L’Anse aux Meadows

Flags of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and the United Nations, at the L’Anse aux Meadows visitors’ centre. 

As promised, a post about L’Anse aux Meadows, an archaeological site of some importance, located at the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland and maintained as a National Heritage Site by Parks Canada. The site, discovered in the 1960s, offers indisputable proof that Scandinavians settled in the New World around the year 1000, almost five hundred years before Columbus landed in the Bahamas; for this reason it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also quite popular and provides a lot of the branding for local tourism (the Viking Trail, the Viking Lodge, the Great Viking Feast, etc.)

Several Icelandic sagas describe voyages made by the Norse from their settlements in Greenland to mainland North America in search of needed supplies, chiefly timber. The explorers visited places they named “Helluland,” “Markland,” and “Vinland” – and since the nineteenth century archaeologists have tried to identify them. It is reckoned that “Helluland” is Baffin Island, and “Markland” somewhere on the coast of Labrador. Vinland was more elusive: the sagas describe it as a place where wild grapes grew, which could be on the southern shore of of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, or south of that in New England. 

Vínland, with an acute accent over the “i”, means “wineland,” which would be a natural name for a place with wild grapes. The Norwegian husband-and-wife team of Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, however, hypothesized that it was simply “Vinland,” without the accent, which would mean “pastureland,” with northern Newfoundland being a promising site. Visiting L’Anse aux Meadows in 1960, he was shown a series of low turf walls that the locals referred to as “the Indian mounds.” Excavations throughout the 1960s showed that these were the remains of buildings similar to those found in Iceland and Greenland and dating from around AD 1000. What really established the site as Norse, however, were such discoveries as a spindle whorl used for weaving, a stone with a depression in the middle (interpreted either as a lamp or a pivot stone for a door), a bronze fastening pin, and the remains of a forge that had produced iron slag, and the remains of iron rivets used for boat repair. No Natives at this time used such technology. 

Remains of the Viking buildings.

As it turns out, L’Anse aux Meadows is probably not Vinland, which really ought to have a long “i” and mean “Wineland,” as the sagas suggest. Birgitta Linderoth Wallace points out, in Westward Vikings, that the word “vin” as “pasture” had fallen out of use by 1000. She suggests that Vinland was likely somewhere in northern New Brunswick, and that L’Anse aux Meadows is Straumfjord (“Current Ford”) mentioned in Erik the Red’s Saga, a sort of base camp that served as a gateway to Vinland and a place to gather goods before shipping them back to Greenland. The inhabitants at the site did not practice agriculture, but they could spend the winter there if need be, in the substantial turf buildings they had constructed.

Model of the site.

Will we ever discover where in “Vinland” the Norse actually came ashore? Wallace claims that it’s unlikely. Any temporary camps the Norse may have set up in New Brunswick would have left little evidence behind, or at least such evidence would be indistinguishable from sites of Native provenance. Even items of Viking origin would not be proof of an actual encampment, but simply of trade (such items can travel a long way from their point of origin, through many intermediaries). 

Parks Canada reconstruction of Norse buildings at L’Anse aux Meadows.

L’Anse aux Meadows was not occupied for very long, perhaps less than ten years in total (at least, if you don’t subscribe to the most recent scholarship on the place). Our guide claimed that the Ingstads, and subsequent archaeologists, have actually found very little at the site, evidence that it was deliberately abandoned (if it were suddenly and hastily abandoned, the occupants would have left a lot more stuff, since they wouldn’t have had time to clean it up). He also claimed that the abandonment was as a result of the conversion of the Norse to Christianity, which also took place around the year 1000. With conversion, trade with Europe became much easier, obviating the need to sail to Vinland, although Wallace suggests, from evidence uncovered in Greenland, that the Vinland explorers were already Christian. Either way, it was likely just as easy to sail to Norway as it was to Newfoundland, where more interesting goods could be acquired, and where there was a bigger market for Greenland’s walrus ivory. And in any event, Wallace estimates that maintaining the site was too expensive in terms of manpower – it would have required some 5% of the adult male population of Greenland, which was simply too much.

