L’Anse aux Meadows

by Shanna Baker

Canada C3 arrived at L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula by ship, just as Norse explorers had 1,000 years ago when they became the first known Europeans to stumble onto North American soil—and the first to meet the Indigenous inhabitants who already knew the green rolling lands as home for 5,000 years. While these Vikings likely landed here seeking resources, our team—fully stocked up on supplies—came seeking knowledge. We passed through the tiny hamlet of L’Anse aux Meadows, population approximately 20, before winding across a low, undulating expanse of crowberry, mosses, and trees stunted by the acidic, low-nutrient soil. One of the park employees later explained that the dwarf forest here is locally called tuckamore. Children and dogs can pass through it easily, but adults must “tuck a little more,” he quipped. “And Newfoundlanders like to shorten their words, so, tuck more becomes tuckamore.”

Clayton Colburn, our guide, who has lived in L’Anse aux Meadows his whole life—and, he added, has been exploring this land since he was “knee high to a grasshopper”—led us around the remains of the original Norse settlement, a series of depressions now blanketed in vegetation that was excavated in the 1960s. Then, we arrived at a reconstructed settlement of sod houses, complete with interpreters dressed in period costumes. They played musical instruments from the era, showed how the Norse settlers spun glass beads, carved a bowl, worked fibers into chord and nets, and demonstrated the laborious process of converting local bog ore into iron. Half our group then ventured on a hike while others zipped over to a nearby island to see eider duck conservation efforts before we reconvened at the visitor’s centre for a presentation by archaeologist Birgitta Wallace and a meal of moose balls, fish cakes and mead.

The most entertaining moment of the day came when beloved children’s performer Fred Penner, a participant on Leg 5, was mid song, dressed up in a Norse costume. Fred’s a lot more svelt than most Norsemen likely were, so his pants began to migrate down to his ankles as he was playing the guitar (luckily he had jeans underneath). Canada C3 Expedition Leader Geoff Green, always quick to help, ran forward and hiked Fred’s pants up for him. It was, as someone joked later, likely the only X-rated Fred Penner show to date. When they slipped down again, Fred took a bow and shuffled back to his seat, pants around his ankles, to much laughter.

Just like the Norse, who represent a small blip in the history of L’Anse aux Meadows, we couldn’t stay long. After a stop at the reconstructed settlement site to see the results of the iron smelting process and a beach bonfire, we boarded zodiacs back to the Polar Prince. L’Anse aux Meadows, we’re told, represents the completion of human migration around the world, a process that took 100,000 years. The Norse would have come into contact with ancestors of the Innu, Inuit, Beothuk, and Mi’kmaq. Canada C3’s migration along the coast of Canada will be significantly faster—150 days in total—but this leg is going by far more quickly than any of us participants would like.