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The Giant River Snake of Southeast Alberta

The Giant River Snake of Southeast Alberta

The city of Medicine Hat, nestled in the southeast corner of Alberta not far from the Saskatchewan border, has many claims to fame. Hockey fans know it as the home of the Medicine Hat Tigers, a ferocious junior hockey team which has produced NHL legends like Trevor Linden and Lanny McDonald. Road-trippers may associate Medicine Hat with its iconic Saamis Teepee- an enormous steel skeleton of a Plains Indian lodge which sits atop an old buffalo jump beside the Trans-Canada Highway. Of all its distinctive features, however, Medicine Hat is perhaps best known for its unusual name, which has its roots in a mysterious tangle of local native legends.

Medicine Hat was founded in 1883, when the Canadian Pacific Railway was built across the South Saskatchewan River. In the early 1900s, huge deposits of natural gas were discovered in the earth beneath it, prompting English writer Rudyard Kipling to famously remark that it boasted “all Hell for a basement”. Its surfeit of natural gas, coupled with an abundance of red clay which lies along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, transformed Medicine Hat into a major brick and ceramics manufacturing centre which once stood to compete with northwesterly Calgary for the distinction of being Alberta’s most important city.

Despite a failed movement in the early 1900s to change its name to “Gasville” in an attempt to attract industry, Medicine Hat has retained its strange name since its founding. Its first citizens named the town after the old Indian name for the place, which, for a century prior to the town’s founding, had served as a sort of boundary between the territories the Blackfoot Confederacy and that of their hereditary enemies, the easterly Plains Cree and Assiniboine.

There are a great number of old Blackfoot and Cree legends which purport to explain the origin of the name ‘Medicine Hat’, most of which local historian Marcel M.C. Dirk diligently documented in his 1993 book But Names Will Never Hurt Me. The majority of these legends are based on either a battle between the Blackfoot and the Cree, a love story involving human sacrifice, a landmark that looks like an Indian headdress, or some combination thereof. In spite of their differences, every single legend has something in common, namely the inclusion of a medicine man’s headdress, or ‘medicine hat’.

James Sanderson’s Story

In 1894, a Scots-Cree frontiersman-turned-rancher named James Sanderson, who was one of Medicine Hat’s earliest citizens, documented one of these legends in a series of articles for the Medicine Hat News entitled Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies. Sanderson’s tale is especially interesting as it constitutes one of the only recordings of an all-but-forgotten creature of Plains Indian oral tradition- an enormous supernatural river snake associated with the Great Spirit.

Sanderson begins his tale by describing a certain setting on the South Saskatchewan River which is almost certainly the area between what is now Police Point Park and Strathcona Island Park, the former being opposite the river from the latter. At this particular point, the river bends substantially, resulting in a significant current which prevents the formation of ice “even during the most severe winters”. At the centre of the bend is an island, and to the east of the island are tall sandstone cutbanks, or cliffs, which fall into the river.

“This opening in the river is regarded with great interest by the Indians,” Sanderson wrote, “as it is believed to be the breathing place of the Great Spirit who lives in the river and who, when he shows himself, assumes the form of a serpent…”

Sanderson then described the legend:

“Far back in Indian tradition, it is said that one of a hunting party of Blood Indians was sent forward to reconnoitre the country and see if the buffalo were to be met with any numbers. He was accompanied by his newly-married wife and a favourite dog, the latter bearing the travois- a crosspole arrangement to which the dog was harnessed- for the purpose of carrying some share of the travelling outfit.

“One evening, the Indian was camped by the river side and, as he was walking along near the opening in the river referred to, the serpent appeared to him and told him that if he would throw the flesh of his wife into the opening, he would become a great warrior and medicine man. The Indian returned to his tepee and repeated to his wife the words of the serpent. His wife at once expressed her willingness to die for the good of the tribe and in obedience to the call of the Great Spirit. Her husband, however, was reluctant and instead of his wife killed the dog. Carrying its carcass to the opening, he threw it in with the request that the Spirit might be pleased to accept from him his dog as a substitute for his wife. The Spirit refused to accept, and declared that, unless the Indian would sacrifice the wife he could do nothing for him. The man returned and informed his wife accordingly, and she again expressed her willingness to comply with the demand.

“Finally, she was sacrificed and her flesh given to the Spirit, who then directed the man to stay all night on the island near by, to rise early next morning, and, as the sun rose, to proceed towards the cutbanks lying to the east. At the base of one of the cutbanks he would find a bag containing medicines and a hat trimmed with ermine. He was instructed to bring back the medicine bag and the hat with him to the Spirit who would explain the purpose of the hat and the efficacy of the medicines. The hat, he was told, was to be worn only in war, and would ensure victory to the wearer. The tradition has it that the Indian became famous as a medicine man and warrior.”

How Seven Persons Got Its Name

Following the tale of the medicine hat, Sanderson documented another Indian legend featuring the Great Spirit in the form of a huge water serpent. This story takes place on Seven Persons Creek, a tributary of the South Saskatchewan which enters the river immediately adjacent to the island mentioned in the previous story. The tale purports to explain how the creek acquired its own strange name.

Before the coming of the North-West Mounted Police in 1874, the area of South Saskatchewan River and its tributaries in the vicinity of present-day Medicine Hat was a dangerous place frequented by raiding parties in search of trouble, and skirmishes and battles between Blackfoot and Cree warriors were common there. In 1872, a renowned war chief named Calf Shirt led a war party of Blood Blackfoot along Seven Persons Creek in search of enemies. Sanderson’s tale describes an old Indian legend born of this particular excursion.

While crossing the creek a short distance above its confluence with the South Saskatchewan, the war party came across:

“… the dead bodies of seven men, lying just as if they had been suddenly struck down when following each other in Indian file. Although it was evident that they had been dead for some time, there was not a single indication of decay about them, unless the absence of any vestige of hair upon their heads might be regarded as such. They were not scalped; the hair had simply been removed without any indication being left of the manner of its removal. There was no wound visible on the bodies, nor could the Blackfoot tell whence they had come, or to what tribe they belonged.

“Being unable to explain this most mysterious find, the braves made up their minds to watch the bodies, to see whether anyone would come to claim them or give them burial. They waited patiently for five days in the neighbourhood and watched the corpses closely, but there was no sign of any such party appearing and the bodies continued in the same condition of non-decay.

 

“As they discussed various theories to account for the death of the men, someone suggested that they had died of starvation, but a close examination of their equipment proved that they had not been short of provisions. The final conclusion of the Blackfoot was that the seven persons had, in some way, offended the Great Spirit who breathed through the unfreezing opening in the South Saskatchewan, and that he had punished then by striking them dead.”

The natives reverently covered the bodies with stones which, for many years, remained undisturbed by prairie wolves and other scavengers. Ever since, the waterway on which the bodies were discovered has been called Seven Persons Creek.

Earl Willows’ Story

Intriguingly, Sanderson’s tales are not the only documented Plains Indian legends involving giant supernatural water serpents. Blackfoot storyteller Earl Willows, for example, in 2009 online article “Earl Willows Tells the Story of the Warrior that Ate the Horned Snake”, recounted a traditional Blackfoot tale in which two warriors, on their way home from a raid, accidentally set up camp over top of a snake den. In the morning, they discovered an enormous snake nearby and burned it alive. Heedless of his companion’s warning, one of the warriors, named Weasel Calf, ate some of the snake’s cooked meat.

The following morning, the other warrior, named Flint Knife, found that his companion had transformed into a massive horned snake. Weasel Calf asked his friend to bring his belongings back to his family, and urged him to maintain a healthy distance from him during their travels for his own safety. The two continued on until they came to a large river. Weasel Calf declared that this would be his new home, and asked Flint Knife to ask his family to come and visit him there.