Reconstructed forge, L’Anse aux Meadows.

It is certainly worth a visit if you ever get there. The Visitors’ Centre is excellent, with thorough and informative exhibits, and a great gift shop. The reconstructed buildings, complete with re-enactors, are also a lot of fun. 

But part of me wonders whether it isn’t somewhat ethnocentric to make such a big deal about L’Anse aux Meadows. The place is significant, but far more significant is Port au Choix, an archaeological site which we visited as we drove up the northern peninsula. It features six thousand years of continuous occupation by successive Native peoples, including the Maritime Archaic people, the Dorset people, the Groswater people and the Beothuks, all of whom fished and hunted seals. This place deserves to be better known.

The trouble is that it would be politically very difficult to have re-enactors playing Indians. Even the diorama, you’ll notice, does not feature three-dimensional figures.

Vacation Pics – Newfoundland

Cabot Tower on Signal Hill, overlooking the harbour into St. John’s. Built in 1898 to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the voyage of John Cabot’s ship Matthew and the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria. The site also received, in 1901, the first transatlantic wireless transmission originating from Guglielmo Marconi’s Poldhu Station in Cornwall. 

Not far away from Signal Hill is Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America. The historic lighthouse there really is a lighthouse

Always in the background in Newfoundland: the Dominion’s participation in the First World War, which was disastrous. Ninety percent of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment were casualties of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916, which thereafter became Newfoundland’s Memorial Day (clashing somewhat with Dominion Day after 1949). Newfoundland’s university, founded in 1925, took the name “Memorial” on account of this sad event. At the Confederation Building, a book of remembrance is enshrined in the entrance lobby. The flag on the right is that of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Throughout the entrance lobby of the Confederation Building hang the flags of all the Newfoundland branches of the Legion, illustrating certain priorities.  

How we got here: recruitment propaganda on display at The Rooms, laying it on thick. 

The legislative chamber in the Confederation Building.

In the mezzanine of the Confederation Building, a series of busts of chief executives of Newfoundland, starting with Philip Francis Little at the granting of responsible government in 1855. The photograph is of Joey Smallwood, the “Last Father of Confederation” and Premier of Newfoundland 1949-72. 

In The Rooms: Joey Smallwood’s trademark glasses and bow tie. 

At our hotel: the Newfoundland coat of arms, which dates from the 1630s. The shield is great; the Beothuk supporters are “problematic,” in today’s parlance.

This piece of artwork, Jordan Bennett, Tamiow tle’owin (2016), is a play on Newfoundland’s coat of arms and is currently on display in The Rooms. The figure on the right holds a letter that begins:

Your application to be enrolled as a Founding Member of the Qalipu Mk’kmaq First Nation Band has been considered by the Enrolment Committee.

The Committee finds that you Do Not Meet the criteria for enrollment as set out in Section 4.1 of the Agreement in that you have failed to satisfy Section 4.1(a). More specifically, it is necessary for you to prove that you are of Canadian Indian ancestry.

I guess the artwork is asking who a real Indian is. Apparently the whole thing was an issue a few years ago.

The Micmac language is nowadays written in the Roman alphabet, although formerly Micmac hieroglyphs were used. This rendition of the Lord’s Prayer is on display at The Rooms. 

The Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in the city of St. John’s dates from 1855 and was named a basilica one hundred years later. 

This is what people come to St. John’s to see: terraced wooden housing, each unit of which is painted a different and often bright colour. 

The average fishing village will also feature brightly painted houses. This is a view of Trinity, on the Bonavista Peninsula. Generally houses aren’t built on straight streets or in much relation to each other, but that’s all part of the charm. The church is St. Paul’s Anglican. 

Newfoundland features some impressive seabird colonies on its coasts. This one is at the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Preserve on the southwestern arm of the Avalon Peninsula. Many different birds are found here, including gannets, kittiwakes, murres, and razorbills

In Elliston, on the Bonavista Peninsula, a puffin colony that attracts quite a bit of human attention. 

