My northernmost point on the island of Newfoundland is L’Anse aux Meadows, UNESCO World Heritage site at the end of The Viking Trail.
If one is to write an honest blog, it sometimes means confessing to one’s ignorance. Prior to my visit to L’Anse aux Meadows, my knowledge of Leif Erikson was relegated to high school history class when Leif was used as an example of a “patronym,” the naming convention of a person’s surname being based on the given name of one’s father. Leif Erikson was “Erik’s son,” son of “Eric the Red,” who was credited with discovering Greenland.
If I knew before today, I forgot….Leif Erikson actually landed on North American shores 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Yet somehow, Columbus gets all the credit for “discovering” America, when in fact, neither of them “discovered” it since it was already inhabited by indigenous people. So I’ll buy that he was the first European to land on North American soil.
Leif Erikson was believed to have landed in three sites in the Maritimes, Baffin Island, Labrador, and the northern tip of Newfoundland. Excavations have shown signs of boat repair being done in L’Anse aux Meadows based on evidence of bog iron and smelting carried out in the area. Signs indicate they didn’t stay long, however, as they were believed to meet with hostility from the aboriginals.
I’m not much of an ancient history buff, but being so close to L’Anse aux Meadows, I can’t pass up the opportunity to see a UNESCO site. I probably would have lost interest fast were it not for Clayton, the Park Ranger. Just like Erik the Red, Clayton was once a redhead, evidenced now only by his eyebrows. He is a “Newfie” through and through, with a heavy brogue that sounds familiar to me, like a cross between Irish and Brooklyn with a southern twang. Clayton grew up in L’Anse aux Meadows, and tells of his childhood playing on the mounds that were believed to be Indian mounds in what they called, “the old Indian camp.”
Clayton tells us of his excitement when the Norwegian archeologists came to the area in 1960 and began the excavations. They identified eight complete house sites beneath the mounds indicative of the sod house style found in Iceland and Greenland, which led to the belief that this was a Norse landing site back in 1,000 AD. Then they covered them back up for preservation.
To an archeologist, the artifacts found; a cloak pin, part of a spinning wheel and a bone knitting needle, are evidence enough. But to the skeptic like me, I need a little more help tapping into my imagination, so I visit the “reenactment” where costumed Viking interpreters welcome me into the reconstructed sod and timber houses. Though the interpreters stay in character the entire time, they rotate positions with the interpreters behind the counter at the Visitor Center. It’s tough for me to suspend disbelief when the young Norse daughter in the sod house gave me directions to a boondocking site last night. 😉
I leave L’Anse aux Meadows on the absolute windiest day I’ve driven yet. Gusts are so strong that I dare not swerve to avoid a pothole for fear I could lose control, and must drive way below the speed limit. But I have a reservation on the ferry bound for Labrador in St Barbe, ninety miles away. I consider changing it, but I’ve already been in this wind for two days now, and I am ready to move on. There are white-capped waves on the Strait of Belle Isle, the body of water between Newfoundland and Labrador. I do ask the woman at the ferry terminal if there is a chance it will be canceled. But I am starting to learn that 50mph gusts to “Newfies” is just enough to keep the bugs away.
Newfoundland and Labrador make up the same province, but the distinction is Newfoundland is an island, whereas Labrador is on the mainland, bordering Quebec. They are separated by the Strait of Belle Isle which is at its narrowest point, is just 10 miles across. The ferry actually lands in Blanc Sablon in Quebec, about five miles south of the provincial line with Labrador.
Some might say there are as many reasons NOT to visit Labrador as there are to go. It requires a ninety minute, sixty dollar ferry ride to cross. The roads are deplorable….and that’s just the 30 miles to Red Bay. After that, it’s a dusty gravel road if you want to go further. So “exploring” the province is limited.
But there are things on Labrador I want to see. For one, there’s Canadian Atlantic’s tallest lighthouse, now a National Historic Site. And there’s also Canada’s newest UNESCO site, Red Bay. Besides, visiting only half of a 2-part province just feels “half done.”
So fasten your seatbelts, my friends, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!