Sometime later, the family of the metamorphosed brave visited the river and were greeted by the huge serpent who explained how his transformation came about. The snake then asked his family to leave, as he was afraid he would be unable to control his strange urge to harm them. The Blackfoot left the river and never returned.

The Horned Serpent

The Blackfoot and Cree legends of massive river snakes appear to be part of a much larger pan-American tradition of supernatural horned water serpents. From the Haida of the Pacific Northwest to the Mi’kmaq of the Maritimes, First Nations and Native American tribes across the continent all tell similar stories of powerful, often-horned water serpents imbued with supernatural abilities. For some reason, which this author hopes to investigate in another article, these creatures are almost invariably considered the archenemies of Thunderbirds– legendary giant eagles which also enjoy a prominent place in indigenous folklore across North America.

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Famous Black Canadians: 10/10: George Bonga

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George Bonga

For many people, the word “voyageur” may conjure up images of a rugged-looking French-Canadian, with a red cap on his head and a colourful sash around his waist, hauling a birch bark canoe over some portage trail through the forest. Others may picture a glarled Scotsman clad in buckskins and woolen tartan pulling the oar of a York boat on some wild river. Very few would associate the word with a genteel-looking black man wearing a top hat and a three-piece suit, yet that is the just the sort of image you’ll come across if you look up George Bonga, a famous black Canadian who was as much a voyageur as any Scotsman, French-Canadian, or Metis to paddle the waterways of Rupert’s Land.

Born in around 1802 in Duluth, Minnesota, George Bonga was a third generation frontiersman. His grandfather, Jean Bonga, had been the indentured servant of a British Army officer stationed at Fort Mackinac (situated on an island in Lake Huron). His father, Pierre Bonga, was a fur trader who served as the guide of Alexander Henry the Younger- a great Canadian fur trader and explorer- while his mother was an Ojibwa Indian whose people had inhabited the wilderness of North America for millennia. When he was eighteen years old, George Bonga- a powerful man who stood 6’6”- followed in his forefathers’ footsteps and found employment with the American Fur Company in Northern Minnesota.

George Bonga was a humorous, good-natured voyageur who quickly earned himself an excellent reputation among the Company men. He was strong and hard-working, and was said to carry a much heavier load on the portage trail than most of his contemporaries. He had spent his childhood in Montreal, Quebec, where he had received a good classical education, and thus was just as comfortable among the Company’s learned clerks as he was among their rugged engages. Due to his education and his mother’s influence, he was fluent in French and Ojibwa in addition to his native English.

Bonga’s reputation attracted the attention of Lewis Cass, the Governor of the Territory of Michigan (present-day Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and parts of North and South Dakota), who hired him as a guide during his 1820 expedition into the Great Lakes region of what is now northern Minnesota. The purpose of the expedition was to locate the source of the Mississippi River, which Cass erroneously determined was what was a body of water which was later dubbed ‘Cass Lake’ in his honour. Lewis Cass would later hire Bonga as a translator for treaty negotiations with the Ojibwa of Fond du Lac (Wisconsin), which resulted in the treaty of 1826.

In the winter of 1837, an Ojibwa man named Chegawaskung was arrested for the murder of fur trader Alfred Aitkin at Cass Lake. The native escaped from his cell and fled into the wilderness. George Bonga was tasked with his capture. For five days and six nights, the veteran voyageur tracked his quarry through the Minnesota wilds. Eventually, he caught up to the native, subdued him, and brought him to Fort Snelling (a U.S. Army fort situated at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers) for trial. Although Chegawaskung was ultimately acquitted, Bonga’s hand in his arrest made him unpopular with the local Ojibwa.

 

In the 1840s, George Bonga left the fur trade. In the 1850s, he, his Ojibwa wife, and their four children built a lodge at Leech Lake, Minnesota, which they rented to outdoor sportsmen.

In later life, George Bonga became a great advocate for the ethical treatment of Native Americans. He wrote several letters to government officials in which he remonstrated the conduct of certain Indian Agents whom he believed treated their native charges unfairly.

George Bonga died in 1874 when he was about 72 years old. Reverend Henry Whipple, Minnesota’s first Episcopal bishop, wrote of the man:

“No word could be better trusted than that of George Bonga.”

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Famous Black Canadians: 9/10: Rev. Addie Aylestock

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Reverend Addie Aylestock

Mabel Adeline “Addie” Aylestock was born on September 8, 1909, in the village of Glen Allan, Ontario, located about 40 minutes northwest of Kitchener. She was descended from black immigrant farmers who, in the 19th Century, settled what was known as the ‘Queen’s Bush’- a wilderness area stretching from Waterloo County (the vicinity of Kitchener) to the westerly Lake Huron- and was imbued with the pioneering spirit of her forefathers.

Addie Aylestock was the eldest of eight children. As her parents were of little means, she left home at a young age and travelled to Toronto. There, she found employment as a housemaid- an occupation which earned her a salary of $15 per month.

Although the black farmers of the Queen’s Bush had, for decades, rubbed shoulders with the Mennonite settlers who named the Conestogo River- the waterway around which much of the Queen’s Bush Settlement revolved- Addie and her family were staunch members of the British Methodist Episcopal Church, a Canadian offshoot of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (the first independent Protestant denomination founded by African-Americans). Addie, being especially devout, resolved to become a missionary and work in Liberia, on the west coast of Africa. In order to quality for service overseas, she studied at the Toronto Bible College and became a deaconess in 1944.

Man proposes, but God disposes, and Addie found herself compelled to lay aside her desire for foreign missionary work in order to minister to fellow black Canadians. She began to preach in Africville- a suburb of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Portia White, another famous black Canadian, taught black schoolchildren in the 1930s. The British Methodist Episcopal Church later transferred Addie to Montreal, then to Toronto, and finally to Owen Sound, located about an hour west of Collingwood.

By the early 1950s, Addie Aylestock had assumed so many responsibilities that she was now doing as much work as regular British Methodist Episcopal ministers. The church decided to amend their regulations and allow for the ordination of women, and thus, in 1951, Addie Aylestock became the first female minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the first black female minister in Canada.

Reverend Addie Aylestock went on to head British Methodist Episcopal churches in Fort Erie, Guelph, Niagara Falls, North Buxton, and St. Catharines, Ontario, as well as in Montreal, Quebec, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. From 1958-1982, she served as the general secretary of the British Methodist Episcopal Conference.

Rev. Addie Aylestock passed away in 1998, at the age of 88.

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The Curse of Oak Island: Drilling Down; Season 4, Episode 3- The Truth Behind the Curse

The Curse of Oak Island: Drilling Down; Season 4, Episode 3- The Truth Behind the Curse

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 4, Episode 3 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island: Drilling Down.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The episode begins at the Oak Island Interpretive Centre, where Matty Blake (host of the show’s accessory series The Curse of Oak Island: Drilling Down) meets with the Lagina brothers. The three men discuss the interesting discoveries made over the past two seasons, including the bones, parchment, and leather brought up from H8, as well as the lead cross found at Smith’s Cove. Marty remarks that, prior to these discoveries, the most important Oak Island artifacts in his mind were the Spanish-American scissors discovered on Smith’s Cove in 1970 and Dan Blankenship’s old photos of the U-shaped structure.

In the next scene, Matty Blake reminds us of the legend of the curse of Oak Island, which holds that seven men must die in search of treasure there before the island will reveal her secrets. D’Arcy O’Connor, the author of The Secret Treasure of Oak Island, then appears in an interview to talk about the various legends that revolved around Oak Island before the discovery of the Money Pit in 1795. “People talked about seeing spooky lights there at night,” he said, “and, of course, people figured the island was cursed.” Matty Blake then reminds us that, according to some versions of the discovery legend, Daniel McGinnis, John Smith, and Anthony Vaughan were investigating strange lights on the island when they stumbled upon the Money Pit.

