FAMILY RUN SLATE QUARRY
In the mountains on both sides of the famous Alta valley, there are some of the finest quartzite slate to be found. All over the world this unique and enduring slate is covering steps, floors, walls, and roofs of many buildings and outdoor areas.
Slate has been of great significance for Alta city. In the early 20th century, most families in Alta had family members working in the slate industry. While many of the other cities in the North of Norway depended heavily on fishing, slate became Altas biggest export item.
The Slate Worker
Trond Håvard Strifeldt, the owner and driver of Pæskatun, is the third generation slate worker. He was only 16 when he started along with the one year older brother Frank Henry. Their father, Hans Johan, strongly opposed that they should choose this path of their working career, he knew from personal experience how hard it was. The boys anyway, young, strong and full of vitality, applied and were assigned an area, put up a slate cottage, bought some equipment and were started. Finally, they earned their own money, some weeks very good, most weeks so so, and other weeks not at all. Slate profession gives the driver great independence, but the profession is physically hard and very cyclical.
Hans Johan, the father, knew what he was talking about. He was only six years where he went on the heels of his father in the slate quarry. His small hands were probably of little help in the first years, but kids learn quickly and soon he was an excessive slate driver. In the 20-30ies the children could get off from school every other week to help parents, and many were the boys who just got half of the 7-year-long elementary school. When he’d finished school and was confirmed at the age of fourteen, the road went directly to the slate mountain for Hans Johan, but now regarded as an adult. The work was manually. They had to drill holes in shale rock by hand, pulling the blasted slate blocks on sled into the small slate cottages, split the block with wedges and sledgehammers and then cut the slabs to roof tiles with slate scissors. The physically hard work caused wearing at back and shoulders, and furthermore, in times of recession they would produce as much as they could but the slate was not sold and the drivers gained nothing. No wonder that the father dissuaded the boys to choose such a career!
The birth of Pæskatun
After a few years, Trond and Frank finally were listening to what their father had said all the time, salaried work seemed safer and easier, they gave up slate working and searched other professions. Then Trond, after some years, thought that perhaps the slate profession was hard, at times also uncertain, but imagine being your own boss again! The way back to the slate quarry was an easy choice. In companion with one of the neighbour boys Tor Inge, Trond started afresh in the slate quarry once again, now with modern hall, large machines and special tools that make the work not so physically demanding. And it went well some years, but then the recession came. The slate was not sold and earnings went down. Trond, still young and full of enthusiasm, thought that something more could be done, something that gives us extra income. And thus “Pæskatun” was born in 1993, a place where tourists and others can come to see and learn about slate, the work of the slate driver and not least the history of this very important industry of Alta.
Many years later, but still young and full of enthusiasm, Trond wanted to do something out of an old interest – space and the Northern Lights that so many evenings had lit up the winter blues with its colourful play of light. And today in addition to the traditional slate show, he also can offer Northern Lights Show as well as Northern Lights Safari.
The Northern Lights Observatory at Pæskatun made of ice and snow was built first time in the winter of 2008 in collaboration with Borealis Winter Festival Alta. The astronomer Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard came to open the Observatory in the winters of 2009 and 2010, and held spectacular shows. In 2011 astronomer Pål Brekke from Norwegian Space Centre, held a very interesting lecture on the Northern Lights, the sun and the universe. Pål Brekke has published a book on our sun; “Our life-giving star” which is translated to English. On Pæskatun you can now learn about the magical Northern Lights, and not least the unique story related to the Northern Lights research in Alta that started 1838-39 and the Northern Lights Observatory at Haldde. We recommend the Northern Lights Show in combination with the Alta Quartzite Slate Show.