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Norwegian prof impressed with Olds museum, archives

Members of Sons of Norway lodges gather at Mountain View Museum & Archives for a traditional Norwegian coffee party

OLDS — On Sept. 11, the Mountain View Museum & Archives (MVMA) held a traditional Norwegian coffee party to welcome a professor and his wife who are researching Norwegian settlers in the Prairies. 

The event featured museum volunteers as well as members of Sons of Norway lodges, some from Calgary and Red Deer. 

The Sons of Norway, founded in 1895, represents the descendants of people from Scandanavia living in North America. 

Its purpose is to celebrate and preserve the heritage, culture and of Norway and other Nordic countries. 

Traditional Norwegian clothing was on display and volunteers had baked many traditional treats, which attendees were encouraged to consume.

On hand were professor emeritus Gunner Tore Nerheim and his wife Inger Kari Nerheim from Stavenger, Norway.  

They’re touring North America collecting information and stories about Norwegian settlers, especially those on the Prairies.  

The plan is to post it on his website. Kari, who worked for decades as a hospital manager, has been doing much of the editing. They visited the museum and archives as part of that effort. 

Nerheim told guests attending the coffee party that he is very impressed with the Mountain View Museum and Archives, especially the photographs it has, and the very professional way the archives are set up.  

He said at one point he needed to use the washroom and discovered some photos on the wall in there that were so impressive he could envision using them on his website. 

“I said ‘here are pictures that we need for our internet pages,’” he said to some laughter. 

He urged attendees at the coffee party to write up and send him “six to 10 pages” about the history and experiences of Norwegian settlers in the area. That sparked some laughter. 

“I will be passing out the paper and you will bring your six pages to us and we will make sure that the professor gets your histories,” Olds Historical Society chair Donna Erdman said. 

During an interview with the Albertan, Nerheim said he sent out emails to various museums regarding his project and the answer he got from the MVMA was one of the nicest he received; that helped spur the visit. 

Norheim said their hometown is located right on the coast and this past July it rained virtually every day there. 

That’s a far different experience than we’ve had on the Canadian Prairies. However, Norheim said he could understand why many Norwegians chose to settle in central Alberta. 

“It's flat. It's prairie. But I can understand why we're settled in this area because it's hilly,” he said.  

“And there are more trees than say in southern Alberta. And many Norwegians, they always preferred that there should be trees in the neighbourhood.” 

The coffee party made a real impression on the couple. 

 “We’ve never experienced such a fun day as this one,” Nerheim said. 

Kari Nerheim agreed. 

"This is really great, yeah,” she said. 

During the interview, Nerheim opened the “staff only” door to make his point about the museum’s impressive archives. 

“This is very professional, very tidy,” he said, walking over to shelves of small boxes containing documents. 

“It's so impressive. You don't even know what you have here,” he said. 

“I mean here if I came here, could I use this archive efficiently in two days? Yes, because of the way of everything. I can just open it up and say, ‘no, this box, no, this box.’ It's gold. It's so impressive.” 

Nerheim told MVMA manager/program coordinator Chantal Marchildon how amazed he was by the organization of the archives. 

He noted he’s toured many museums over his career, big and small. 

"Many museums your size are way, way below this,” he said. 

"And we’re just starting. Come back in 10 years (we’ll be even more impressive),” Marchildon said. 

Nerheim and Marchildon said when the pandemic hit and museums were forced to close, many simply closed for good. 

Not the MVMA, though. 

Marchildon said it was a golden opportunity she and fellow staffers hadn’t had to catch up on long neglected work. 

Nerheim said he saw a small museum in Montana that took the same approach. 

"If you have a will and you have the right leader and you have people working with you, (you can) do a lot of things,” he said. 

Barb Olsen spoke on behalf of the Sons of Norway.

"Personally, I thank my grandparents for heading to a new land to start a new life," she said. "One of my grandparents was from Sweden and one from Norway and their courageous venture gave us opportunities – to their family and the future generations and it’s inspired me to honour their traditions."

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