Vikings in Manitoba?
By Leo Pettipas
Manitoba Archaeological Society (2014)
Introduction: During the Middle Ages, Vikings discovered a place across the Atlantic Ocean they called “Vinland.” Most historians and archaeologists believe that Vinland was somewhere on the East Coast of North America. But author James W. Curran, writing in the 1930s, argued that Vinland was not located on the Atlantic seaboard at all. Rather, he believed that it formed part of the continent’s interior that included Manitoba.
Some of Curran’s reasons for coming to this conclusion are interesting, if not particularly convincing. For example, he thought that the low western shore of Hudson Bay, with its wide beaches and lack of good harbours, met the description of the first Norse landing places in Vinland as recounted in the old Norse stories, or “sagas.” But there are probably plenty of places on the East Coast that also fit the same general description. Curran also figured that the wild grapes of Manitoba were what the Norsemen were talking about when they described the wild grapes of Vinland. But wild grapes don’t just grow in Manitoba; they also grow in the Maritimes and New England as well.
Likewise, Curran equated Vinland’s “self-sown wheat,” as reported by Leif Ericsson in 1000 CE, with a wild plant called blue joint grass that resembles domesticated wheat until it matures. Since blue joint grass grew naturally in the tall-grass prairies of Manitoba, Curran thought that Eriksson had Manitoba in mind when he was speaking of Vinland’s “self-sown wheat.” But we really don’t know for sure that Ericsson’s “self-sown wheat” and blue joint grass are indeed the same thing. Even if they are, blue joint grass is by no means peculiar to Manitoba.
The indigenous Mandan people (Numakaki) of North Dakota built villages surrounded by ditches and palisades. Curran reckoned that the design of these fortifications was adopted from Vikings who had ventured onto the interior plains many centuries ago. Far more credible is the hypothesis that the Mandans learned to build these fortifications from their own Aboriginal forebears.