Geographic thievery


With Super Bowl LII headed for Minneapolis in February, cold is the new hot, or so Minnesotans would like you to believe.

Having already stolen the fat bike from Alaska, the land of a few hundreds lake and thousands of potholes once  branded as the “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes” is pitching itself as something new: “North.”

Otherwise and sometimes known as “The North.”

“Forget the Midwest. Minnesota Casts Itself as the North,” the Wall Street Journal headlined earlier this week. 

Minnesota, the story said, is “sick of being this afterthought in this afterthought called the Midwest.”

The afterthought in the afterthought has been down this frigid road before. International Falls, Minn., long boasted of being the “coldest city in the continental United States.” Fairbanks, where winter temperatures make those in International Falls feel balmy, was apparently relegated to some other, yet-to-be-named, eighth continent.

Let’s call it Arctica, and make 80-degree-below-zero Prospect Creek the capital. 

Better on ice

Once uncomfortable with frigidly and unfriendly winters – the average January temperature in Minneapolis is 18.7 degrees, about 7 degrees colder than Seward in the same month – Minnesota is now embracing its icy lakes and frozen forests and trying to suck a whole lot more of the Midwest into its ice box.

“Enthusiasm for living here is what some academics, artists and business leaders here want to showcase as they push to have this state no longer recognized as part of the Midwest,” Mike Moen reported for National Public Radio when the “North” idea first surfaced in several years ago. “They want the U.S. Census Bureau and other mapmakers to adopt a new region called the North, which would include Minnesota, sections of Wisconsin, North and South Dakota and even Iowa. The Twin Cities would serve as the metropolitan anchor. Supporters say it’s not intended as a slight to the rest of the region; they just want to stand out.”

That idea was not immediately embraced.

“In the first place, Minnesota has long been associated, not with the Midwest but the Upper Midwest,” John Toren wrote at the MinnPost. “For as long as anyone can remember, the sign on the Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul’s West End has been blinking the slogan The Brew that Grew with the Great Northwest. Northwest Airlines. Great Northern Railroad. Norwest Bank. And so on.”

Minnesotans only wish they were in the comparatively balmy Northwest. Their geographic position is most accurately described as the  frigid Middle which becomes in summer the over-cooked Middle.

For the new “North” idea, Toren credited or blamed “Eric Dayton, scion of a family that needs no introduction, at least to Minnesotans.” For non-Minnesotans, suffice to say the Daytons of Minneapolis once owned the biggest Department store – “Dayton’s” – in the biggest city where they competed with the second biggest department story – Donaldson’s – (honest, I am not making this up as humor columnist Dave Barry used to say) before spinning off a little company called Target in 1962, and the rest is history.

Target: North

The Daytons were apparently happy being part of the Midwest for decades, but then the  geographically challenged Eric toured Scandinavia and discovered, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune quoted him saying, “the United States doesn’t have a ‘North.’ We have an East, and a South and a West, and then this nebulous place called the Midwest. You kind of scratch your head.”

Dayton appears to have been one of the many residents of the Lower 48 educated to believe Alaska is a state south of Arizona and east of Hawaii as the U.S. Department of Education has long illustrated.

U.S. map

U.S. Department of Education map

While touring the old Viking homeland in Europe, however, it dawned on him what America was missing, and it wasn’t a more accurate map.

 “I was struck by how strong and proud the northern identity of that region is,” he said. “Why doesn’t America have a North?”

And being a businessman, he couldn’t help but go prospecting for a marketable northern identity when he returned home. He promptly had 2,000 hats made promoting “North.” They sold out.

“Maybe there is this camaraderie of people who live in northern climates,” he told the Star Tribune shortly after. “I mean, it was interesting how little explanation this idea required.”
The newspaper did not bother to report where the 2,000 North hats were sold. You could probably sell 2,000 hats saying “Spaghetti” or simply “Hat” if you had access to the sales’ racks in the 1,834 “upscale discount” Target stores across the country. 
But Star Tribune reporter Kim Ode did stipulate that Dayton took “pains to note that this identity movement isn’t a ploy to sell merchandise. ‘We’re not trying to become the campus store for the North,’ he said dryly. ‘We want to protect the idea, not commercialize it.'”
Of course not. No businessman would ever want to commercialize things.
And the above plea wasn’t placed to try to coax you into making a contribution to It was just put there “to protect the idea, not commercialize it.”
Dayton’s first shot at North, the idea, appears to have slipped away. The news about North quickly faded away after it first unveiling way back in 2013 only to return just in time for the country’s biggest sporting event five years later.

Imagine that

A  “limited-edition line of ‘North’ labeled products will be in select Target stores this Sunday,” CBS Minnesota reported on Jan. 10. “The line’s look book models include the Wild’s Zach Parise and former Viking Ben Lieber.

“The Target line is modeled after the line of hats and other North-labeled products that debuted in 2013 at Askov Finlayson, the North Loop clothing store Dayton founded with his brother, Andrew, in 2011,” reporter Esme Murphy wrote.

“It’s a chance to show our pride,” Dayton told her. “It’s a chance to tell this north story to the rest of the country, to the rest of the world.”

This “north story?”

Didn’t Jack London tell that story like 100 years ago? And wasn’t there some other guy back then writing something about the North? About how:

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee,
where the cotton blooms and blows
Why he left his home in the South to roam
‘round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold but the land of gold
seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way
that he’d sooner live in Hell.”

This would be the real “North.” Thank you kindly Robert W. Service. 

