The News-Chronicle, January 31, 1938
The Lakehead Cities: Port Arthur, Fort William, Westfort, - Schreiber, Nipigon
Out of all the controversy raging around the reported claim of J.E. Dodd of Port Arthur to having found Norse or Viking relics on his mining claims near Beardmore, the admitted fact exists that there are or have been lately some Viking relics in this neighbourhood.
Whether they were brought to Port Arthur by a latter day immigrant and thereafter permitted to become junk in the basement of a home here or were left near Beardmore by some visiting Viking 900 years or so ago, they are rare articles. Their authenticity as relics of Viking days is declared.
At present the relics are in possession of the Ontario Museum at Toronto. That organization may do something by way of investigation that will sift the truth from contradictory statements about their finding and thus add to historical knowledge.
In the meantime the question of who discovered America is re-opened. It becomes a matter of interest to review the situation seeking to learn, if possible, whether it was Columbus or the Norsemen or even Irishmen before him.
Admittedly there is difficulty in the fact that exploring Norse or Irish left no definite records. Runic stones figure in the discussion.
SOME OF THE EVIDENCE
Wilfred Bovey, F.R.S.C., of McGill University, in a paper presented to the Royal Society of Canada in May, 1936, refers to two runic stones, one found in Nova Scotia, the other at Kensington, Minnesota. No mention is made of the so-called runic stone discovered at Winnipeg in 1933, since archaeologists and geologists have come to the conclusion that the markings on the stone, first taken for runic inscriptions, were only the coincidental formation of crystals.
Though there are some who doubt the authenticity of the Kensington stone, a great deal of importance is attached to it by other scholars. This stone, found in 1898, was deciphered and told the brief story of a band of thirty Goths and Norwegians who reached the spot, and how some of them were massacred by Indians. The stone bears the date 1362, that is 130 years before Columbus made his discovery.
But the date 1362 is much later than the date of expeditions to this continent recorded in Scandinavian sagas. In his paper, entitled "The Vinland Voyages" Mr. Bovey refers to the thirteenth century historian Snorre Sturleson, who wrote the Heimskringla, or the "Book of Kings". For the year 999 A.D., Snorre makes the following record: "The same Spring King Olaf also sent Leif Ericsson to Greenland to proclaim Christianity there, and Leif went there that Summer. In the ocean he took up the crew of a ship which had been lost and who were clinging to the wreck. He also found Vinland the Good."
ST. LAWRENCE VALLEY
Where was Vinland the Good? It was first believed to be on the coast somewhere between Boston and Nova Scotia, but Mr. Bovey, by following the descriptions ofs the journey given in the sagas, makes a case for the St. Lawrence Valley as the territory discovered by Leif and names Vinland.
The background of these American expeditions is the Icelandic colony in Greenland, Mr. Bovey states. Iceland was settled by the Norwegians under Ingolf about 874 A.D. Before the end of the tenth century, Eric the Red, an adventuresome leader, who had first been exiled from Norway and then from Iceland, discovered Greenland.
Three manuscripts, supported by the evidence of other records, report the discovery of North America by Greenlanders. Several voyages are reported, notes Mr. Bovey, of which the first are the following:
- A voyage made by Biarne Heriuifson (?) about 986. He did not land, but seems to have reached North America first and then returned to Greenland.
- A voyage made under the command of Leif Ericsson, son of Eric the Red, about 1000.
- A voyage made under Thorfinn Karlsefne and Freydis, a natural daughter of Eric the Red, about 1003.
The manuscripts describing these voyages are the Saga of Eric the Red, contained in MS. No. 557 of the Arno-Magnaean Collection at Copenhagen; The Saga of Thorfinn Karlsefne, contained in MS. No. 544 of the same collection, known as Hauk's Book; and the Flatey Book No. 1005 of the Old Royal Collection, Copenhagen. The MSS. are all old, although not contemporary with the events they describe.
The second and most important voyage, that of Leif Ericsson, is described in detail in the Flatey Book, and Mr. Bovey uses the translation of the Norroena Society made in 1906. He notes that the Saga of Thorfinn Karlsefne says that Leif found America by accident and gives credit by naming three regions on this continent - Helluland, Woodland and Vinland - to Thorfinn. Mr. Bovey is dubious about the claim and suggests, though not in plain words, that it might have been the result of a family disagreement, Leif being the son of Eric the Red, and Thorfinn's consort, Freydis, being Eric's natural daughter. Mr. Bovey points out that Leif was a natural adventurer of the old school, while Thorfinn was a different type, a rich man, a cautious trader. He refers to an incident when Thorfinn ran away from attacking Indians, leaving Freydis to hold them at bay, a thing Leif would never have done.
The Flatey Book says that "large ice mountains were seen far away", by Leif, and that "to the ice mountains from the sea was a field of stone - this land seemed to be good for nothing."
Leif called it Helluland (Flat-Stone-Land), which has been identified as Labrador.
Leif sailed away and found another land "level and wooded, and there were wide white sands wherever they went, and the shore was low." He called it after its appearance, Markland, which Mr. Bovey states is Newfoundland.
"Now they sailed from land on the sea before a northeast wind and were out two days before they saw land," the Saga continues.
Mr. Bovey notes that two days sail from Newfoundland with a northeast wind, would bring them to Anticosti, north of and in sight of the high south shore of the St. Lawrence.
"Afterwards they went to their ship and sailed into a sound that lay between the island and a cape, which went on the north of a land and stood in westering past the cape."
"It is evident," declares Mr. Bovey, "that the voyagers were going forward, and therefore the "sound" would be the St. Lawrence south of Anticosti, the "cape" would be "Cape Gaspe".
The Saga goes on:"They cast their anchor and brought their feather bags ashore and made booths. They decided afterwards to stay there for that Winter and made a large house. There wanted not salmon in the river nor in the lake, and larger salmon than they had before seen."
This description fits several places, Mr. Bovey remarks, but particularly suits Port Daniel on the south shore of the Gaspe Peninsula. This would explain the fact, he says, that the description is repeated in the story of Karlsefne, where the version speaks of "Leif's Booths" as a well-known fact.
Then follows the discovery of Vinland in the St. Lawrence Valley, so named by Leif because of wild grapes that were found there.
All this indicates that the Vikings were here before Columbus, but, says D'Arcy Hinds, registrar of Osgoode Hall, with books to back him up, the Irish were here long before the Vikings.
He speaks of St. Brendan, a holy man and a fearless navigator, who came to these parts in the sixth century. The Vikings, he said, found Irish settlements before them in Iceland, Greenland and North America, and he points to "Brandon's Isle," named after the saint, on Toscanelli's map, which was used by Columbus.
But between the Irish and the Norwegians, Columbus is being eased out.