Next, folklorist Clary Croft appears in an interview. Croft states that legends of curses often accompany tales of buried treasure, and proposes that these legends derive from a desire to either inflate the value of the supposed treasure or deter people from seeking it.

Next, Matty Blake meets with Rick and Marty Lagina in the War Room. Rick suggests that the legend of the curse “is an amalgamation of 200 years of search”, before reminding Blake of the story that, many years prior to the discovery of the Money Pit, two fishermen rowed out to Oak Island to investigate strange lights and were never seen again.

Nanette Corbett, the daughter of former Oak Island treasure hunter James Troutman, then appears in an interview. Corbett remarks that Oak Island has an eerie feel to it, which may be partly attributable to the fog that often hangs over it.

Deena Chappell, the granddaughter of former treasure hunter Mel Chappell, then appears in an interview. Deena remarks that she was seventeen years old at the time of the Restall tragedy of August 17, 1965, when treasure hunters Robert and Bobby Restall and two other men drowned at the bottom of an Oak Island shaft, having succumbed to hydrogen sulfide fumes.

Back in the War Room, Marty Lagina claims that, although he does not believe in the supernatural, he gets scared every once in a while on Oak Island. He proceeds to relate a ghost story of his own, which began as a brotherly dare. On Rick’s suggestion, the Lagina brothers drove out to Borehole 10-X one night. After stepping out of the car, Marty heard “the nastiest scream you ever heard in your life- I mean a blood-curdling scream.” Frightened, Marty jumped back in the car and tore off, nearly running over Rick on his way back. Marty does not attempt to explain the noise he heard that night.

Marty then cites the unusual number of equipment malfunctions on the island as evidence that one might use in an attempt to prove that Oak Island is cursed. After that, Rick remarks that Fred Nolan never spent a single night on Oak Island, and believed that the crows that populate it are the reincarnated spirits of the slaves who constructed the Money Pit. Marty concludes the meeting by suggesting that Blake meet with Dave Blankenship, who went “from being a complete non-believer in anything sort of paranormal to [being] pretty much convinced” that Oak Island is haunted.

Matty Blake then pays a visit to Dave Blankenship, who tells him that he, his wife, and several others have seen a formless black cloud floating through the woods on Oak Island, especially near Borehole 10-X. Although he cannot explain the phenomenon, Dave tells Blake that he believes in neither the paranormal nor the Oak Island curse.

Matty Blake then informs us that, though the origin of the ‘7 must die’ legend is a bit of a mystery, it may have been popularized by an article in the January 1967 issue of the magazine True, in which the author claimed to have heard the legend from “a pretty woman intimately related to the [Restall tragedy]”.

Next, Dave Blankenship relates an incident in which he and his father witnessed a ball of fire approach the Triton Shaft from Mahone Bay before vanishing into thin air. Dave does not offer an opinion as to what the fireball might have been.

After bringing Matty to the site at which the fireball approached the island, Dave states that, a short distance away, Dan Henskee suffered a terrifying experience in 1973 in which he felt as if he were temporarily possessed by the spirit of a Spanish priest who had his throat slit. In an earlier interview, Henskee concedes that he is unsure whether his experience was real or imaginary.

Later, in an interview, D’Arcy O’Connor explains that there are stories which purport that Oak Island is haunted by a huge black dog with glowing red eyes. After that, Blake relates the story of Peggy Adams, the daughter of Oak Island caretaker Jack Adams, who claimed to have seen the ghosts of 18th Century British soldiers on Smith’s Cove when she was four years old.

After reminding us of the death of Maynard Kaiser, Matty Blake introduces us to the tale of Jimmy Kaizer, a local Mi’kmaq who worked as a labourer for Robert Restall (and retrieved his body, along with those of Bobby Restall, Cyril Hiltz and Carl Graeser, following the Restall tragedy) and a night watchman for Robert Dunfield. In late 1965, while sleeping in the Restalls’ old cabin, Jim awoke to the sound of the cabin rattling violently. He experienced the sensation of a heavy weight on his chest, and looked up to see a pair of red eyes staring down at him. A voice told him to leave the island and never come back. The following morning, Jim found that he was covered in bruises, one pattern resembling four fingers and a thumb.

Next, Matty Blake reminds us of the paranormal investigation which took place in Season 1, Episode 3, in which members of the Chester Area Paranormal Society conducted an investigation near the Oak Island swamp at night. During the investigation, the Society’s K-II electromagnetic field meter began to beep, which Society member Jenn Morror interpreted as “an indication that something [in the swamp] was trying to communicate” with them.

Matty Blake then meets with parapsychologist Brian J. Cano at the Oak Island Visitors’ Centre. The two men head to the Oak Island swamp, where Cano produces a Mel Meter- a device which records both temperature and electromagnetic radiation. When the Mel Meter fails to pick up anything of interest, Cano begins recording audio in the hope of picking up ghostly sounds inaudible to the human ear. Matty asks a few questions aloud, to which he and Brian hear no response.

After that, Blake and Cano proceed to Borehole 10-X, where they repeat the procedures they conducted in the swamp. This time, apparently in response to Matty’s request for the spirit to make noise, some sounds erupt from the nearby woods.

Next, Blake takes Cano to the Money Pit area, where he reminds the ghost hunter that human bones were recovered from Borehole H8. The men open the lid to H8, lean over the shaft, and ask begin asking questions, their audio recorder at the ready. After Blake asks, “What do you want us to do?” he is answered by a single metallic knock from below, as if someone had rapped on the side of the caisson. A shaken Matty Blake confesses, “That scared the blank out of me!”

“You’ve been officially initiated into the world of paranormal investigating,” replies Brian Cano, shaking his hand. “You have arrived.”

That night, at the Oak Island Research Centre, Blake and Cano listen through the recordings they made that day. After Matty had asked “What is your name?” at Borehole 10-X, the recorder picked up a faint vocalization which neither of the men heard at the time the recording was made. Although the sound is muffled, Cano suggests that it constitutes the words “chain them”.

The next day, Matty Blake meets with the Lagina brothers in the War Room. There, he shows Rick and Marty the evidence that he and Brian Cano collected the previous day. Both of the Lagina brothers believe that the sound in response to the question “What is your name?” resembles the name “Jason”. Marty says that he doesn’t know what to make of the audio clip, but claims that he would be willing to submit it to an audiologist for analysis. When Matty Blake asks the brothers to give their final thoughts on the curse, Marty Lagina states: “The only thing I see here [suggestive of a curse] is what [Oak Island] has done to lives in the past 225 years. So, call that a curse if you want. Maybe there’s something to that.” Rick replies that Oak Island has not only destroyed lives, but also stimulated “in young minds an interest in science, archaeology, [and] mathematics… [which is] a real positive. Be there a curse or not… there’s certainly a chance here to do positive things, and that’s a good thing.”

“I certainly agree with that,” responds Marty.

 

Analysis

Wrought Iron Scissors

In the summer of 1970, Dan Blankenship discovered a pair of wrought iron scissors beneath one of the Smith’s Cove box drains. Experts who analyzed the artifact determined that it was forged in the 17th or 18th Century and that it was of Spanish-Mexican design. This finding strongly supports the theory that Oak Island’s original underground workings were constructed by subjects of the Spanish Empire.

The Young Teazer

The ball of fire that Dave Blankenship watched approach Smith’s Cove from Mahone Bay evokes the so-called ‘Teazer Light’- a fiery phantom ship said to appear on the waters of the Mahone Bay from time to time.

