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    At Newfoundland, Vikings make first European settlement in North America. Excerpt from About Canada.

    Christopher Columbus was a century or so late in “discovering America,” when he arrived in 1492. Ireland’s St. Brendan, with some 60 pilgrims, sailed across the Atlantic between 565 and 572 in open ox-hide boats called currachs to a land he called Paradise, thought to be Newfoundland, according to several written legends.

    Replica Viking ships approach L’Anse aux Meadows World Historic Site in 2000 reenactment of arrival of the first Europeans to establish a settlement in North America. Photo: Joyce Hill, Wikimedia Commons.

    Replica Viking ships approach L’Anse aux Meadows World Historic Site in 2000 reenactment of arrival of the first Europeans to establish a settlement in North America. Photo: Joyce Hill, Wikimedia Commons.

    The story is feasible. There is no dispute that the Irish had sailed their currachs to settle as far as Iceland. British adventurer Tim Severin built a replica currach and sailed it from Ireland to Newfoundland in 1976-77. But there is no conclusive evidence of St. Brendan’s voyage. Another legend has Irish monks sailing from Iceland in 875 to settle first in the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, and then on Cape Breton Island. Later Norse explorers called the area the country of the white man. If the monks did settle here, they left no evidence to confirm their presence.

    Vikings sailing from Iceland for Greenland were the first confirmed Europeans to sight Newfoundland, and possibly Labrador and Baffin Island, in 985 when their ship, enroute to Iceland, was blown off course. A decade later, Leif Ericsson became the first confirmed European to set foot on mainland North America, setting up a camp on what he called Vinland, somewhere near the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Ericsson and his men remained for about a year before returning to Greenland with wine, vines and lumber.

    About 1,004, a flotilla of four ships, with 160 men (and at least one woman) plus cattle, landed near Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland at what is now a United Nations World Historic site, marking the first confirmed European settlement in North America.

    The settlement included eight timber and turf houses (the largest 19 by 14 metres), a forge, and four workshops. Gudrid, the wife of the colony’s leader, Thorfinn Karlsefni, gave birth here to a son, Snorri, the first child born in North America of European parents. The Vikings stayed at Anse aux Meadows for three or four years, and continued further exploration, before returning to Greenland.

    This marked the end of Viking exploration of North America, possibly because the Little Ice Age was making the region less hospitable, or because all the land the Vikings needed was available at Greenland and Iceland, or because North America seemed to offer nothing that was not more readily available from Norway.

    Almost four hundred years went by before the next Europeans are reputed to have visited Canada—a century before Columbus. Harry Sinclair, the Scottish Earl of Rosslyn, with 12 ships and 300 men, is claimed to have landed at what is now Guysborough, Nova Scotia, on June 12, 1398, and spent some time exploring the peninsula. While the claim is staunchly advocated, conclusive evidence is still lacking.

    After the Vikings, British-Italian explorer John Cabot was the first to land in North America, in 1497. Christopher Columbus landed in the the Bahamas in 1492, and in South America in 1498. Cabot landed in either Newfoundland, Labrador, or Cape Breton.

    Whoever were the first Europeans to visit Canada they were far from the first to “discover” North America. Native Americans arrived from Asia thousands of years earlier, and there were anywhere from 40 million to 100 million of them when the Europeans arrived.


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    TAGS: Viking s, European settlers, Vinland, Anse aux Meadows, World Historic Site, Christopher Columbus, Leif Erricson, John Cabot, Tim Severin

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