King Harald greets Alaska
With his interest in the lands of the north and climate change, His Majesty King Harald V of Norway has long been interested in visiting Alaska. He had an opportunity to fulfill his wish after his recent visit to the State of Washington. The first official leg of his Alaskan journey began on May 26, 2015, with a helicopter ride, courtesy of Alaska’s National Guard, from Anchorage to Homer, Alaska, a major fishing port and tourist destination located at the southern end of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. From here His Majesty took a boat to Tutka Lodge, which sits at the entrance of a massive fjord at the southern end of beautiful Kachemak Bay. Joining King Harald on the boat were a number of local scientists who briefed His Majesty on the regional effects of climate change.
After a day on Kachemak Bay His Majesty returned to Homer where he was greeted by an enthusiastic group of Norwegian-Americans who waved Norwegian flags in his honor. That night he returned to Anchorage to have dinner with Bill Walker, Alaska’s Governor.
On May 27, His Majesty’s morning began with his participation in the INTSOK—Norwegian Oil and Gas Partners—Seminar in Anchorage, Alaska, a one-day conference on the technologies and challenges of Arctic offshore operations. His next event was the American opening of the “Polar Night” exhibit at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, an exhibit first developed at Tromsø’s Polar Museum. The exhibit highlights all the animal and plant activity that enlivens the darkness of the polar night. Before entering the museum His Majesty was greeted by over two hundred cheering Norwegian-Americans waving Norwegian flags and shouting “Hipp Hipp Hurra, Hurra, Hurra!”
Following the “Polar Night” opening at the museum King Harald was whisked away to Anchorage’s Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center for an event sponsored by Alaska’s World Affairs Council entitled “Looking North Together: The United States and Norway in a Quest for Arctic Knowledge.” His Majesty gave the opening remarks for the event, stressing the importance of understanding the Arctic and the effects of Climate Change on the Arctic regions. King Harald’s words of wisdom were followed by presentations by Norwegian scientists and explorers as well as Alaskan Arctic policy experts. Over five hundred persons were in attendance at this sold-out venue featuring King Harald’s active participation.
The next stop on His Majesty’s busy schedule on May 27 was the University of Alaska Anchorage. Here His Majesty witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement between the University of Tromsø and the University of Alaska Anchorage to further ongoing partnerships in education and research.
His Majesty’s final destination on May 27 was Viking Hall of Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge, where he was invited to a reception in his honor at the end of a long day.
His Majesty was greeted at the entrance to Viking Hall by the Lodge President, 20 flag-waving children, and a small five-year-old girl who presented him with flowers.
Accompanying the King was Ambassador Kåre Aas, Norway’s Ambassador to the United States, His Majesty’s constant companion on this Alaskan trip. They were, in turn, accompanied by a number of representatives from the Royal Norwegian Foreign Service and the King’s Aide de Camp. Awaiting His Majesty were one-hundred and twelve excited Norwegian Alaskans from five of the seven Sons of Norway lodges in Alaska: Fedrelandet in Petersburg, Svalbard Lodge in Juneau, Island Viking in Kodiak, Arctic Viking in Fairbanks, and Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage.
After a welcoming speech from the Lodge President, His Majesty and the assembled guests were treated with a Norwegian song and then an American folksong by talented members of Bernt Balchen Lodge. Following the musical venue Ambassador Aas spoke briefly about the importance of the connections between Norway and the United States. Next, His Majesty and Ambassador Aas took time to visit with many of the guests and engage in open conversations. His Majesty made a special effort to personally greet Erling Johansen, Norway’s Honorary Consul for Alaska, who had recently been awarded the Norwegian Order of Merit for his dedicated service. His Majesty was also delighted to meet Eva Bilet who had previously hosted his father, Olav V, in Alaska in 1975, and had also presented a flower to his grandfather, King Haakon VII, as a small child in Trondheim. Being particularly fond of children and youth, His Majesty showed great pleasure in speaking to some younger members of Bernt Balchen Lodge. The King asked about their hopes and dreams and they in turn peppered him with questions, which he graciously answered. One young teenager asked His Majesty what he would have done with his life should he had not ascended to the throne. His Majesty answered, “I think that I should have been a teacher.” A very interesting answer given His Majesty’s keen interest in the world about him.
His formal day ended, His Majesty rose to leave and received a standing ovation from the elated guests at Viking Hall. Now his busy day had come to its final conclusion, the Alaskan Sons of Norway members at Viking Hall only hoped that their reception had been a “good conclusion” to King Harald’s long and final day in Alaska. After His Majesty left the Viking Hall they drank their akevitt and ate their pølse lapskaus with only good and glowing memories of the visit of Norway’s “Peoples’ King.” Perhaps His Majesty had equally fond memories of Alaska and its people as he flew home the next day?
This article originally appeared in the June 12, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.