The story of the Teazer Light begins in June 26, 1813, during the War of 1812, which pitted British Canada against the fledgling United States. At that time, Great Britain stationed war ships off the coast of New England in order to prevent the Americans from trading with Napoleon’s France. In order to combat this blockade, the New English states issued letters of marque to American sailors who wished to engage in privateering, or licenced piracy, against the British.

One American ship whose crew had received such a commission was the Young Teazer, a five-gun schooner captained by a man named William D. Dobson. In the spring and early summer of 1813, the Young Teazer captured a number of British vessels in Nova Scotian waters, prompting British warships to sail in search of her.

In early June, 1813, a 74-gun British ship-of-the-line called the Hogue spotted the Young Teazer off Halifax Harbour and chased her down the coast. On June 26, after evading a succession of British warships, the Young Teazer found herself trapped by the Hogue in Mahone Bay, bounded by Mason Island and Rafuse Island, both of these located southeast of Oak Island.

The crew of the Hogue, hoping to board the cornered schooner, piled into five smaller boats and began to row towards her. While Captain Dobson and his crew prepared to defend their ship, a young American lieutenant named Frederick Johnson declared that he would not allow himself to be hanged before dashing towards the hold of the Young Teazer, where the privateers stored their gunpowder. A tremendous explosion ensued, transforming the Young Teazer into a flaming wreck and killing 30 members of her crew of 38.

According to legend, the fiery phantom of the Young Teazer appears in the water of Mahone Bay from time to time, her ghostly crew standing amidst the flames that envelop her. Nova Scotian folklorist Helen Creighton, who included the tale of the Young Teazer in her 1957 book Bluenose Ghosts, suggested that such sightings might be attributable to an optical illusion produced by a full moon shining through the fog. Others have surmised that St. Elmo’s fire- a phenomenon by which static electricity produces the appearance of flames on ships’ masts and rigging- might be the culprit. Many who claim to have witnessed the Teazer Light, however, whether while standing on the shore or on the decks of their own ships, are certain that the phenomenon is nothing less than the frightening spectre of that American privateer that burned that fateful day in the summer of 1813.

The Black Shuck

Legend has it that Oak Island is haunted by the huge black dog with glowing red eyes. A number of adventurers who have spent time on the island claimed to have seen the creature at night. Some theorists have even worked the mysterious mutt into their hypotheses.

Stygian hellhounds with fiery red eyes are staples of British folklore. Legend has it that these frightening entities haunt crossroads, ancient trails, and places of execution. They are often considered omens of death, and are associated with the underworld.\

Oak Island is not the only locale in the Canadian Maritimes to boast legends of a hellish black dog. In the town of Torbay, just north of St. John’s, Newfoundland, is a place called Watson’s Cove, said to be haunted by a big black dog with glowing red eyes. According to legend, long ago, a band of pirates buried a hoard of ill-gotten treasure somewhere on Watson’s Cove. They slit the throat of their cabin boy and buried his corpse with the treasure chest so that his ghost would guard the loot. The boy had a dog who fought valiantly to defend his master, and so the pirates killed and buried the dog as well. It is the spectre of this dog, the legend says, that people see on Watson’s Cove, guarding the bones of its master.

Peggy Adams’ Ghost Story

One of the most intriguing ghost story to come out of Oak Island is the tale of Peggy Adams, daughter of caretakers Jack and Charlotte Adams who worked for Hedden and Hamilton in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. One cold day in the winter of 1940, four-year-old Peggy ran to her mother crying, saying that she had seen a crowd of strange men at Smith’s Cove wearing “pretty red jackets” and pants with “big yellow stripes” down the side. Among the crowd were “three big men,” the first of whom Peggy likened to the character Luthor from the Mandrake the Magician newspaper comic strip, a huge, muscular African bodyguard. According to Peggy, the second of these big men wore “funny-looking clothes,” while the third bore an eye-patch. When Peggy’s father Jack went down to Smith’s Cove to investigate, however, he found the fresh layer of snow that covered the beach to be unblemished; there were no footprints in sight. Years later, Peggy’s mother Charlotte paid a visit to the Citadel Museum in Halifax with her son-in-law. There, upon seeing the red coats and striped pants that made up the uniform of the 18th Century British militiaman, Charlotte surmised with a thrill of superstitious terror that her daughter might have seen the ghosts of British soldiers that day in 1940.

If this particular story is to be believed, it appears as if one of the men Peggy saw that day in the winter of 1940 was an African- American man in a British militiaman’s uniform. Interestingly, one of the most prominent characters in the story of Oak Island’s legendary 1795 discovery is landowner Samuel Ball, a black ex-slave from South Carolina who served in the Loyalist Militia during the Revolutionary War.

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New 2019 Book- Mysteries of Canada: Volume I

Mysteries Of Canada: Volume I

I‘m very pleased to announce that my latest book, MysteriesOfCanada: Volume I, is now out and available for purchase on Amazon.

This book is essentially a collection of articles that I submitted to the website MysteriesOfCanada.com in 2018, which I have altered slightly for the sake of fluidity. Most of these stories are of a historical nature and every one of them, with the notable exception of “How Canada Saved the Buffalo”, contains some element of the mysterious, the supernatural, or the unexplained.

I have divided the stories in this book into seven thematic categories:

In Clairvoyance, we’ll look at stories of ‘Second Sight’, in which certain gifted individuals are said to have made accurate predictions based on information that they received through visions and dreams. All of these stories take place in the wilderness or rural areas of Western Canada.

In Ghost Stories, we’ll explore several assorted tales of the supernatural. One of these takes place in Ashcroft, British Columbia, the site of Canada’s only true desert, while the other two are set in Ontario, said to be Canada’s most haunted province.

In Poltergeists, we’ll delve into a number of strange cases from Eastern Canada in which teenage girls found themselves harassed by what seemed to be invisible entities hell-bent on wreaking mischief and mayhem.

In Miscellaneous Mysteries, we’ll look a number of stories which fail to fit into any of the other categories. One of these is the legend of a pirate treasure said to be buried on a river island in Newfoundland. Another, set in an abandoned mining town in Ontario, is a startling tale of UFOs and visitors from a distant planet… with a twist.

In Superstitions, we’ll explore some exotic customs and beliefs held by members of certain Canadian subcultures, including the supposed vampire folklore of the Ontario Kashubs and a long-held First Nations tradition which cautions against whistling at night.

In Haunted Hotels in Ontario, we’ll tour ten Ontario stopping places said to house guests from the Great Beyond, all of which you can stay in tonight… if you dare!

Last, but certainly not least, we’ll delve into stories of forest-dwelling giants and winged monstrosities in the final section of our book, Cryptids.

Where to Find It?

For Americans

You can find the paperback version here, and the Kindle version here.

For Canadians

You can find the paperback version here, and the Kindle version here.

For Britons

You can find the paperback version here, and the Kindle version here.

 

 

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The Ouija Board of Cobden, Ontario

The Ouija Board of Cobden, Ontario

Since at least the late 1800s, Western spiritualists have attempted to communicate with the spirits of the dead through so-called ‘talking boards’. These devices originally consisted of wooden boards on which were painted the letters of the alphabet, along with an essential accessory called a ‘planchette’- a heart-shaped piece of wood with three wheels or felt sliders attached to its underside. During Victorian-era séances, occult practitioners would dim the lights, sit around the talking board, and invite any spirits present to communicate with them. That accomplished, the practitioners would lightly place their fingers on top of the planchette, which would proceed to glide across the surface of the talking board, seemingly of its own accord. Ideally, the planchette would point to a succession of letters which spelled out a coherent message ostensibly attributable to some otherworldly entity.