And now America gets the Poser North thanks to Target with help from the Star Tribune, a once respected paper which has been on the “North” story like PR spin on the health benefits of eating 50 pounds of chocolate every month.

“Once known publicly as a reserved businessman and the quiet son of Gov. Mark Dayton and Rockefeller heir Alida Messinger, Dayton has in recent years thrust himself into the spotlight as a relentless cold-weather advocate who preaches tearing down the skyways and embracing the freeze,” the Tribs Amelia Rayoo wrote on Dec. 5. “He has promoted the appeal of Nordic culture with his restaurant Bachelor Farmer. He has pushed for rebranding the state as a culturally unique North, instead of the flyover Midwest. He has worked to educate and raise money for global warming awareness. In doing all this, he’s become the central character in an emerging movement — to transform Minnesota’s most maligned feature into its most appealing quality.”

Oh the glorious cold. All my old frostbite tingles just thinking about it.

Yet it’s hard to get too upset about Minnesota stealing “North” when you’re living in Alaska’s urban core where some have been trying to rebrand Anchorage as “the new Seattle” or “Seattle North” or simply “The Place to Be” given global warming and all.

Seattle? Minneapolis? Seattle wins. Hands down. Easy. It says so on the internet. ranks Seattle number two among the best big cities in the U.S.; Minneapolis is back there shivering in seventh.

You want cold?

Still, the folks in Fairbanks – where winter is real – must be mightily offended by anyone else making a claim to North. The Fairbanks temperature on Wednesday reached a high of 24 degrees below zero. 

While Dayton – “Minnesota’s unofficially crowned King of Cold,” according to the Trib – was enjoying a comfortably cold, 25-degree evening in Minneapolis, Fairbanks residents were looking for places to plug in their cars as the temperature headed for 35-degrees-below zero. 

And we’re not talking electric cars. We’re talking gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles that turn into blocks of ice if their engine heaters aren’t plugged in overnight.

Fairbanks is in Central Alaska where “frozen tundra” actually exists.

In the eastern part of the new “North,” (that would be Green Bay, Wisc.) they like to joke about the “frozen tundra of Lambeau Field,” but it’s really just frozen grass. The southern edge of the tundra in North America is at about 60 degrees north latitude except at elevation in the mountains, of which Minnesota and Wisconsin have none.

To find true tundra you have to get in your car and drive more than 17 hours due north of Green Bay to true tundra country. But the north starts somewhere short of the tundra. Maybe at the U.S.-Canada border.

Or maybe a little north of there. Natural Resources Canada defines “The North” as “the vast Canadian geography north of approximately 50 degrees latitude,” which runs thorough Medicine Hat, Alberta and just north of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The sliver of Canada between that line and the U.S. border at 49 degrees north would be classified the Canadian “South.” And you can’t very well have the South located between the North and the North, now can you? So to summarize:

Most of Canada + Alaska = North.

Minnesota + Wisconsin + Iowa + Michigan + the Dakotas = Midwest, or if Minnesota prefers something else, maybe they should just call it what it is:


To modify Dayton’s observation only slightly, “the United States doesn’t have a ‘Flatlandia.’ We have the Rockies, and Appalachia and the Gulf Coast, and then this nebulous place called the Midwest. You kind of scratch your head.”

Or maybe Minnesotans could rename the region, Wobegon, a derivative of Lake Wobegon, the label PBS’s Garrison Keillor slapped on the state before he woe-be-gone his ownself. Keillor was the famous, radio host at “A Prairie Home Companion” until some of the female employees working there alleged that he wasn’t very companionable. #metoo.

He’s now protesting his innocence even if the latest report from Minnesota Public Radio makes him sound something less than innocent.

Still, with a net worth estimated at $5 million, he, like Dayton, clearly knew a thing or two about business. Maybe business-conscious Minnesota should steal his “Prairie Home” idea and rebrand itself as such.

America doesn’t have a region with that name either, and Prairie Home has a nice ring to it. It’s not hard to visualize the television commercials with lush fields of corn stretching off to the horizon beneath blue skies with big, puffy clouds while over soft music a narrator gently intones:

“Welcome back to your Prairie Home,  where the winds rustle the grain fields of the south and whisper through the pines of the north, and the headwaters of the Mississippi River wait to wrap you in their rejuvenative embrace….yadda, yadda, yadda.”

Take that Minnesota, and leave the North to the residents of Fairbanks, the Golden NORTH City, and Central Alaska, where the denizens of the darkness huddled close to the heat of their woodstoves in winter really know what North means.


















8 replies »

  1. Good on you Craig for bringing this out. I was hoping to see a reference to that map showing AK off of Baja. A geographical error that can and should be rectified in every classroom. There is plenty of room I. A map to put AK back in the NW where it belongs.

  2. Not counting Alaska. What’s the furthest North location in the United States ?
    Answer The “Northwest Angle” of Minnesota. And you have to drive through Canada to get there by road. Check it out.

  3. Minneseeewtans can market all they want, there is still a huge country, ahem, just across the border to the——– north. Their thirst for being the true north is in essence a meager claim to fame. Signed, a broken hearted Viking fan.

  4. 2nd paragraph. Stealing fat bike from Alaska. Sounds like you are implying the fat bike originated in Alaska. You should know better. Early 1900s saw Californians riding fat bikes on beaches, and the French riding fat bikes across the Sahara. Alaskans “stole” the fat bike from others. So if Minnesotans stole the fat bike from Alaska, then they stole stolen goods.

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