The Kvarken Region and history

The narrowest part of the Gulf of Bothnia is called Kvarken. The distance from coast to coast is about 80 km and between the outermost islands only about 25 km. The Kvarken divides the Botnian Bay in the north from the Bothnian Sea in the south and forms a shallow underwater threshold in the Gulf of Bothnia. The deepest spot in the Kvarken is only about 25 m. On the Finnish side there is a large archipelago with many islands many of them have permanent inhabitants. The coastline and the shores are shallow and as the land rising is about 0,8 mm every year the scenery in the archipelago changes rapidly. The Ostrobothnian mainland is low with small rivers and fertile soil. On the Swedish side the archipelago is smaller and the shores are steeper. Especially in the southern part of Västerbotten and in Örnsköldsvik with the High Coast the archipelago is quite different than in Finland.

The Kvarken Region consists the counties Ostrobothnia, Southern Ostrobothnia and Central Ostrobothnia in Finland and the County of Västerbotten and the municipality of Örnsköldsvik in Sweden.

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The Ostrobothnian counties, with 57 municipalities in the Province of Western Finland, have 450.000 inhabitants. More than 100.000 of these have Swedish as their native language and many of the 350.000 persons who speak Finnish know also Swedish. In the Swedish part of the cross-border region there is 15 municipalities in Västerbotten with 260.000 inhabitants and the municipality of Örnsköldsvik in the county of Västernorrland with 56.000 inhabitants.

The Kvarken Region is sparsely populated, especially in Västerbotten, where the population is concentrated to the coast and the population in the inland and in the mountain area is very sparse.


The Kvarken Strait is the narrowest part ot the Gulf of Bothnia, and for thousands of years the strait has functioned as a communication link that has united Ostrobothnia (Österbotten) and Västerbotten. Finland was also a part of th Swedish empire until 1809. Between the 12th and the 15th century the northern parts of the Swedish kingdom were governed from the Korsholm Castle in Ostrobothnia.

For centuries the people living on the islands of Björkö on the Finnish side and Holmön on the Swedish side transported mail and passengers by boat over the Kvarken Strait, a predecessor of the modern day Kvarken traffic and the Kvarken cooperation of today. A map from 1539 by Olaus Magnus shows the Kvarken transports during the winter time, over the ice. 

Carta Marina Scandinavia

Map: Olaus Magnus, Carta Marina Scandinavia, 1539 (excerpt)

In the 1830s the first steamship lines started in the Gulf of Bothnia and in the Kvarken Strait. During the first half of the 20th century the traffic became more regular. In 1958 the first car ferry came to the Kvarken Strait and from 1972 there has been regular traffic all year round.

The Kvarken Council was founded in 1972 during the first Kvarken Conference in Vaasa, on initiative by the Nordic friendship and cooperation associations Pohjola-Norden in Finland and Föreningen Norden in Sweden. During the first years the organisation was formed and the border-regional cooperation started. In 1979 The Kvarken Council became a part of the official Nordic border-regional cooperation, with a financial support from the Nordic Council of Ministers.


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