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Hi there –
Today we drove 6 miles (10 km) to L’Anse aux Meadows which is the site of the first Viking habitation in North America. A beautiful site with an interpretation center built right into the side of a hill.
In Norse sagas there had been references about discovering Vinland but researchers didn’t know where that was though they suspected it was somewhere in North America. Dr. Helge Ingstad and his wife, Dr. Anne Stine Ingstad, had spent years studying the Norse in Iceland and Greenland and concluded that it only made sense that the Vikings would have sailed west to discover North America. In 1960, the Ingstads sailed up and down the east coast trying to pinpoint where a good possible settlement site would be. They landed on L’Anse Aux Meadow which at the time was a very small fishing village that was only accessible by sea. As usual they asked the local inhabitants if they had seen any ruins and the village leader, George Decker, said yes and took them to the site of some unusual grassy mounds. The Ingstads were certain that this was a Viking settlement and twelve years of archaeological research proved them right. The grassy mounds turned out to be the remnants of eight 11th century Norse buildings. They went so far as discovering remains of early iron production and woodworking. The site became a National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today you can see the remains of the original buildings and right beside it are four reconstructed sod buildings of the same design. Staff are dressed in the period and act the role of the era, all very informative and fascinating.
The Vikings arrived in the 11th century but only stayed a few years then hostilities arose between them and local natives and they departed. It is felt that this site was only a way station and that somewhere in the south a larger site exists where they lived. They think only 70 to 90 people lived in this site.
About half a mile from the park site is Norstead, a living history site. It’s a village reconstructed with modern day Vikings demonstrating the Norse style of a thousand years ago, sharing their crafts and knowledge with the visitors. The Lady learned how to knit a hat with one needle. One of the highlights was seeing a full sized replica of the “Snorri” Viking ship. It had actually been sailed from Norway to this site. Beautiful craftsmanship and lines. It was all very well done and the staff were knowledgeable and friendly. A great experience especially after seeing a blessèd sheep sleeping in a Viking sheep pen.
The Grenfell House
After having a great lunch, we headed to St. Anthony to the Dr. Wilfred Grenfell Centre. Dr. Grenfell, a medical missionary, arrived from England to Northern Newfoundland in 1892 where he began giving medical attention on the Labrador coast and Northern Newfoundland. At the time Labrador had a population of 30,000 people with no medical care. Grenfell was appalled at the living conditions, barely subsistent fishing families living all together in small one-roomed houses in extremely unhealthy conditions. He was very impressed with the spirit of the people though and devoted his life to improving their physical and spiritual well-being. Over the years he introduced medical centers, schools, small home industries, orphanages and co-operatives. Up to that time the fishermen would buy all their supplies on credit from the fish plant owners. At the end of the season they paid their debt with their fish. If it was a bad season they got more into debt. Grenfell tried to end this system though it did continue on until the 1930’s. St. Anthony itself has a large hospital and the lovely Grenfell home which we toured. Quite an inspiring man who said, “If you’re given two choices, always choose the most adventurous.”
A full and fascinating day. The Man and Lady have discussed going to Labrador but have decided against it as there is only 50 miles (80 km) of road on the other side of the ferry, four towns and we hear lots and lots of black flies. We can see Labrador from here and realize it isn’t probably going to be that much different from what we are seeing here so we’ll carry on south tomorrow and then east towards St. Johns.
July 14 – Well, we did our own epic trek today south and then east. We needed to backtrack from the northern peninsula south to the Trans Canada and then east, a drive of 270 miles (430 km). We had planned to stay at Deer Lake but arrived there about 3 p.m. The Man and Lady didn’t like it because it was ‘too big city’ – it had a Tim Hortons and a KFC so they decided to drive a bit further. The Man and Lady have become confirmed rural-ites and are doing anything to avoid towns with more than two highway exits. This meant heading further east and we had been warned by the Newfoundlanders that it was a long drive and ‘nothing much there.’ We headed out for our first town and kept waiting for the nothingness. I guess there are degrees of nothingness – the nothingness we encountered was like saying there is nothing to see in the Rockies but mountains, lakes, wildflowers and beautiful forest. The scenery was awesome. We keep telling the Newfoundlanders how beautiful their province is but they kind of shrug and don’t seem to see it. We reached our first town after 70 miles (110 km) – booked up, so we pressed on another 43 miles (70 km) to Badger – all booked up, another 12.5 miles (20 km) to Grand Falls and they were having a music festival so were all booked up – finally another 56 miles (90 km) to Gander and we found a place to stay!
Tomorrow we continue east to Terra Nova National Park and Bonavista and then some exploring of the Avalon Peninsula.
Well, a long day and I’m ready to count blessèd sheep!