In the 1890s, four American businessman patented a particular style of talking board which displayed the alphabet, the numbers 0 through 9, and the words ‘YES’, ‘NO’, and ‘GOOD BYE’. The businessman dubbed their innovation the ‘Ouija board’, and went on to found the Kenneth Novelty Company, through which they produced and sold these devices on a massive scale. Due to their marketing efforts, the Ouija board quickly metamorphosed from a relatively obscure spiritualist tool into an innocent and extremely popular parlour game. This perception endured until 1973, when the horror film The Exorcist hit American theatres, transforming the talking board once again into a sinister apparatus of the occult.

Although most post-1973 accounts of Ouija board use are either tales of scoffing skepticism or dire dissuasion, there are a few pre-Exorcist anecdotes involving positive outcomes resultant of Ouija board consultation. One of these appeared in the February 1955 issue of the magazine Fate.

Violet Bender of Ottawa, Ontario, the lady who submitted the story, claimed that sometime in the 1880s, her aunt . had come into the possession of a talking board. Although Mrs. Bender was not explicit in her description of the apparatus, it seems possible that this particular talking board’s planchette was equipped with a pencil.

Violet’s aunt used the apparatus to help her compose music. In 1902, her aunt died, and the board was bequeathed to her mother, the wife of an Anglican clergyman.

Violet’s eldest sister, Winnifred, who was eighteen years old at the time, quickly discovered that the board would write for her. “It provided her with many hours of amusement,” Violet wrote. “Her girl friends came to ask about their beaux. It replied equally well to mental questions- that is, to unspoken questions in a person’s mind. Whoever had the strongest will or the greatest power of concentration got the reply to his or her question.”

At that time, Violet and her family lived in the village of Cobden, Ontario, situated on an old and well-used portage route circumventing a set of rapids on the Ottawa River. Word quickly spread throughout Cobden, as it so often does in small communities, that Winnifred could locate lost or stolen articles using her Ouija board.

Early one morning, Violet and her family awoke to the frantic ringing of the rectory bell; someone, it seemed, desperately wanted to see the minister. Violet’s father threw open the rectory window and stuck out his head. “Who is there?” he called. “What do you want?”

“We want to ask that board of your daughter’s a question,” came the reply.

“Well,” the minister said with some reproach, “four o’clock in the morning is a queer time to come to ask a question.”

The visitor replied that his little girl was lost in the woods, and that a search party had been hunting for her all night, but to no avail.

Violet’s father told the man that he would do what he could. He roused Winnifred, informed her of the situation, and asked her to use her talking board to determine the girl’s location. Afraid of what the answer might be, Winnifred asked the question and put her hands on the planchette. The board gave the following reply:

“THE CHILD IS SAFE IN A HOUSE NEAR THE TRACK”

Winnifred’s father relayed the information to the desperate father, who tore off in the direction of the railroad.

Later that day, the father found his little girl safe and sound in a log cabin near the railway. She had wandered away from her family’s farm with some cows, and the family living in the cabin had taken her in.

Thirty years later, Violet Bender was happily married to a clergyman and living not far from Cobden. One evening, she got a call from another clergyman who asked whether she had the talking board and planchette that her family once owned. Violet informed the minister that her eldest sister, Winnifred, had the board, and that she was now married and living in Australia.

 

“The clergyman,” Violet wrote, “then explained that a child was lost in that district, and the people, remembering how over 30 years ago another lost child had been found, wanted to consult the planchette again.”

Rather than end on this note, the author of this piece feels obliged to remind you, dear reader, that this particular anecdote, with its semi-happy ending, is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to Ouija board stories. Today, popular culture is riddled with cautionary tales expounding the dangers of Ouija board séances, most of them warning that improper use of the device can leave the practitioner vulnerable to attacks by evil spirits or demons. These exhortations are based on the tenets of various Judeo-Christian religious denominations which condemn any attempt to contact the spirit world. Perhaps the most well-known religious denunciation of Ouija board use is that of the Roman Catholic Church, which expounds its position in paragraph 2,116 of the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future.”

The section outlining this doctrine cites two verses from sacred scripture. The first of these is Chapter 18, Verse 10 of the Book of Deuteronomy (the fifth book of the Hebrew Torah, detailing the divine laws revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai), which denounces child sacrifice, fortune telling, soothsaying, divining, spell-casting, consulting ghosts and spirits, or seeking “oracles from the dead”. The second passage cited is Chapter 29, Verse 8, of the Book of Jeremiah, which warns against false prophets and diviners who lie and deceive in God’s name.

Whether you consider the Ouija board a useful tool, a harmless toy, or a dangerous door to another world, perhaps the wisest policy is to treat it with caution.

Source

“The Lost Child”, by Violet Bender of Ottawa, Ontario, in the February 1955 issue of the magazine Fate, courtesy of American Fortean researcher Gary S. Mangiacopra

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The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 13- The Paper Chase

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 13- The Paper Chase

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 13 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The episode begins at Smith’s Cove, where the crew examines the mysterious concrete wall discovered at the end of the previous episode. After some light excavation with his trowel, Laird Niven uncovers two rubbery pipes protruding from the wall’s base, indicating that the structure was made by 19th or 20th Century searchers.

That afternoon, the crew congregates in the War Room. After discussing the strange new discovery, Marty Lagina suggests that perhaps the concrete walls is much older than the rubber pipes, and that previous searchers drilled through the structure and inserted the pipes into it after discovering it. Talk then turns to the slipway, located next to the concrete wall. Gary Drayton expresses his belief that the slipway constitutes original work, and will help lead them to the original Money Pit.

Later, Rick Lagina and Dave Blankenship pay a visit to the home of Dan Blankenship. There, they inform the elderly treasure hunter of the new discovery and ask him if he has any clue as to what it might be. Dan explains that the wall must have been constructed before 1950, as Robert Restall never built anything of the sort during his treasure hunt in the 1960s. He goes on to suggest that they have wood from the adjacent slipway carbon dated, as it is probable that whoever built the slipway either constructed or new about the concrete wall.

Next, the crew meets at the Money Pit, where Irving Equipment Ltd. is working H8. The contractors use the oscillator to lift the H8 caisson several feet before excavating the material that moved into the bottom with a hammergrab. The first hammergrab load, which comes from a depth of 168 feet, yields fragments of old wood, which Craig Tester suggests is part of the Chappell Vault.

After a cursory examination, the H8 spoils are laid on a wash table and manually inspected by Jack Begley and Charles Barkhouse. After finding several more slivers of wood, Jack Begley discovers a handful of what appear to be blackened parchment fragments. Later on, he discovers a delicate white scrap of material which resembles paper.

Later that day, Craig Tester and Jack Begley meet with Doug Crowell and Paul Troutman at the Oak Island Research Centre. There, they examine the new material discovered in the H8 spoils under a digital microscope. One of the black scraps appears to be leather. Another piece of material, supposed to be parchment, has markings in yellow and red paint or ink. Doug Crowell suggests that the colour might be from a stylized initial, or drop cap, of an illuminated manuscript. The crew members agree that they ought to have the coloured pigments or dyes analyzed by an expert.

Later, the Oak Island crew meets with Randall Sullivan at the Money Pit area. The Lagina brothers and Sullivan walk down to the War Room, where the writer presents the treasure hunters with the first copies of his new book The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest Treasure Hunt. Sullivan expresses his belief that his book is the “most authoritative and entertaining history of Oak Island”. He claims that his research led him to believe that the popular legend of the Money Pit’s discovery is accurate, and that he is partial towards the theory that Francis Bacon is the man behind the Oak Island mystery. He then sites a passage from Francis Bacon’s natural history book Sylva Sylvarum which instructs the reader to “dig a pit upon the Sea-Shore”, starting above the high water mark, to a point below sea level.

