L’Anse aux Meadows – The First European Habitation in North America
At the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula, in Newfoundland, is one of Canada’s most astounding archaeological sites. If you believe that Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot in North America you are in for a surprise. He missed being the first by over 500 years. The evidence for this is laid out for you to see at L’Anse aux Meadows.
At this site around 1000 AD, Norsemen, otherwise known as Vikings, established a base for their exploration of North America. Ancient Norse stories or sagas that referred to a place called Vinland were passed down by word of mouth and eventually were recorded in written form. In these sagas there are tales of the Vikings voyages westward to North America. On one of these exploratory ventures, so it was said, Lief Eiriksson sailed from Greenland and landed at a site that was teaming with salmon and had ample timber for building. Here, the saga recounts, the grass stayed green all year long and grapevines grew wild. Lief’s discovery of Vinland led other Norse, so the tales said, to sail to the site at, what is today known as L’Anse aux Meadows, and establish a settlement there.
The story of Eiriksson and Vinland, while well known among historians and archaeologists was dismissed as just an imaginary tale told for entertainment. However, the Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad, was convinced that there was truth in the saga. He searched up and down Atlantic coast of Canada and New England for evidence of the Norse discovery of North America. In 1960 with the help of a local Newfoundler he found evidence of a Viking habitation at L’Anse aux Meadows. Over the next several years he and his wife excavated the site and revealed much of what we can see there today.
How long the little town was occupied by the Norse is not known but they did build houses, workshops and a forge for smelting iron all of which are explained in the on site’s interpretive centre. On your tour of the archaeological site itself you will see the remains of buildings, explore a reconstructed sod house and meet Bjorn and his wife Thora and Ragnar, the blacksmith. They will regale you with tales of life in the settlement and encourage you to handle reproduction artefacts. You can even dress up as a Viking!
The drive up to L’Anse aux Meadows from Deer Lake is some 430 km (267 mi.). It may seem long but the scenery along the way is breathtaking. You can stop along the way at Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for some of the best hiking in Canada and at Port au Choix National Historic Site where you can take a walk on one the hiking trails and experience the barrens, once the domain of Palaeoeskimo people.
Another highly recommended place to visit in the vicinity of L’Anse au Meadows is St. Anthony where you can explore the Grenfell Historic Properties. The properties celebrate the work of Sir Wilfred Grenfell who, in the early 20th century, brought up-to-date medical services to the isolated communities of the region and established the world famous Grenfell Handicrafts, a cottage industry that provided much needed economic stability for local families.