"The Vikings are coming!" Island of Newfoundland by jorgejuansanchez

Island of Newfoundland Travel Guide: 32 reviews and 62 photos

I flew from Goose Bay to Sy Anthony

I was in Goose Bay, Labrador, city that I had reached from Quebec after hitch hiking during four days. The town in itself was not attractive for a traveller; all the interesting places to visit were hard to reach, such as Nunatsiavut, a fragment of Labrador Peninsula, whose inhabitants, mainly Inuits, claimed for its autonomy. There were also Moravian missionaries and some other aboriginal people, such as the Métis, or those descendants from the union of Inuit women with European men, including Basques whalers from Spain.

In Canada there are not only social problems with Quebecois people (in Quebec you only find signs in French, none in English, and Quebecois people refuse to learn and speak this language, in spite that in the rest of Canada everything is in both languages: English and French), but also with the Aboriginal people, as I had noticed in Nunavut, Yukon and Northwest Territories during that same journey.

In the Métis Head Quarter’s office in Goose Bay, that I visited, I read the following plaque regarding their claims:

“Our resources belong to us.
We’ve always been here.
This is our Home!”

Those days of the year 2008 the Aboriginal subject was a hot topic; the Canadian Government had just apologized for the atrocities committed in the past against the Aborigines and Indians, especially with a law at the beginning of the XX century to, virtually, “kidnap” all their children to “educate” them in the Western way in institutes, what resulted in physical, psychological and sexual abuse of the children, and when they became adult they were not integrated in neither society, European or Aboriginal/Indian. The Australian Government, too, had apologized that same year for doing the same aberrant practices against their Aboriginal people, even using the children as substitute of foxes during their popular English sport Fox-Hunting, or exterminating a whole race of Aborigines in Tasmania island, with the help of dogs and poisoning their waters with arsenic.

In order to visit Nunatsiavut from Goose Bay you have to fly, with the sole exception of a weekly ferry calling at several ports along the Labrador coast. There are no bus service, no even roads to get there. That is why I decided to leave for Newfoundland Island immediately.

There was a weekly ferry to Lewisport, northern Newfoundland, but I had to wait five days in Goose Bay, a perspective not appealing.
I was sleeping in a park because I could not afford the cheapest hostel (40 Canadian dollars per a bed in the hostel Friendship Centre), and ate only once a day, in Tim Hortons fast food restaurant, because everything was very expensive in Labrador, so I resolved to fly immediately to Saint Anthony, in Newfoundland, for around 250 Canadian dollars, what I did not consider expensive, since the ticket on the ferry to Lewisport was 118 Canadian dollars, and from there to L’Anse aux Meadows there are still over 600 kilometres.

The plane made a short stop in Blanc-Sablon, Quebec.

Once in Saint Anthony airport I hitch hiked until L’Anse aux Meadows, where I arrived after three hours and eight rides. Local people are very nice and they all want to help you to visit their tourist attractions.

First, I visited the small fishing village, where I noticed a sign saying: “NORSTEAD: A Viking Port” and I walked there. Soon I saw a complex with barracks, a reproduction of a drakkar, or ship used by the old Vikings, plus other artefacts. Then I entered in a kind of longhouse covered with earth and herbs, reproduction of a supposed Viking settlement around the year 1000 AD. The place was in the open air, by the beach, without fences, in an attractive environment, facing an island and icebergs.
There was an almost extinguished fire in the house that I chose to spend the night. Inside I saw kitchen utensils and animal hides everywhere. The place was very warm. Next day I would learn that a “Viking” show had been performed that night for the tourists.

Museum in L'Anse aux Meadows

In the museum I read that some Iceland Sagas (legends and historical tales written in prose) affirm that, in the year 985 or 986 AD, a merchant from Iceland, called Bjarni Herjolfsson, claimed to have seen Helluland (perhaps Baffin or Ellesmere islands), Markland (perhaps Labrador peninsula), and Vinland (perhaps Newfoundland island). Leif Erickson (the son of Erick the Red, the discoverer of Greenland) met him and bought him his ship to repeat Bjarni journey to those places around the year 1000 AD.
When he sailed back to Greenland, he described Vinland as a place where grow wild grapevines everywhere. Some years later he gave his boat to his brother Thorvald, and in the year 1004 or 1005, Thorvald travelled to Vinland, where he was killed by the local Aborigines, called in the Sagas “Skraelingjar”, what means in old Norse language “Barbarians”, term that was also used by the Vikings to describe the People of Thule, or Greenland Inuits.

In the sixties (of the XX century), the Norwegian historian and explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine, an archaeologist, spent several years travelling along the coasts of north east America determined to find the legendary sites mentioned in those Iceland Sagas, especially Vinland (land of wines) after the wild grapes that Bjarni Herjolfsson and Leif Erickson had found during their hypothetical journeys from Greenland.

In 1967, Helge and Anne found this site in L’Anse aux Meadows, thanks to the information that supplied them a fisherman of the village. They excavated the place searching for artefacts and discovered an iron nail, a Viking coin, a needle and several other items, and resolved that it was the legendary Vinland, and that in that place had been founded the first forge in America.

But, where are the grapevines? They only grow in Massachusetts and Maine, but not in cold Newfoundland inland.
They did not find tombs or weapons, either.

Historical facts

After Genovese sailor Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) disembarked in Newfoundland in 1497 and Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte Real did the same in the year 1500, many European whalers and fishermen have called in that island, where they spent winters. So, why attribute that archaeological site only to the Vikings?
It is right that if the Vikings could navigate from Greenland to Norway, a distance of over 1400 kilometres, then, why not to North America, at less than half that distance?
But I found that the proofs in that site did not meet the requirements to confirm that L’Anse aux Meadows was the legendary Vinland.
In fact, according to the documents and opinions given by several scientists and historians about L’Anse aux Meadows that were exposed in that museum, it was speculated that, most probably, that site was not the real Vinland, but a sporadic settlement of the Vikings, that must have been used one or twice before abandon it forever.
Vinland continues to be a mystery.

The Aboriginal people living in Newfoundland in the past were the Beothuk (a tribe extinct at the beginning of the XX century, owing to the cruelty of the white men, who killed them and made them slaves). Before disappearing they said that many years ago they were visited by white men in boats looking for wood (and also for slaves), but those foreigners killed the inhabitants of a whole village of Beothuk, including women and children. Only one Beothuk escaped alive. He reunited many Beothuk men, then camouflaged a canoe with ice, looking like an iceberg, and went to the place where the Vikings were sleeping, to punish them. The watchful Viking saw the canoe moving, but he thought that it was an iceberg, so he did not alert the sleeping men. Then the Beothuk disembarked and killed all the Vikings. Only one Viking survived (perhaps Thorvald?), but nobody knows his whereabouts.

The Icelandic Sagas say that, after some incidents with the natives, the Vikings stopped sailing to Vinland.

  • Last visit to Island of Newfoundland: Jun 2008
  • Intro Updated Jul 18, 2008
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