The puffin is Newfoundland’s provincial bird, and you can buy souvenir plush puffins all over the place. People love their colourful beaks, their short orange legs, and their clownish movements.

At the tip of Bonavista Peninsula, the town of Bonavista itself. Its flag leaves something to be desired aesthetically, but it illustrates how the town got its name, from John Cabot’s words “O happy sight!” (“buona vista”). 

Bonavista has a lighthouse even more impressive than Cape Spear’s. 

Gros Morne National Park, on the western side of the island, features some stunning (and geologically significant) natural beauty. This is Green Point, which has been designated a “Global Stratotype” for the division between the Cambrian and the Ordovician periods.

We bought a linocut of Green Point by artist Christine Koch, who keeps a summer studio at Woody Point. 

Also in Gros Morne are The Tablelands. In the midst of all of the Park’s forested mountains is a short range completely denuded of vegetation and dark orange in color. It is apparently a remnant of the earth’s mantle thrust up some four hundred million years ago, and the reason why Gros Morne is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. Its peridotite composition does not sustain much plant life, and I would say that it looks like the surface of Mars save for the bits of snow still present at the top of the hill, which form runoff creeks that were fun to wade in.

L’Anse Aux Meadows

I’m hoping to blog something about our visit to the only authenticated Viking site in North America (if Greenland is not part of North America, of course). In the meantime, I wanted to post this article from Medievalists.net, which suggests that the Norse continued to revisit and reuse the site throughout the High and Late Middle Ages:

New archaeological information uncovered at Viking site in Newfoundland

Researchers from Memorial University in Newfoundland and Liverpool John Moores University made the discovery of a previously unknown archaeological layer, about 30 metres from the 1,000-year-old Norse ruin.

While the new location did not produce any culturally specific artifacts, archaeologists did discover charcoal and wood-working debris. Laboratory analyses also confirmed insect remains, including early records for beetle species assumed to be post-Columbian (1492) additions to the Canadian fauna.

“We are still not sure what this new deposit is,” said Dr. Paul Ledger of Memorial University and the lead author of the article. “Its general character and microscopic content resembles Norse deposits elsewhere in the North Atlantic, but carbon dating indicates it dates from the late 12th to mid-13th century, after the Norse settlement.”

The article, published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, notes that the new research “indicates the possibility of sporadic Norse activity beyond the early 11th century. Data from indigenous contexts is less precise, and activity is modeled to have begun between the 8th and 12th centuries. L’Anse aux Meadows therefore could have been a shared zone of interaction.”

The full article may be read in PNAS. 

Canadian Flaggery

Apologies for my long absence this past month, dear reader, as my family and I were on an extended road trip through Atlantic Canada, with a return leg through Quebec and Ontario. We saw and learned a lot, and I’m hoping to write some posts about our experience. This one, following a great theme of this blog, will be about… flags!

The provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia comprise “the Maritimes,” and they all feature the same type of flag:

Flag of New Brunswick, flying in St. Andrews, N.B.

Flag of Prince Edward Island, flying in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Flag of Nova Scotia, flying in Pictou, N.S.

That is, all the Maritime flags are essentially banners of the provincial arms:

Arms of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia. Wikipedia.

The only difference between any of the arms and any of the flags derived from them is the red and white border added to the flag of PEI. 

Design-wise, this is a good way to do things. Most provincial flags date from the mid-1960s, around the time that the current Maple Leaf flag replaced the Canadian Red Ensign. Both Ontario and Manitoba adopted provincial Red Ensigns out of spite, but in the Maritimes “banners of arms” prevailed. 

Canadian Red Ensign, de facto national flag of Canada 1957-65, hanging in All Saints’ Anglican Church, St. Andrews, N.B.

Flags of Ontario and Manitoba, featuring provincial arms substituted for the national arms. Wikipedia.

Aesthetically, the Red Ensign motif is a little too cluttered, and symbolically it is a relic of the past. Ontario and Manitoba now suffer, rather needlessly, the same problem that Canada itself had in the 1960s!