When Rick and Marty ask Sullivan how he would go about the Oak Island treasure hunt, he states that he would look for an entrance underwater. He then suggests that the “primary flood system” feeding the Money Pit is not the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, but rather the suspected South Shore Cove flood tunnel. The narrator then explains that, in the winter of 1980, Dan Blankenship discovered four large holes in the ice of the South Shore Cove, which led him to suspect the presence of a second flood tunnel originating on the South Shore Cove.

Later, the treasure hunters gather at the Money Pit area, where Irving Equipment Ltd.’s caisson-maneuvering operating has brought 24 feet of material into the H8 shaft. The team watches as the contractors remove the material with a hammergrab.

Meanwhile, Jack Begley, Charles Barkhouse, and Dan Henskee sift through the debris extracted from H8. Begley discovers a large piece of blackened paper or parchment. Dan Henskee then picks out a blackened fragment of what he suggests might be human bone.

 

Analysis

The Painted Parchment

In this episode, Jack Begley discovers a scrap of parchment in the spoils of H8 bearing markings done with red and yellow paint or ink. Doug Crowell later suggests that the colours might be evidence of a stylized initial, or drop cap, of the type used in illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages.

Sylva Sylvarum

In this episode, writer Randall Sullivan remarks that he is partial to the theory that Francis Bacon is behind the Oak Island mystery, citing a passage from his natural history book Sylva Sylvarum as evidence. The passage in question is from a chapter in which Bacon describes a supposed method of straining saltwater to produce freshwater. The passage reads:

“Dig a pit upon the seashore, somewhat above the highwater mark, and sink it as deep as the lowwater mark; and as the tide cometh in, it will fill with water, fresh and potable. This is commonly practice upon the coast of Barbary, where other fresh water is wanting. And Caesar knew this well when he was besieged in Alexandria: for by digging of pits in the seashore, he did frustrate the laborious works of the enemies, which had turned the seawater upon the wells of Alexandria; and so saved his army, being then in desperation. But Caesar mistook the cause, for he thought that all seasands had natural springs of fresh water. But it is plain that it is the seawater; because the pit filleth according to the measure of the tide; and the seawater passing or straining through the sands leaveth the saltness.”

Incidentally, Sylva Sylvarum also contains a chapter which Bacon describes how objects can be preserved by being dipped in mercury. A number of Oak Island theorists who subscribe to the notion that Francis Bacon is behind the Money Pit mystery cite this passage as evidence for their theory, as mercury was found in the pottery dump at Joudrey’s Cove, and, according to some, on the scrap of parchment found in the Money Pit in 1897 by the Oak Island Treasure Company.

The South Shore Flood Tunnel

In this episode, Randall Sullivan expresses his belief in the South Shore Cove flood tunnel- a supposed original working, the existence of which Oak Island treasure hunters have debated for over a century.

In 1897, after using five charges of dynamite to destroy a section of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, the Oak Island treasure Company believed they had eliminated the greatest obstacle keeping them from fully excavating the Money Pit. However, after attempting to drain the Pit, the company men learned that the volumetric flow rate of the incoming floodwater was virtually unchanged.

In order to verify that they had indeed blocked the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel with their dynamiting, Frederick Blair and the Oak Island Treasure Company poured red dye into the Pit before pumping it full of seawater. The seawater backwashed the flood system, and soon red dye appeared on the shore of Smith’s Cove.

However, in an unexpected turn of events, the dye also showed up at several locations on Oak Island’s South Shore Cove. This discovery led the Oak Island Treasure Company to believe that another flood tunnel connected the waters of the South Shore Cove with the Money Pit. Assuming that this South Shore flood tunnel was constructed in a similar manner as the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, the locations at which the red dye appeared along the South Shore Cove were likely the sites of box drains.

South Shore Cove Ice Holes

In February 1980, Dan Blankenship observed four circular holes in the ice approximately 700 feet off the South Shore Cove, each of them spaced about 150 feet apart. Blankenship and David Tobias both considered these holes to be another piece of evidence of the existence of the South Shore flood tunnel. Blankenship observed these holes a second time in the winter of 1987.

New 2018 Crawler Sighting in Canada’s Northwest Territories

Every year, people all over North America report encounters with strange creatures that have no place in current taxonomic literature. From sea serpents to Sasquatches, most of these mysterious animals have long featured in regional folklore. A small minority, like the Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and the Manwolf of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, have no precedent at all.

In recent years, a new sort of monster sighting has emerged. These sightings are connected with a very special kind of mythology- one which far postdates the shadowy advent of native tradition and frontier lore. These monster myths derive from a unique variety of urban legend which has its origins in our burgeoning Age of the Internet- a fictional, viral horror story called the “creepypasta”.

What are CreepyPastas?

Creepypastas are scary stories and images that proliferate across the internet to such an extent that they graduate into digital folklore. Instead of transmitting by way of playgrounds, after-school hangouts, and backyard campfires- the breeding grounds of traditional urban legends- these tales spread via chain emails, online forums like Reddit and 4Chan, and websites designed specifically for their dissemination.

Perhaps the most well-known creepypasta is the tale of Slenderman- a tall, thin, faceless, suit-clad gentleman who preys on children. The Slenderman character was invented on June 10, 2009, by a Japan-based American expat for an internet Photoshop contest. Images depicting this imaginary character and his associated backstory began to circulate throughout various online forums, and in no time the Slenderman meme went viral. Creative internet users began to expand on the Slenderman legend and formulate entire stories around him, transforming him into a full-blown 21st Century boogeyman.

In a 2012 interview for BBC Radio 4, Slenderman’s creator, Eric Knudson, observed that “even though people [realize] that Slenderman was created [on an internet forum in] June 2009,” some still believe that he might be real. Two years later, this strange reality made international headlines when two teenage girls from Wisconsin stabbed their friend half to death in the hope that their crime would earn them a home in Slenderman’s supposed mansion in the woods.

The Rake

Slenderman is not the only creepypasta monster to escape from the internet and reify itself in the material world, or at least in the minds of imaginative internet users. Another virtual invention that makes its appearance from time to time is creature known as “the Rake”.

The Rake myth had its genesis in late 2005, when an anonymous poster on the imageboard website 4Chan decided to invent a new monster. The poster described his brainchild thus:

“Humanoid, about six feet tall when standing, but usually crouches and walks on all fours. It has very pale skin. The face is blank. As in, no nose, no mouth. However, it has three solid green eyes, one in the middle of its forehead, and the other two on either side of its head, towards the back… When it attacks, a mouth opens up, as if a hinged skull that opens at the chin. Reveals many tiny, but dull teeth”.

This monster, which appears to have been inspired by the so-called “Crawlers” from the 2005 horror film The Descent, evolved throughout the 4Chan thread, gradually transforming into a gaunt, naked, pale-skinned, human-like creature that crawls on four long spindly limbs. This entity was dubbed ‘the Rake’.

It would be several years before the concept of the Rake gained traction in the creepypasta community. In December 2008, posts featuring this made-up monster appeared on the Russian social networking site LiveJournal. In April 2009, the creature returned to 4Chan, its birthplace. Two months later, the Rake made its way onto SomethingAwful.com, where it served as an inspiration for Eric Knudson’s Slenderman.

By 2010, the legend of the Rake was spreading like wildfire throughout the internet, infiltrating all manner of creepypasta websites and engendering fan art and creative fiction which added depth and colour to its mythos.

