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Vikings in Canada

This story was initially published in 1998

From September 5 to 8, 1978, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) met and inscribed L'Anse aux Meadows on the World Heritage List. The remains of this 1000-year-old Viking colony on Newfoundland's northern peninsula mark the first known European settlement in the Americas south of Greenland.

Viking route to North America

Viking route to North America
© Canadian Museum of Civilization /
Gilles Archambault

Viking (or Norse) sagas tell the story of the exploration of North America around 1000 A.D. Norse explorer Leif Eiriksson established a base camp named "Leifsbúðir" (Leif's Camp). From there, the men conducted extensive explorations. When one man found wild grapes, Leif named the new land "Vinland" (Land of Wine). After Leif's voyage, other members of his family led further expeditions to this new place. According to the sagas a Norse child was born at Leif's Camp! There is strong evidence that these explorers ventured as far southwest as New Brunswick and the St. Lawrence River, but that Leif's Camp remained their base. However, the great distance to Greenland and skirmishes with Aboriginal peoples led the Vikings to abandon Vinland within a decade.

In 1960, the Norwegian archaeologists Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad unearthed the remains of a Norse site near the fishing village of L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. They found remains of eight sod and timber buildings and clearly identifiable Norse artifacts. During the Parks Canada excavations (1973-76), several additional Norse objects were unearthed. Based on the sagas and the archaeological evidence at the site, it is likely that L'Anse aux Meadows is the remains of Leifsbúðir, and thus the entrance to the vast region known as Vinland. Further research may provide new information about the site.

Reconstruction of a Viking sod house

Reconstruction of a Viking sod house
© Parks Canada

L'Anse aux Meadows is one of the world's outstanding cultural and archaeological sites. The site now consists of the remains of the original Norse camp and a nearby Parks Canada reconstruction of one group of the Viking houses found on site. Both the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and the UNESCO World Heritage Committee have recognized the unique value of this place to Canadian and world history. L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic and World Heritage Site is the first of 12 Canadian sites on the World Heritage List.

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