For the record: the arms of New Brunswick reference its historic shipbuilding industry; the arms of PEI illustrate its motto “the small under the protection of the great” (the large tree represents Canada, and the three small trees PEI’s three counties); and the arms of Nova Scotia reference Scotland twice, with a blue-on-white saltire of St. Andrew, Scotland’s patron saint, and an inescutcheon of Scotland’s royal arms. These date from King James VI’s original settlement efforts in the 1620s but were forgotten by the time of Confederation in 1867, when different arms were devised for the new province. The original arms were rediscovered in the 1920s and were officially readopted in 1929. 

Flag of Cape Breton Island, flying in La Prairie, Nova Scotia.

An unofficial flag that I did not know about: the flag of Cape Breton Island. Cape Breton lies off the eastern coast of mainland Nova Scotia, and comprises about 20% of the area of the province. It was actually its own colony from 1784 until 1820, with Sydney as its capital. The flag is not very well designed (maps and writing are not good flag elements), but it’s certainly very popular, as I discovered.

Flag of Newfoundland and Labrador, flying on Portugal Cove Road, St. John’s, NL.

The province of Newfoundland – or rather, “Newfoundland and Labrador,” as it has been officially known since 2001 – is somehow not considered part of the Maritimes, but of “Atlantic Canada.” It boasts an abstract flag designed by artist Christopher Pratt in 1980. I was told once that this flag was a project of the government at the time, which would have been Progressive Conservative, and in the 1980s you would fly it if you were PC, or otherwise a supporter of Premier Brian Peckford. But if this situation was ever true, the flag seems to have moved beyond its partisan origins and is now embraced by most everyone. Its symbolism is wide-ranging, with references to water and ice, both halves of the province, Innu and Inuit decorative pendants, the Union Jack, the sacrifice of Newfoundlanders in military service, and the fishing industry (see Wikipedia for more). It also cannot be flown upside-down.

Flags of Canada and the United Kingdom, War Memorial, Woody Point, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Prior to the advent of Pratt’s flag, the provincial flag was the Union Jack, believe it or not. Newfoundland had been a dominion of the United Kingdom from 1907 until 1934, when it reverted to the status of a crown colony before joining Canadian Confederation in 1949. As a colony, of course, it flew the Union Jack, and they officially readopted this as their provincial flag in 1952. Strangely enough, Liberal Joey Smallwood, the one most responsible for getting Newfoundland to join Canada, was still premier. Was he having regrets? Was this a sop to certain disappointed people? 

I do find it interesting how this is a reversal of the usual pattern. You would think, as it was with the national flag, that the Conservatives would be defending the traditional British design, and the Liberals the abstract modern one. 

In any event, the Union Jack is still displayed quite a bit in Newfoundland, even officially. 

Newfoundland tricolour, flying at Elliston, Newfoundland and Labrador.

But also appearing quite a bit is the Newfoundland tricolour. Some claim it dates from the 1840s and is essentially a local version of the Irish tricolour, illustrating the same hope for peace between Protestants and Catholics. A Wikipedia editor insists that it represents the “Roman Catholic fraternal organization the Star of the Sea Association (SOSA) established in St. John’s in 1871.” I was told that it emerged out of obscurity in the last thirty years to become universally popular, kind of like Inukshuks and poutine elsewhere in Canada. I was also told that it does not represent any desire for Newfoundland independence; it’s just an alternate, “historic” flag that people have come to embrace. 

Flag of Labrador, hanging at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Preserve, Newfoundland and Labrador.

The “Labrador” part of Newfoundland and Labrador has its own (unofficial) flag, which dates from the early seventies. I saw it here and there. It represents snow, land, and water, with a sprig of black spruce, the provincial tree.

Flags of Charlottetown, Canada, and Prince Edward Island, flying in Charlottetown, PEI.

I’m afraid that most cities in Atlantic Canada do not have well designed flags. One exception is Charlottetown, the capital of Prince Edward Island. They did the banner-of-the-arms thing with their 1989 grant from the Canadian Heraldic Authority. Princess Charlotte’s crown appears in a grid pattern, representing the city’s layout. 