Crawler Sightings

Then, in 2012, something incredible happened: internet users, ostensibly in earnest, began reporting frightening encounters with emaciated, pale, hairless, man-like creatures that crawled on all fours. Apparently oblivious to the fact that the objects of these encounters bore striking resemblance to the fictional Rake, internet users attempted to equate these entities with characters of Native American mythology. Some suggested that they were skinwalkers- medicine men of Navajo lore who possess the ability to transform into animals. Others proposed that these bony humanoids were manifestations of the Wendigo- an evil cannibalistic spirit of Cree and Algonquin legend. Others still began to invent new names for these creatures, such as “fleshgaits”, “goatmen”, and “crawlers”, the latter evoking the 2005 movie villains who likely helped to inspire the Rake in the first place.

It would be tempting to dismiss these sightings as attention-seeking hoaxes or innocent misidentifications owing to the power of suggestion were it not for their chilling profusion. The staggering quantity of reliable witnesses who claim to have seen these creatures, coupled with the fact that many witnesses appear to be ignorant of the urban legend which their sightings evoke, suggests two almost inconceivable possibilities: that the creator of the Rake meme, through some mysterious process, unconsciously contrived an entity that already existed, or that the human imagination somehow willed these beings into existence. These bizarre notions beget the uncomfortable question: “What came first: the monster or the myth?”

 

Crawlers in Canada

Don Herbert’s Sighting

A few weeks ago, a northern Canadian named Don Herbert shared his own crawler sighting with this author. Herbert is a miner who hails from the remote town of Hay River, Northwest Territories, located on the southern shores of Great Slave Lake. He works in biweekly rotations, spending two weeks at the mine followed by two weeks off at home.

One night in mid-August 2018, during his annual summer vacation about a week prior to his scheduled return to work, Herbert found himself alone in his truck, driving through the woods on the Northwest Territories Highway 2, more commonly known as the Hay River Highway. This stretch of road is one of the most remote thoroughfares in all of Canada, beginning on the shores of Great Slake Lake and skirting the western bank of the Hay River before joining the Mackenzie Highway 38 kilometres to the south.

Drowsy, road-weary, and anxious to get home, Don was a few miles from town when a pale figure appeared in his truck’s headlights, crouching on all fours in the ditch on the left-hand side of the road. From wolves to wolverines, Don had encountered plenty of animals during nighttime drives through the boreal wilderness, but this creature was unlike anything he had ever seen before. Its skin was grayish white and completely hairless. Its head, which he estimated to be only slightly smaller than his own, was bald and didn’t appear to have any ears. Aside from a pair of dark eyes, its only facial feature was a cruel-looking, beak-like mouth. Its legs were long and spindly, and appeared to taper sharply towards the feet, which were obscured by long grass.

The creature, which impressed Don as being highly intelligent, appeared to notice him in the driver’s seat. Bearing its beaklike teeth, it crouched slightly, dug in with its front legs, and launched itself at Don’s truck, leaving a small cloud of dust in its wake. Instead of slamming into the side of the vehicle as its course indicated it was likely to, the creature turned deftly on the side of the road and loped alongside the truck.

Alarmed, Don stepped on the gas and raced for home, leaving the frightening creature behind in the gloom of the forest.

In the months that followed his horrifying encounter, Don spent his free time attempting to identify and track down the strange animal that he saw, secretly fearing that it was a demon. The following is Don Herbert’s own account of his search for the mysterious crawler (lightly edited by this author for the purposes of concision and continuity), which he has generously allowed us to publish for the first time in this article.

Don Herbert’s Account

“During that remaining week, I did not return to the location of the encounter with the creature. More specifically, I could not return to the location. I was now absolutely terrified to do so. Even in daylight, not a chance.

“Around this time, things were starting to sink in and I started to notice some fundamental changes starting to happen with my behavior.

“I reside in town, and my house faces the Hay River. The house itself is set back a ways from the street, resulting in a fairly long driveway of maybe 30 feet or so. I can walk across the street in front of my home and access a nature trail that follows the river. On the other side of the river is wilderness, save for a gravel road that provides access to a First Nations reserve. Directly behind my home there is a green area as well.

“A couple of days after the incident, I was taking my garbage to the curb after dark. There is a streetlamp across the street so it wasn’t entirely pitch black. However, as I was carrying my garbage can to the curb, I felt a sense of nervousness starting to develop. It became worse the closer I got to the woods on the opposite side of the street at the end of the driveway.

“As I progressed to the street, I couldn’t help but to continue to scan the tree line on the opposite side of the road in both directions, watching for any signs of movement. After I placed my garbage can at the street, I could not bring myself to turn my back to the darkened woods out of a deep sense of fear.

“To return to the house, I back stepped the length of the driveway, keeping a close eye on the tree line until I reached the front end of my truck, which was parked in the driveway. Only then did I turn around to make the final distance onto my front deck, then into my house with my back to the woods. I knew then and there that the encounter with the creature had affected me more than I cared to admit.

“Up until that point, I was trying my hardest to put the incident out of my mind and continue on as normal. I did not want to even start thinking about it. Every time my thoughts wandered back to it, I would try thinking of something else entirely. I didn’t even want to begin to try and form an opinion. I was hoping I could just forget about the encounter altogether and just simply move on. Well, let’s just say that’s easier said than done.

“When I got back into my house after putting the trash out, I sat down on the couch. I realized at that moment in time that there was no way that I was going to be able to avoid confronting the subject. The simple fact of the matter was, those 4 – 5 seconds on the highway that night had changed my life forever, whether I tried to continue to deny it to myself or not.

“And so it began. I asked myself the one question I was trying my absolute best to avoid from the very moment I passed by the creature and the encounter ended: ‘What in the hell was that?’

Research

“I returned to work for my two-week rotation shortly after that.

“I started to tell the story to as many people as I could in the hopes that someone may have had a similar story or shared a similar experience. I wondered if I’d had a hallucination. I surfed the web for images similar to creature I had seen. I read reports of sightings of strange creatures in the hope that someone out there may have experienced a similar encounter. I was sincerely hoping to find a natural explanation for what I had seen.

“When I started looking for information on the creature, there were only two options at this point that I really cared to entertain:

“The first, and most probable, in my mind, was that I had experienced a hallucination of some sort. What confused me most about this theory was that I had not only seen the creature, but I had heard it as well. The experience just seemed too real.

“The second option was that I had perhaps witnessed a species of animal never before seen or reported. This is where I was ‘officially’ introduced to the world of cryptozoology. Now don’t get me wrong, I was not totally ignorant of the cryptid world prior to this encounter. In fact I probably possess more knowledge about the subject than most average people.

“I currently prospect the Nahanni region, and earlier in life spent two seasons placer mining on the Liard River just a ways upriver from its confluence with the South Nahanni. You can’t research the area from a geological perspective in a search for minerals or frequent the region without becoming aware of the mysteries surrounding the area. I have always tried to keep an open mind about things, but the moment of my encounter was the first time I actually thought that some of the stories I’ve read and some of tales I’ve heard over the years could potentially have some measure of truth to them.”

Frustrated by his inability to identify the creature, the incredulity of his co-workers, and his newfound fear of the wilderness which infringed upon his lifelong love of outdoor recreation, Don resolved to find the creature and kill it.

The Tracks

“I returned from work on the evening of September 04, 2018, arriving home at just after 8:00 PM. As we were landing at the airport, the sun was just starting to dip below the horizon.

“Tim, a friend I work with, who was also on the flight, kindly offered me a lift home from the airport. Tim was the first person to whom I had relayed the story of my encounter. I had been very anxious to speak with him two weeks earlier, as I waited for the flight to the mine. In the past, Tim has both hunted and trapped to make a living.  He has extensive knowledge of the subject. I thought that if anyone would have seen or heard of anything like this creature, it would be him.

“When Tim dropped me off at home, he was then heading to his own home and family. They reside on an acreage about 10 minutes south of town in the direction of where I saw the creature. Tim’s family also owns a secluded cottage along the Hay River near the Alberta / NWT border, and as such they spend a lot of time on the highway travelling back and forth, passing the location where I had seen the creature.

