By Megan Arnott
Paper given at the International Congress on Medieval Studies (2010)
First, an anecdote. This sign marks the entrance to the very edge of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. It has been positioned along highway 430, also known as the Viking Trail, which provides the only real access to, among other places, St. Anthony, St. Lunaire-Griquet (affectionately called Griquet) and of course L’Anse aux Meadows. The sign was a result of recommendations made by an outside tourism consultant. As the story goes, this is actually not quite what the consultant had in mind. Having reviewed the details the consultant proposed putting a sign there that said ‘Is this Vinland?’ The Northern Peninsula Tourism association really liked the idea of putting a sign there, since people must pass through there to reach anywhere at the edge of the Northern Peninsula, but they rejected the idea of a question. Questions were for the 1960s, and they were no longer marketing the possibility that it was Vinland, instead they were marketing Newfoundland’s very tangible and real connection with the Vikings, and in particular the special relationship that the Northern Peninsula had with North America’s Viking history. That is the story as it was told to me. And hence the very brazen sign, unequivocally stating that the edge of Newfoundland is the Vinland from the Icelandic sagas.
Newfoundland is at the heart of what we may consider to be ‘Viking Canada.’ In 1960 Helge Ingstad arrived on the shore of L’Anse aux Meadows, and along with the help of locals, including local patriarch George Decker, and Helge’s archaeologist wife, Anne Stine Ingstad, proceeded to uncover what remains the only verifiable Viking settlement in North America to date. Uncover it and publicize it. Since then the Newfoundland shore has offered proof of a direct connection between Canadian geography and the history of the European Middle Ages. It has also offered the best proof that the Vinland Sagas, the two Icelandic texts derived from an earlier oral tradition, were based on what we would consider to be facts and that some of the historical events described within those texts probably not only happened, but happened within the boundaries of what we now consider to be Canada.