Flag of Saint John, New Brunswick, flying outside Saint John City Market.

Flag of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Crwflags.com.

Flag of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Wikipedia.

Otherwise, cities in Atlantic Canada tend to put their entire coats of arms on their flags, as do Saint John, N.B., Fredericton, N.B., and St. John’s, N.L. Such a move tends to introduce both a lot of blank space and a lot of extraneous detail. Keep it simple!

Flag of Acadia, hanging in the St. John City Market, New Brunswick.

Maritime Francophones, particularly in New Brunswick, are known as “Acadians” and have a distinctive flag, which dates from 1884. It takes the form of a French tricolor, defaced with a gold star, “the Stella Maris, the symbol of Mary, Acadian national symbol and patron of mariners.” The British had assumed control of Acadia in the early eighteenth century, and fears of disloyalty prompted them to expel its inhabitants during the Seven Years’ War. They couldn’t get them all, of course, and later many returned, to form a distinctive community that exists to this day (we stopped in Grand Falls, N.B. – the town was bedecked in Acadian flags, since the Acadian Games had just taken place there). That the Acadians should have adopted the French revolutionary tricolour, when they never lived under that regime, and were clearly quite religious themselves, has always been a bit of a mystery to me. 

Flag of the Francophone Community of Newfoundland, flying at Cape St. George, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Outside of Quebec and Acadia, other Francophone communities in Canada have their own flags. That of the “Franco-Terreneuviens” was flying at Cape St. George in Newfoundland. 

Flag of the Mi’kmaq Nation Grand Council, flying at the ferry terminal at North Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Another minority group in the Maritimes: the First Nations people known as the Mi’kmaq. I saw the flag of the Mi’kmaq Grand National Council flying here and there, although apparently it is only supposed to be hung vertically. According to Flags of the World, the white represents the purity of creation, the red cross the four cardinal directions, the sun the forces of the day, and the moon the forces of the night. (I guess the five-pointed star denotes the sun here.)

Micmac National Flag, flying at Confederation Centre of the Arts, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

We spotted another Mi’kmaq flag outside Confederation Centre in Charlottetown. In addition to the flag of Canada and all the provincial and territorial flags, the so-called Mi’kmaq National flag flies. It’s not as well designed as the National Council flag, but it’s certainly symbolic. Flags of the World states that the three colours, white, red, and blue, signify the three divine persons, The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, and the cross signifies Christ. The letters “NMAT” on the right stand for “Nin Alasotmoinoi Mento Tooe,” which can be translated as “I am a Catholic; you, devil, get out.” The letters on the left read “MIGMAG” (an alternate spelling of Mi’kmaq) “SA” (interlaced – a reference to St. Anne), and “LNOG” (meaning “the people”).

Flags of the Province of Quebec flying near the church of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, Lower Town, Quebec City.

I am a huge fan of the of the fleurdelisé flag of Quebec, easily Canada’s most attractive provincial flag. The odd thing is that the flags in the photo are the wrong dimensions: the official ratio is 2:3, but these ones were made 1:2, the same as the national flag of Canada. For shame! Where’s their independent spirit?!

Flag of the City of Quebec, flying on Rue Saint-Louis, Quebec City.

The City of Quebec has a cool flag too, which was granted in 1988 by the Canadian Heraldic Authority. 

Flag of Montreal, flying at Quai Victoria, Montreal.

Montreal has a good flag. They added the golden pine tree in the middle a couple of years ago. 

Cross of St. George, flying at Signal Hill, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Finally, to round out the post: a cross of St. George flag flying from Cabot Tower, a lookout tower on Signal Hill guarding the entrance to St. John’s harbour. I liked this: I read it as a reference to both Henry VII of England and John Cabot of Genoa, who sailed for Henry and who rediscovered Newfoundland in 1497. (Both England and Genoa used the cross of St. George.) 

Another Viking Site?

