I moved to Malmberget – a town in the far north of Sweden, above the Arctic Circle – from a nearby village when I was four. My husband Mikael was born there. Our children, now grown up, were born there. I had a secret wish that we could one day live in the beautiful old house in the centre that belonged to my boss. A big green wooden villa, more than 100 years old, with four bedrooms, a large kitchen, and a rooftop veranda with views towards the mountains – my dream home. When my boss put it on sale in 2009, we couldn’t believe our luck and quickly bought it.
Malmberget was built around an important iron ore mine, founded in 1741 and today run by the state-owned Swedish mining company LKAB. Most people living there were employed by the mine – and as it grew, so did the town. Eventually the mine grew so big that it began to split Malmberget in two – a huge chasm a kilometre long and 200 metres deep had opened up through the centre of town; it was nicknamed Kaptensgropen (“the captain’s pit”). As the hole expanded, buildings around it had to be demolished. People were offered money to leave; many went to Gällivare, another town three miles away. Others moved farther away.
We lived about two blocks from the hole. Every night at midnight we could feel the ground shake from detonations in the mine. We would lie awake in bed feeling the whole house tremble beneath us. We got used to it, but the ever-expanding mine meant that cracks began to appear in the foundations of other buildings nearby, and there was a risk of subsidence. There was a danger that some buildings might eventually fall into the hole if nothing was done.
In 2016, LKAB told us that we had to move out so that it could demolish our house. It came to us with several different suggestions of new houses in Gällivare, and offered us money to buy one. I already had my dream home, and I didn’t want to move. We knew we couldn’t stay for ever, but we decided to be patient. We waited and waited, as other buildings around us were torn down. One by one, neighbours left; the town was slowly disappearing in front of our eyes. I felt a terrible stress. We don’t know what changed, but in 2019, LKAB suddenly said that it would transplant our whole house.
First, the team propped up the house with supports and dug out the basement and foundations. Then they slid iron beams underneath the structure. The house measures 350 sq metres and weighs 180,000kg; an enormous crane lifted the entire thing, all in one piece, on to a trailer. It took about 12 hours to be driven the three miles to Gällivare. I was anxious watching it roll slowly along the road, like a giant snail. But mostly I felt happiness and relief.
When we did an inspection at the new location, almost everything was intact, even the windows. The only damage we found was some torn wallpaper and a stove that was leaning by about two centimetres.
We moved back in just a few weeks ago. Apart from a new basement and a new heating system, it’s exactly the same house. Only, the views from the windows are different now – which has taken some getting used to. We can’t see the mountains as well as before, but it’s still very beautiful. At night, we sit on the rooftop veranda and watch the midnight sun. We feel very lucky.
They have begun to tear down some of the last remaining buildings in Malmberget now; the centre of the town is almost completely gone. When I think about what has happened, I have mixed emotions. Without the mine there would have been no Malmberget. But I felt that LKAB could have done better in the beginning than offer people money to move. Malmberget wasn’t just buildings: it was people, a society. Some people took the money and left and will never come back.
Our house was built in 1911 by a family whose surname was also Isaksson. I feel as if it was meant to be that we would one day live in it and complete the circle. I feel so glad that we managed to save it from destruction. Our children had already moved to Gällivare before us, so they don’t have so far to go to visit now. Once I drove to the old location in Malmberget by mistake, and for a moment wondered to myself: “Wait, where is my house?”
As told to Malcolm Jack
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