L’Anse aux Meadows, site of the oldest known European settlement in North America

In front of the reconstructed village

On our trip to Newfoundland awhile back we drove around most of the island, including a place where the first known Viking settlement in North America was discovered in the 1960s. The Vikings called the place Vinland, named for the grapevines found on the East Coast. Among these travellers was the Viking explorer Leif Erikson, who found his way to the area over 1,000 years ago.

The drive from Rocky Harbour to L’Anse aux Meadows

Located on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula, L’Anse aux Meadows is a bit of a drive from the urban centres of the island. We had come there after our visit to Gros Morne National Park, where we had been the previous few nights. Aside from some potholes it was a long but easy drive on Route 430 as we made our way north.

On the way up the peninsula to L’Anse aux Meadows we passed The Arches Provincial Park, where erosion created the unusual arches in the rock formations.

The Arches

Further north was another interesting stop before our destination. We didn’t know anything about the Thrombolites Walking Trail but it was recommended as a stop so we parked and tried it. The trail made its way across a covered bridge and along the water next to the town of Flowers Cove. It was a pleasant walk that ended at the Thrombolites, fossil remains of ancient microbial communities hardened like rock. It wasn’t what we expected but we learned something new that day.

Eventually we arrived at L’Anse aux Meadows. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, the Norse settlement there goes back about 1,000 years, with carbon dating estimating their time there at between 990–1050 CE judging by the remains of the structures and artifacts.

Metal statues of the Norse sailors on the hill overlooking the site

We went to the visitor centre first, where there was a statue dedicated to the Norwegian couple who had discovered the settlement, Anne Stine Ingstad and her explorer husband Helge Ingstad. Inside was a number of displays showing replicas of the ships used to arrive in Newfoundland as well as how the local Norse and aboriginals lived.

The Vikings actually landed in an area that had been populated by aboriginal people that dates at least as far back as 6,000 years. The most recent residents were the Dorset people who had been there about 200 years before the Norse arrived.

Making our way towards the settlement and looking back at the visitor centre located to the left

It was estimated that the size of the settlement was between 30 and 150 people, but all evidence of it was buried in the ground until excavations began in the 1960s.

To see the original structures you have to use your imagination as the site shows little more than the indentations where the buildings once stood. Below them are markers identifying the type of structure. Any artifacts found there were taken to museums and the visitor centre, so the recreated village was built close to the original structures to give a tourists a better idea of the place.

In the village Parks Canada people were on hand explaining the way of life in the settlement as well as having some fun with the visitors.

Examples of items used in the Viking era

Kim found the Viking costume a bit awkward and the axe was heavy to lift!

How the original homes might have looked

Because of a combination of cultural differences and a lack of communication, the settlement did not have good relations with the surrounding aboriginal tribes and so the Norse people eventually abandoned the village. A few years ago a Canadian Heritage Minute was created describing it (for non-Canadians, these were a series of government-sponsored one minute shorts broadcast on TV over the years and are well known in Canada).

After visiting the settlement site we did a one hour walk along the interpretive trials that wound through the rocky hills and along the shore.

Starting the trail
The Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop
A portion of the trail was on a boardwalk
The grass was taller in this section
A great spot to sit down and enjoy the view
One of us had to take the picture, but we both enjoyed resting here for awhile
An inland lake on the walking trail. The water was very dark
The end of the walk and one more look at the Atlantic

Although it was a long drive to the north-eastern tip of Newfoundland, we enjoyed the trip. Even in the height of summer it wasn’t busy, and the sights ranged from charming to impressive.

If you are interested in learning more about the Viking visit to the East Coast of Canada, The Vinland Mystery is a 30-minute National Film Board (NFB) Documentary from 1984 that gives a good background about it.

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