With temperatures falling all across the northern United States, it helps to follow the examples of places where winter is a way of life. International Falls, Minnesota, also known as the Icebox of the Nation, is one city that knows how to do winter. One of the coldest cities in America, it holds the record for the all-time lowest recorded temperature of -55 degrees Fahrenheit.
When life gives you lemons (or cold weather), make lemonade, or in this case, a festival. Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run, is the featured event at the 4-day winter festival called “Icebox Days” in International Falls. The city takes advantage of their winter reputation when food, fun and fireworks explode at Smokey Bear Park each January. The festival includes frozen turkey bowling, smoosh races, a Beach Party, and snowshoeing in Voyageurs National Park.
What’s it like living with cold temperatures, day after day, with no let up until spring? Online forums written by citizens of International Falls gives a clue on how to cope. They say people there mostly don’t like the winter and stay inside a lot since starting cars is a big problem. Some people even take to drinking to get by. At school, children have outdoor recess until the temperature reaches 20 below zero. But the best advice is to dress in layers, make sure no skin is exposed and keep moving. Being prepared mentally for the cold is a must.
One good thing from the freezing temperatures is that the Emerald Ash Borer and other destructive insects may be kept under control.
The area is rich in history going back to prehistoric mound builders who hunted and fished there. According to the International Falls history information on their website, “as a geographical location, it was known to explorers long before the Revolutionary War. It is situated on the “Voyageurs Highway,” the water and wilderness route which Jacques DeNoyon, Pierre Gaultier, LaVerendre, and many other rugged adventurers traveled in the 17th and 18th centuries. As key points on the route of trailblazers between Lake Superior and the vast interior, the sites of International Falls and its Canadian sister city, Fort Frances, became fur trade centers over 200 years ago.”
In 1870, Alexander Bell, a prospector, first settled there. In 1884, L.A. Ogaard surveyed and plotted the town. It was then called Koochiching, the meaning of which is not entire clear. Ouchichiq was a Cree name that the Ojibway applied to both Rainy Lake and Rainy River upon which International Falls sits on its banks. It is thought to mean “mist over the waters.”
Of course, more modern times saw the establishment of a post office, fire department, and a dam to generate electricity. Fire nearly wiped out the entire village in 1902. The name of it was eventually changed to International Falls in 1903. Steamboats gave way to the railroad and water power brought industry such as the paper mill.
International Falls has seen many a year of cold temperatures with its hardy citizens fiercely loyal to the benefits of this small town. Why else stick it out when warmer climates beckon? Check out more information on it here and perhaps you, too, will want to bundle up in International Falls, Minnesota.
International Falls Area Chamber of Commerce
MPR News Weather and its underlying science
What it’s like to live in a city with real winter
Early History of International Falls
Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run/