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Flateyri

With a population of about 300 people, Flateyri is a small community located on the coast of Önundarfjörður, south of Ísafjörður. The town has its humble beginnings with several farms that were located in the mouths of the valleys along the fjord. In the mid-1800s it became a fishing community, whose industry revolved largely around the export of shark oil, which was used for lamps around Europe. With the decline of need for shark oil, the industry shifted towards the drying and salting of cod, which it also exported.

At one time, there was a whaling plant in town, in the area around Solbakki, which is on the right near the large tank (see our page on Tankurinn) just before reaching the town proper. After that factory burned, the owner began to build a new plant, which was, however, never fully realized. An old brick chimney and steel tank are all that remains of the latter endeavor, and they stand about two or three kilometers from town along the south side of the road.

Throughout much of the twentieth century, Flateyri was a considerably larger town than it is today, with a population closer to around 600 people or so. During the 1980s and 1990s several key events occurred which changed the face of the town dramatically. In the latter part of the last century, there was a very active fish processing industry, and the town had several trawlers as well as several smaller fishing boats. After the implementation of the quota system, in the 80s and changes to it in the 90s, the main processing company, Kambur, left the town. When that company left, many jobs went with it, and the town's major industry really suffered.

Two other very significant events occurred in the 1990s that dramatically affected the town. The first of these was a horrific avalanche, which occurred about 4 in the morning on October 9, 1995, and claimed the lives of 20 of the townspeople.  A memorial to those who lost their lives in this tragic event stands in the green next to the town's church. And perhaps the only thing more visible in town than the church is the large A-shaped avalanche barrier that was constructed on the hillside above town.

After the avalanche, people began to move away from Flateyri-it was, for many of these emigrants, too difficult to deal with the memories of losing friends and family. The exodus from Flateyri was compounded by the opening of the tunnel to Ísafjörður to the north. Before the tunnel opened, the town had quite a thriving merchant community, with shops and stores and a bakery. After the tunnel, many of these closed or relocated to Ísafjörður.  The primary store in town, now, is the N1 gas station, where you can stop and get a very good hot dog and coffee.

While these incidents paint something of a grim story of the recent history of the town, I would have to say that the town is anything but a grim place.  I spent three weeks in Flateyri this past spring. Without exception, the people I met there are some of the most pleasant and welcoming people that I have ever met. There is a very strong sense of community here.

A small processing plant still operates in town, Eyraroddi, which is located at the very end of the eyri on which the town is located. While that company doesn't have quota of its own, it does well as a processing facility, purchasing fish from the market, or frozen for processing from overseas.

When I visited Eyraroddi, I was shown some of the large frozen blocks (c. 60 kilos) of steinbitur, or ocean catfish, which the company processes. These are defrosted in water that flows through large plastic containers called kar, and then filleted on the processing lines in the plant.  There is also a small fishing drying operation in town, which I write about in the profile on Blossi.

And interesting aspect of the fishing plant, and of the town more generally, is that a significant part of its work force (and thus the towns residents) is made up of people who have moved to Flateyri from Poland, Thailand, and the Philippines. The town is, rather, culturally diverse. And it is very interesting to see the extent to which the newcomers have worked to learn to speak Icelandic and to integrate themselves into the Icelandic community.

Two of the woman in town, Johanna Kristjansdottir and Gudrun Pálsdottir have begun working in recent years, on developing a walking tour of the town called Hús óg Folk (Houses and People), which has stations at 16 of the old houses and buildings around the town, many of which date back to late 19th century. They are currently developing a web site on the tour, but presently visitors can borrow an Ipod with a narrated description of the tour and information about the houses and the people who have lived in them. The tour takes about 4 hours to complete.

Along the main street of town, you will also find an old bookstore, which is more of a museum than an operational store, a crafts shop with sells a variety of crafts made by local artisans, and Vagninn, the pub in town. Typically it is only open, at least during the winter, at midnight on Saturday nights until sometime Sunday morning. The pub gets its share of talent, local and visiting, and is a great venue to catch a show or a jam with the local band.
Vefumsjˇn