarøy during the Iron Age
The Merovingian Age (600–800 CE), also called the Germanic Iron Age, was the age just before the Vikings. In Norway, there are all too few archaeological finds from this period, and as a result our knowledge is sketchy. However, one of the richest finds occurred when Håkon Ivarsen was ploughing his fields on Outer Kvarøy in the spring of 1968. He discovered curious objects and immediately notified Tromsø Museum. Archaeologists unearthed the graves of four men, four women and two children, spanning a 200-year period, yielding a rare historical record of pre-Viking settlement. Each grave contained evidence of extensive trade to the east, south and west.

Additional finds form the Viking Age show continued settlement.

The first written records, dating from the 1600s, tell as that Inner Kvarøy had a population of two farmers and two crofters, with families, while on Outer Kvarøy there were two farmers and one crofter family.

New records from 1723 tell us that Inner Kvarøy had four farms, a total of two horses and 12 cows, and produced a yield of three barrels of rye and 18 barrels of mixed grains.

Inner Kvarøy – a port of call
Already in 1860, Inner Kvarøy became a port of call for the ships trafficking the coast. Prior to that, the nearest port of call had been Anklakken, to the west.

In 1893, the Hurtigruten coastal steamers started making regular calls to Inner Kvarøy, and this continued until 1953. Because Inner Kvarøy was ideally situated on the shipping lane, it became a key traffic hub and redistribution point for the northern coast of Helgeland.

The increased ship traffic brought a boon of activity and population growth to Kvarøy. In 1909 a new quay was built for the Hurtigruten coastal steamers. In 1911 a café opened, and another was soon added. A hotel wing was added to Bakken Gård, where there was also a bakery.

For a short period, a local newspaper was published; unfortunately it was best known for its many typographic errors.

At this time Kvarøy even had its own soda pop production!

In the years 1899–1913, an annual market was held regularly. Almost a hundred years later, in 2009, the residents of Kvarøy arranged a new market – and it was a great success, drawing many visitors from throughout the region.

Kvarøy’s klipfish production
Klipfish production started in Norway in the mid-1700s, and by the end of the century the trade in klipfish was making a significant contribution to Norway’s national economy. Numerous areas in what is now the Municipality of Lurøy partook in this demanding activity; during the hectic spring and summer months, fish was laid out to dry on available rocks and cliffs (hence the name). The most extensive production occurred in Lurøy itself, and on the clean white cliffs of Inner Kvarøy, which were used for drying fish from the 1870s until World War II.

In 1880, Knut Haukenes built Haukenesbrygga, and Kvarøy soon became the most important klipfish producer in all of Helgeland, drying up to 60,000 fish at a time on the local cliffs and rocks. Haukenesbrygga is a large waterfront building that is still preserved thanks to the effort of local patriots. Between 2002 and 2008 they carefully restored Haukenesbrygga.

The peak of the klipfish production occurred in 1922–1933, when Sigurd Hansen Blomsø made use of the cliffs and rocks. Quality klipfish from Kvarøy was exported to many Catholic countries, especially Spain, where many Norwegian tourists have enjoyed their bacalao. Interestingly, bacalao is the Spanish word for cod.

Kvarøy in modern times
Like many other fishing villages and trading posts on the outer islands of Norway, the islands of Helgeland saw a dramatic exodus after World War II. In fact, the Norwegian government actively encouraged people to relocate to more central areas, subsidising people’s abandonment of old farms and houses. Nevertheless, thanks to its fortunate location on the shipping lane, Kvarøy’s population remained reasonably stable. With 70 inhabitants today, Kvarøy is still a thriving community.

In 1976, a fish-farming company was established on Kvarøy. Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett is still locally owned, employing many of the island’s residents and inspiring the establishment of new businesses. A factory that produces stairs was established even earlier, in 1955, and is still going strong. Kvarøy has its own school and day-care centre – a key requirement for recruiting new employees and families to the island.