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About a hundred years ago, a passer-by started spreading the word about Ear Mountain and the existence of its inhabitants. Santa wanted to safeguard the tranquillity of his secret hiding place and came up with a superb idea that also allowed him to meet people who love Christmas and his many friends who come to greet him. It was around half a century ago that Santa Claus started to frequently visit the Arctic Circle near Rovaniemi.
From the turn of the millennium, the Lappish centre for Christmas, the Santa Claus Village on the Arctic Circle became the most spectacular Santa Claus destination in Scandinavia. The popularity of the destination saw the number of visitors double. The numbers of international visitors in particular increased up to fourfold in a few years to exceed half a million.
The Roosevelt Cabin i.e. Arctic Circle Cabin (Napapiirin Maja)
An exhibition related to the history of tourism at the Arctic Circle.
Rovaniemi and Lapland were the first recipients of aid provided by Unicef’s predecessor UNRRA in post-war Finland. The aid provided by Unicef also included the construction of the Arctic Circle Cabin and the commencement of tourist services. Known as the “soul” of UNRRA, Eleanor Roosevelt made a surprise visit to Rovaniemi in 1950. The Arctic Circle Cabin was constructed in just two weeks for the reception ceremony.
When Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of the former President of the United States, famous for her humanitarianism, paid a surprise visit to Rovaniemi in 1950 to see Lapland and the post-war reconstruction of the city, her host, the then Governor of the county, Uuno Hannula had the difficult task of organising the programme. Hannula was helped by the local mayour, Lauri Kaijalainen, who, with his assistants, found a suitable piece of land bordering the north-bound Highway 4 on which to build a cabin. The land was donated by Eemeli Karinen and it was here, at the Polar Circle, that the welcoming ceremony was to take place.
The idea went back more than twenty years to when Colonel Oiva J. Willamo had erected a stake in the vicinity to serve as a stopping place for tourists to photograph. Neither the stake, destroyed during the war, nor the cabin was erected on an accurately measured spot. The former was erected on the spot where the Polar Circle was assumed to cut Highway 4, the latter on the site available, which was later found to be 108 m. too far south.
The Polar Circle cabin, which had to be erected in a week and which was designed overnight by the architect Ferdinand Salokangas, was built by Jarl Sundquist’s experienced construction crew from logs taken straight from an Ounasjoki drive. According to the instructions, the number of logs needed was the number required to ”house a rather large bus road of people”. There was no time for more since the first logs were taken from the river on a Saturday and on the following Saturday, as Mrs. Roosevelt’s plane was landing, the outer door was fitted in the otherwise completed cabin.
Thus, on Sunday, 11th June, 1950, the cabin was ready to receive its distinguished visitor. Many of the inhabitants of Rovaniemi who took part in the welcoming ceremony have since grown accustomed to seeing distinguished visitors from all parts of the world. The event, was, however, important as far as local tourism was concerned since it marked the first effort to attract a growing number of visitors to stop and enjoy a refreshing coffee-break, buy souvernis and send the inevitable postcard home bearing the special Polar Circle postmark. The cabin, which was open during the summer months, collected thousands of names in its visitors’ book every year. In 1956 it became necessary to carry out the first extension.
The City Tourist Board, set up in 1948, took over the management and development of the Polar Circle Cabin. Activity became regular and the crush during the height season became unbearable. It was also impossible to comply with health and hygiene regulations in respect of both staff and customers. At the beginnig of the 60s the active efforts of hte Tourist Board brought new colour to the experience of crossing the ”magic circle” in the form of reindeers and their drivers.
In June 1965, exactly fifteen years after the first Polar Circle ceremony, a new cabin opened its doors to the public. This was designed by Lempi Purdy and both in size and fittings was considerably better equipped to serve the ever, growing number of tourists. By the beginning of the 1970s, the number of visitors had doubled in accordance with the prophesy made at the roof-raising ceremony and today 90 000 visitors a year call in during their stay in Lapland. For many groups the crossing of the Polar Circle is a ceremonial occasion which leaves an unforgettable memory.
Many heads of state and distinguished figures have visited the Polar Circle and the Lapland landmark. These include th Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev, President Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, the late President Lyndon B. Johnson of the United States, President Edward Ochab of Poland, the then Crown Prince Carl Gustav of Sweden, the Shah of Iran, President Senghor of Senegal, former Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meier, former Italian Prime Minister AldoMoro, the Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia, Lubomir Strougal and former French Foreign Minister, Maurice Schuman.
The Arctic Circle Cabin is a tourist service destination in Rovaniemi that has become a significant international centre for tourism. Each year, the destination attracts more visitors who are provided an ever-growing number of services. Consequently, many more places intended for tourists have grown up around the cabin over the years.
Source: Arctic Circle Cabin, Rovaniemi 1950-1975. Tourism Board of the City of Rovaniemi. Rautakirja Oy. No publishing year available.