Someone ought to compose a list of every claimed Viking site in North America, with a rating: definite (1), as yet undetermined (2), and definitely false (3). The latest one, from Archaeology World (hat tip: David Winter):

Discovery of Viking site in Canada could rewrite history

An iron working hearthstone was discovered on Newfoundland, hundreds of miles from the only noted Viking location to date.

Another thousand-year-old Viking colony might have been found on the island of Newfoundland, Canada. The finding of the old Viking location on the Canadian coast could drastically change the story of the exploration of North America by the Europeans prior to Christopher Columbus.

The excavation of the stone, once used in iron working, on Newfoundland took place a hundred miles south of the only known Viking site located in North America.

This proposes that Vikings may have traveled much farther into the continent than previously thought.

A team of archaeologists have been unearthing the newly-found location at Point Rosee, a narrow, windswept peninsula on the most western part of the island.

Others referenced on this blog:

L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland (1)
Miramichi-Chaleur Bay, New Brunswick (2)
Baffin Island, Nunavut (2)
Cambridge, Massachusetts (3)
Memphis, Tennessee (3)
Alexandria, Minnesota (3)
Newport, Rhode Island (3)

The United States of (All of) America

From Brilliant Maps: Making Sense of the World, One Map at a Time (hat tip: Tim Furnish): a map of what North America might have looked like if the Annexation Bill of 1866 had passed.

The bill would have authorized the President of the United States to, subject to the agreement of the governments of the British provinces:

publish by proclamation that, from the date thereof, the States of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada East, and Canada West, and the Territories of Selkirk, Saskatchewan, and Columbia, with limits and rights as by the act defined, are constituted and admitted as States and Territories of the United States of America.

Or to put it more simply, the bill would have annexed Canada, before Canada became a country.

I believe that annexing Canada, as a long-term policy goal of the United States, was only abandoned following the First World War. Throughout the nineteenth century, I understand, the USA saw British North America in the same way that the PRC views Taiwan, or the Republic of Ireland views Northern Ireland: as the rump state of the previous regime, and thus morally illegitimate.

Although I note that the bill does not mention Newfoundland, which had become crown colony in 1854 and was never part of Canada East; the map should probably reflect that.

United Irishmen

Wolfe Tone’s Irish rebellion of 1798, I discover courtesy Tom MacMaster, had a echo in Newfoundland. From Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador:

In 1798, many people in Ireland, strongly influenced by the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity exhibited in the French and American revolutions, decided to rise up against British rule. They formed the Society of United Irishmen, an oath-bound, non-sectarian, secret society dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland. Leading members included Theobald Wolfe Tone, and Lord Edward FitzGerald married to Pamela Simms, reputedly of Fogo, Newfoundland. Armed only with wooden staves topped with iron pikes against the more deadly British guns, the United Irishmen marched out to meet the British army. The United Irishmen were defeated but echoes of 1798 reverberated down through the next 200 years of Irish history. Today in Ireland, the United Irish Uprising is regarded as the first occasion in Irish history when Protestants and Catholics joined together in a common nationalist project.

Outside Ireland, no Irish community other than Newfoundland had the social and demographic characteristics in which a similar rising might take place. In southeast Ireland, much of the action was concentrated in County Wexford, where some 5000 people lost their lives, and Wexford was a major source of Irish migrants to Newfoundland throughout the 1700s. By 1798, two-thirds of the population of St. John’s was Irish, as were most of the soldiers in the British garrison stationed at Fort Townshend…

In April 1800, rumours flew through St. John’s that up to 400 men had taken the secret oath of the United Irishmen, including some soldiers stationed at Signal Hill, Fort William, and Fort Townshend. It is believed that some 80 or more soldiers planned to meet and mutiny at the powder shed behind Fort Townshend, which stood near what is now the juncture of Belvedere Street, Barnes Road, and Bonaventure Avenue. According to the British officers’ reports, their plan, allegedly, was to kill their officers and the leading inhabitants in the town assembled for worship in the Church of England on Sunday, April 20th.

Find out what happened at the link.