We tend to think of Vikings as warring marauders who prowled the coasts of Europe in their warships.
But Canada has a Viking connection too. Not only did they settle on the northern tip of Newfoundland for a brief period a thousand years ago, they also travelled to the far reaches of the Canadian Arctic.
The Royal BC Museum in Victoria hosted a travelling exhibit about Vikings in 2014. At that time Canada’s History program director Joel Ralph spoke with Mark Dickson, head of exhibitions at the museum, and Erin McGuire, an archaeologist at the University of Victoria, to find out more about how Vikings fit into Canadian history.
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“It’s a contemporary look at Vikings trying to somewhat debunk the folklore tradition of them being marauders, raiders, and pillagers of civilizations,” describes Dickson. “They actually had a very cultural side to them as well... [it will] challenge us to not think of Vikings as the stereotypical warrior types.”
For McGuire the exhibit was an exceptional opportunity to celebrate her life’s passion.
Visitors were able to see a life-size replica of a Viking ship outside the museum. For Dickson it's spaces like this that drive home what life for Vikings must have been like. “It gives you a sense of scale as to how small this boat was . . . I can’t imagine 20 or 30 foot seas, pounding rain, it must have been an absolutely miserable experience to cross the North Atlantic.”
“This very small culture, this very small population, colonized across the Atlantic in these essentially open boats with oars and a very small sail. They were a very hardy group of people.”
Vikings visited Canada almost a thousand years ago, most notably documented at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. McGuire explains how the original impetus was likely a search for timber to supply their ships and woodworking needs.
“The L’Anse aux Meadows site has evidence of ship repair going on, so it just seems likely to me that this was one of the big draws for them to Canada.”
To learn more about the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, watch this Parks Canada video.