1000: The Vikings Beat Columbus to It & Other Quebec Curios

Illustration de l’exploration viking © The Picture Gallery of Canadian History, Volume 1, C.W. Jefferys Illustration de l’exploration viking © The Picture Gallery of Canadian History, Volume 1, C.W. Jefferys

Christopher Columbus is widely credited as being the discoverer of North America, but there were another people who beat him to it by about four hundred years: the Vikings. While common cultural misinterpretations class Vikings as people with long hair, bearded, and horned helmets, or perhaps as ladies singing opera, the Vikings were in reality a seafaring society who pillaged and sometimes traded. However, the accounts of their history have unfortunately been skewered by reports of their exploits written by their victims.

Viking sagas mention Vinland, a land of myth discovered by Leif Erikson, son of Erik the Red. Historians locate this land to the area around Newfoundland and New Brunswick. According to which historical interpretation of the Norse language you take, could mean either “land of grapes” or “land of meadows”. The latter seems to be the most likely interpretation if you take Vinland to mean the only Viking settlement known to human existence: L’Anse aux Meadows, the small settlement at the very northern tip of Newfoundland.

Discovered in 1960 by husband and wife team Helge and Anne Ingstand, this Norwegian team took a hunch that Vinland meant “land of meadows”, and travelled with locals to what was thought to be an original Native American settlement. However, the Ingstands discovered that the hilly landscape was in fact remnants of Norse settlements. Excavations started the following year and into the 1970s, and in the end, artifacts found in the area dated to around the year 1000, give or take ten years or so. Among the things archeologists have found in the area include evidence of a forge and boat repair services, and evidence that women might have been part of the settlement, as needles and spindles have been found in other buildings. L’Anse aux Meadows, while not part of Quebec, is important since it was the first evidence of European colonisation in the North Americas and evidence of the early human migration to the so-called “New World”. Though historical remains suggest that this settlement may have not been inhabited for a long time, you can still, however, see “Vikings” in the area: re-enactments, of course.

UNESCO designated L’Anse aux Meadows a heritage site in 1978. It is also a National Historic Site of Canada.