Flateyri village old trading post in West Fjords
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
Unlike most small villages on the coast of Iceland, notably the Westfjords, Flateyri started as a trading outpost rather than a fishing post. At the end of the 18th century, the store at the nearby village of Þingeyri started an annex in Önundarfjörður fjord. With a few other buildings besides the store, the location soon developed into a small hamlet with more fishing and fish processing, parallel to the commercial activity. In the second half of the 19th century, shark catching was lucrative, and entrepreneurs at Flateyri participated quite enthusiastically. Later, a Norwegian investor settled in the small village and started a relatively large whaling operation. Soon, more such ventures developed in the 19th century, rather than just cod catching for the next meal, as was the case with many small villages around the coastline. Although, the village had several decked vessels for catching in the nearby fishing grounds. Flateyri was at that time a breeding ground of sorts for entrepreneurs; businessmen from even Germany and other European countries started and ended their ventures in Flateyri at that time.
Flateyri, an apparent victim of the fishing quota imposed by the Icelandic government
During the 20th century, after the advent of motorboats, the village became an active fishing village and had many small boats and a large trawler in the early seventies. This was a typical development path for a small village in Iceland. The hamlet grew in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, with homes and small service companies popping up. The population was near 500 at an active and kind of boom time for the small village. Much of the infrastructure and services in the community also developed at that time. However, when the Icelandic Government implemented the fishing quota system in the nineties, things took a turn for the worse, and the village started declining. In recent decades, Flateyri has lost much of its former status as a place with a flourishing fishing industry and population. In 1998, the population was around 370 inhabitants, but today, as of January 2022, only around 160 people live in Patreksfjörður.
A struggling community in a larger municipality
Today, the small village of Flateyri, with a population of approximately 160, is part of the Ísafjörður municipality. This merger became possible in the latter half of the 20th century when a tunnel between the two villages opened and enhanced transportation to a new and safer level. Earlier, mountain passes had been the only means of communication in addition to flying. Like many small communities in Iceland, Flateyri has always provided good services and still does. The village has a preschool, a primary school, and a middle school. It also has a community center and sports facility and good access to other services through the larger municipality of Ísafjörður.
The avalanche in 1995
Early one morning in late October 1995, a large avalanche hit the village. This was a major blow to the small settlement; 20 people lost their lives—ten men, six women, and four children. The disaster was unexpected and unusual, being quite early in the winter. Since then, Iceland monitors snow accumulation in the mountains throughout the winter and large defenses have also been constructed in the slopes above the village for protection. If you visit Flateyri, you can also visit a shield erected in the town’s center, with the names of all the victims to honor their memory.
The entrepreneurial spirit still remains alive
Like so many small towns and villages that have lost their foremost means of livelihood, fishing and fish processing, Flateyri has recently taken a step toward tourism to broaden its economic base. This might be difficult as the whole area of Westfjords is some distance away from the most popular natural wonders in Iceland and is often difficult to visit in winter. But in a village that has produced entrepreneurs throughout its history, the spirit still thrives. Flateyri offers exclusive and popular sea angling tours where you can catch both cod and halibut. The tours have become quite popular and only prove that there is always opportunity.
The village also offers good accommodation and, like all towns and villages around Iceland, has a swimming pool, a convenience store, and a gas station.