Theme Döda fallet

Theme Döda fallet is a story about the catastrophic emptying of Lake Ragundasjön 1796, when Storforsen became Döda fallet and a new landscape was formed.

Canal building that went wrong

Storforsen had long been a problem. For the forest owners who lived upstream of the waterfall, it was not possible to float timber down to the sawmills on the coast. The wood was broken in the 30 metre high fall. Another problem was that the salmon in the river could not climb the fall. So it was only downstream that it was possible to catch the fish. There was also a dream of creating a water trail from the Baltic Sea to Lake Storsjön.

After many years of investigations and attempts to dig a canal past the fall, the farmers upstream the fall finally decided to finish the work. They started a company and hired a foreman, Magnus Huss, to dig the canal. What the company lacked in engineering and geological skills, they compensated for with their ability to take action.

On the night of June 6, 1796, the canal construction broke through the ridge Remmen. In a couple of hours the 24 km² long Lake Ragundasjön was emptied and Storforsen became Döda fallet (the Dead Fall).

The flood that went down the valley of the River Indalsälven destroyed houses, boats, trees, mills, saws, bridges and fishing facilities. The damages were unfathomable. Two million m3 of soil flushed down the river all the way to the Baltic Sea, about 100 kilometre distance, building a delta which now is a nature reserve and the location of Sundsvall-Timrå airport. Where there used to be fertile meadows, the soil is dry and nutrient-poor.

The Döda fallet area before and after the emptying of Lake Ragundasjön. Source: Svenska Turistföreningen.

Visible effects of rushing water

The most obvious feature in the Döda fallet area is the 800 metre long riverbed, a canyon. There ran the white waters of Storforsen until Lake Ragundasjön vanished. Since most of the area is dried out you can study the effects of the force of the rushing water, an abraded bedrock, large boulders, plunge basins, and giant kettles. In Sweden canyons are rare, since our bedrock is mostly quite hard and difficult to wear down.

A society under stress

The background to the attempt to build a canal past the waterfall Storforsen is to search in the difficulties that prevailed in Sweden during the 18th century. The whole century was hard hit by starvation and famine with subsequent diseases. One of the reasons was the climate that was cold with long winters, cold summers and early autumn. In the absence of harvest, the population suffered severely and support measures in the form of parish storages became common first well into the 19th century. The country had famine and mass starvation in the 1740s and in the beginning of the 1770s it was estimated that more than 5%, about 100,000 people, of the Swedish population died as a result of famine. 1784 was also a year affected by severe famine.

At the time of the plans to build the canal, it is quite reasonable to talk about a society under stress. It can also explain the hopes that were attached to the project as well as the fears that existed. Upstream Storforsen, a successful redirection of Storforsen lead to better fishing and opportunities to float down timber to the coast. The people living downstream the rapids were worried that their fishing would suffer and also feared the uncertainty about what would happen to the arable land and meadows in close proximity to the River Indalsälven. It was simply about trying to survive and making life more predictable for future generations.

The dry riverbed of Döda fallet. Photo: Peter Ladan.

The site of visit Döda fallet

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