Season-opening exhibit at North Idaho Museum describes how 'Immigrants Shaped Our Region'

Season-opening exhibit at North Idaho Museum describes how 'Immigrants Shaped Our Region'
The Hanninen family is part of North Idaho's Finnish contingent, having arrived in the region in 1904.

The new exhibit New Land, New Life: Immigrants Shaped Our Region is what happens when the local museum does a 23 and Me-type ancestry check of North Idaho. And just like those tests, the results were predictable: mostly Scandinavian and European.

North Idaho Museum Director Dorothy Dahlgren already knew there was a strong Scandinavian population here. Back in 2010, the museum staff worked with the local Sons of Norway to create Nordic Roots Run Deep, an exhibition about local ties to Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

"This year, I thought, 'Well, we didn't get to talk about all the other people who came here.'"

She started with state data on ancestry and worked backwards, finding patterns of migration: French Canadians; British Islanders; Scandinavians; northern European; southern and eastern Europe. Shoshone and Bonner counties proved especially Italian.

But, like the ancestry test commercials promise, there are surprises. Dahlgren found families from Greece, Russia and Czechoslovakia, like the Jenicek family whose patriarch turned a popular Harrison bar inside the International Order of Odd Fellows building into One Shot Charlie's.

Dahlgren then reached out to the community for stories and photos to create displays for each region of North Idaho, which will include country of origin flags. When the show opens April 2, visitors will also be able to contribute information about their own immigrant background, as well as view the permanent museum history exhibit.

What Dahlgren didn't find might be equally interesting. Although Chinese immigrants came to the area's mining camps, Dahlgren didn't connect with any descendants. Rather than leave their presence unaddressed, however, Dahlgren shared some history and a glimpse of why today there might be fewer than 1,000 people of Chinese ancestry in Idaho. "Their religions, customs, clothes, burials, manners, queues of hair, insistence that their bones be transported back to China — all were ridiculed," reads the New Land, New Life display.

Yet another ethnic group eluded Dahlgren, who knew of a Hispanic family whose roots run deep in North Idaho. She couldn't persuade anyone to share information for the show. Nonetheless, Dahlgren figured an exhibit on the region's immigrants would be easy to pull together and feature dishes, clothes, tools and other evidence of lives lived from late-1800s onward. She laughs at that thought now.

They had to cull from the museum's archives for items after not getting enough, or the right type of, artifacts from the community. "It's turning out that most of the immigrants who came really didn't bring a lot of stuff with them," she says.

Or families didn't keep what little their ancestors had. Gail Hanninen didn't have anything from her Finnish grandfather who arrived in North Idaho in 1904, nor from her father, who died when she was 9. What she did have were photos. More importantly, she had stories about how Finns settled along the western edge of the Silver Valley.

"What was important in my mind was [conveying] how people in that North Fork area of the Coeur d'Alene River functioned as a community," says Hanninen.

She shares a story about how after she'd gone to college, her widowed mother married her father's good friend, also a Finn, whose name and stories Hanninen inherited as well. So in addition to sharing Hanninen stories, she shared the Hallstrom one about the barn built from railroad timbers after the Coeur d'Alene River flooded in the '30s, a barn that still stands in the Lancaster area of Hayden.

"To me it's important to tell that story," says Hanninen, "Otherwise it's lost." ♦

New Land, New Life: Immigrants Shaped our Region • April 2-Oct. 31; Tue-Sat 11 am-5 pm • $4 adults/$1 children/$10 family • Museum of North Idaho • 115 Northwest Blvd., Coeur d'Alene • • 208-664-3848.


We have a lot in common with Canada, much of it positive, yet in at least one area, we share a common bond rooted in bigotry, ethnocentrism and horror: the forced relocation and re-education of indigenous peoples through a system of Indian Residential Schools.

While U.S. schools, also known as Indian boarding schools, outpaced those in Canada by nearly four to one, Canada had yet to closes all its schools until recent history. By some estimates, Canada's Indian Residential Schools accounted for the death of nearly 6,000 Indian children in the 120 years they operated.

That got artist Daniella Zalcman's attention, so the bi-coastal photographer who lives in both London and New York turned her lens towards survivors, earning a 2017 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for her work. She is the keynote speaker at North Idaho College's Fourth Annual Diversity Symposium on Tuesday, April 16. (CS)

"What is Cultural Identity?" • April 16 • Free • North Idaho College • 1000 W. Garden Ave., Coeur d'Alene • • 208-769-3300

The 39 Steps @ Spokane Civic Theatre

Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 12
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About The Author

Carrie Scozzaro

Carrie Scozzaro spent nearly half of her career serving public education in various roles, and the other half in creative work: visual art, marketing communications, graphic design, and freelance writing, including for publications throughout Idaho, Washington, and Montana.