Historically Ballard is the traditional center of Seattle’s ethnically Scandinavian seafaring community, who were drawn to the area because of the salmon fishing opportunities. In recent years the decline of the fishing industry, and the addition of numerous condo buildings, has decreased the proportion of Scandinavian residents but the neighborhood is still proud of its heritage. Ballard is home to the Nordic Heritage Museum, which celebrates both the community of Ballard and the local Scandinavian history. Each year the community celebrates Norwegian Constitution Day (also called Syttendi Mai) on the 17th of May to commemorate the signing of the Norwegian Constitution.
Locals once nicknamed the neighborhood “Snoose Junction,” a reference to the Scandinavian settlers’ practice of using snus.
Walking in downtown Ballard much of the old flavor can still be seen as there are still many shops and bakeries with a Scandinavian theme and some businesses hang out flags from the Scandinavian countries. The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks are a complex of locks that sit in the middle of Salmon Bay, part of Seattle’s Lake Washington Ship Canal. They are known locally as the Ballard Locks after the neighborhood to their north. Magnolia lies to the south.
The locks and associated facilities serve three purposes:
1) Lake Washington and Lake Union at 20 -22 feet above sea level’s mean low tide. 2) To prevent the mixing of sea water from Puget Sound with the fresh water of the lakes (saltwater intrusion).3) To move boats from the water level of the lakes to the water level of Puget Sound, and vice versa.
A favorite for both locals and visitors is a visit to the fish ladder every summer to watch the salmon make their way home to spawn.
The fish approaching the ladder smell the attraction water, recognizing the scent of Lake Washington and its tributaries. They enter the ladder, and either jump over each of the 21 weirs or swim though tunnel-like openings. They exit the ladder into the fresh water of Salmon Bay. They continue following the waterway to the lake, river, or stream where they were born. Once there, the females lay eggs, which the males fertilize. Most salmon die shortly after spawning.
The offspring remain in the fresh water until they are ready to return to the ocean as smolts. In a few years, the surviving adults return, climb the fish ladder, and reach their spawning ground to continue the life cycle. Of the millions of young fish born, only a relative few survive to adulthood. Causes of death include natural predators, commercial and sport fishing, disease, low stream flows, poor water quality, flooding, and concentrated developments along streams and lakes
Visitors to the locks can observe the salmons’ progress through windows along their route. Although the viewing area is open year-round, the “peak” viewing time is during spawning season, from about the beginning of July through mid-August.