“Tim knew I was intending on trying to find the track that evening and wished me luck. When he dropped me off at home, I quite literally tossed my bags inside the door of my home, got in my truck, and proceeded to head out on the highway to where the encounter with the creature had taken place.

“At this point in time, the encounter was all I could think about. It was very quickly becoming an obsession, if indeed it hadn’t already. Before I could even begin to move forward I had to find the answer to one fundamental question: ‘Did it leave any tracks?’ Visions and spirits and hallucinations do not leave physical tracks.

“Three weeks had now elapsed since the encounter. I didn’t feel I had much chance of success in finding any tracks in the ditch where I first noticed the creature or on the shoulder of the highway where it approached me, as it had rained a few times in the two weeks I was at work. I was hoping beyond hope that I was not already too late.

“Even with the sun now below the horizon and darkness fast approaching, I had to go. I could not take the chance of one more minute of time elapsing before I had the opportunity to find that sign. I felt my very sanity now hinged on finding that one, single, particular track on the shoulder of the highway. This was not only a search for a strange creature but also an attempt to confirm that I wasn’t on the path of early dementia or beginning to lose grip on reality.

“On the drive out, I was trying to reconcile the fact that this could go two ways. The first was that, if I found the tracks, it would mean the creature is real. The second was that, if I didn’t find the tracks, it would mean that I’m losing my mind. Neither option was very appealing. It was not the most pleasant drive, to say the least.

“I slowed as I approached the area the encounter took place and there it was- the skid mark the creature had left, just where I thought it would be. I parked on the side of the road about 20 feet from the track. I got out with my iPhone on record to get some video I could look at later. I was not stepping one foot off the pavement, however. I scanned the area with my phone as long as I dared and got the hell back in the truck and started heading back to town.

“I had to get Tim!!! I had to get Tim!!! I had to get Tim!!!

“That was all I could think as I drove back to Tim’s place 10 minutes away, hoping that I could get him to take a look at the track before dark. I could not stop myself from imposing on Tim, who had just returned to his family after two weeks. I just had to get Tim!

“Tim was gracious enough to come out with me and examine the track. He offered his opinion that it looked similar to a goat track, but since the track was at least three weeks old, you would never be able to tell for sure. This would be unusual, as goats aren’t known in the region.

“As Tim was now with me, I managed to summon the courage to now actually step off the pavement and have a look in the ditch where I first spotted the creature. In the dim light, I could tell something had left signs of activity. But the signs were only faintly visible due to their age. I also followed the path it took up the ditch towards the gravel shoulder and found its approach tracks as well.

“We didn’t spend a great deal of time investigating the tracks due to the failing light and soon headed back home.

“It was dark as I dropped Tim back off at home. The tree line across from my driveway was dark as I returned home to the couch. I had some thoughts to process and a heart to get back in my chest.

“While having my coffee the next morning I decided to try out a new hobby and become an amateur cryptozoologist (LOL). I intended to approach the hunt for the creature in a scientific manner the best I could and let the experts come to their own conclusions based on any evidence I could gather.

“Finding the track made me confident that I was dealing with an animal. My former anger subsided into fascination. I decided to set out to prove that this thing exists.”

Don Herbert began his investigation at an abandoned gravel pit located about a mile from the site of his encounter. The area was perpetually crisscrossed with animal tracks, and Don hoped that the mysterious creature might leave some sign of its presence there. For nearly two weeks, he checked the site every morning for fresh prints. On the twelfth day, his diligence was rewarded; there, in the frost-encrusted soil, were two pairs of strange animal tracks which he interpreted as belonging to a mother and her offspring. Herbert reasoned that the presence of a young one might explain the creature’s hostile reaction on the highway; perhaps the creature had been attempting to chase him off, or direct his attention away from her progeny.

Herbert proceeded to search for the creatures’ den in the woods near the site of his encounter, on the side of the highway closest to the river, reasoning that the creature’s hairlessness was an indication that it hibernated during the winter. During his search, he came across several more of the strange prints. These tracks often appeared in the vicinity of wolf tracks, which Don took as an indication that the creature is a scavenger which subsists on the leavings of predators.

On September 17, 2018, Don Herbert discovered the outlet of an old drainage culvert which was covered with fresh vegetation, as if someone or something had attempted to conceal it. He suspected that this might be the creatures’ den, and set up game cameras to monitor the entrance. When the cameras failed to yield any interesting footage, Don crawled into the culvert and found it empty and unusually clean.

Further Investigation

Identifying the Tracks

Don Herbert took several photos of the strange animal’s tracks during his investigation and showed four of the best of them to experienced animal trackers with whom he was personally acquainted. None of the woodsmen were able to identify the tracks. He then sent the photos to the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada. The Alliance forwarded the photos to several biologists, none of whom were able or willing to interpret them.

The Mystery Creature’s Tracks

This author of this piece later sent Don’s photos to two expert animal trackers, one of them a distinguished Canadian hunter who preferred to remain anonymous. Both experts claimed that the tracks in three of the photos were too faint to accurately identify, but agreed that the track featured in Figure 3 is clearly that of a wolf.

After doing a little research of his own, this author, who is admittedly a complete novice when it comes to interpreting animal tracks, observed that the tracks in Figures 1 and 2 appear to bear some resemblance to the prints left by wolverines.

The Creepypasta Connection

When asked to produce a sketch of mysterious animal he saw, Don sent this author an illustration made by DeviantArt artist DemonGirl99, which he claimed was very similar to the creature he witnessed.

In private correspondence with this author, DemonGirl99 claimed that her illustration was based off another image produced by fellow DeviantArt creator Crypdidical. This original piece features the “Fisherman”- a Rake-like monster which Crypdidical invented. In an accompanying description, the artist explained his creation thus:

“Much like The Slender Man and the Tall Gentleman, the Fisherman is a mysterious humanoid entity which seems bent on creating terror and fear in [its] wake… It has only been seen around water, and often shows itself to small groups or individuals of its choosing.

“[Its] figure has never been glimpsed in full light. But from what can be understood from witnesses that come across it… it is extremely lanky. It often walks on four limbs, and never on two. It’s agile and coordinated, and seems to be able to guide [its] long [appendages] with ease and grace…”

 The Search Continues

Don Herbert assured this author that he fully intends to continue the search for the mysterious creature, which he believes to be an undiscovered species of terrestrial origin, and has agreed to furnish this author with any updates on his progress.

 

Other Sightings

Newfoundland – 2010

Intriguingly, Don Herbert is not the only Canuck to report an encounter with a crawler in the Canadian backwoods. In 2012, a Reddit user with the handle “TossO” described his own brush with a similar creature in an unidentified national park in Newfoundland in the summer of 2010.

While cruising through a barren valley one moonlit night, the poster saw a large, stocky, naked, humanoid creature crawling rapidly towards a stretch of road that lay before him. The creature was completely hairless, and its skin was “a deathly, nauseating white with a greasy shine”.

As he approached the creature, the poster observed that “it had a rubbery face, distorted by hate or a scream, [and] black eyes that reflected in the moonlight”. The poster was horrified by the creature’s facial expression, which gave him the impression that “it was intelligent, and . . . wanted to tear [him] apart with its teeth”.

Similar to Don Herbert’s creature, this monster appeared to be on a collision course with the poster’s vehicle. “I braced for it to run into my car door,” the Redditor wrote. “And then it was gone. The [rear-view] mirror showed me nothing.”

TossO ended his post by voicing his suspicion, evocative of one of Don Herbert’s theories, that the creature he witnessed was a demon.

Northern Ontario – 1990s

In 2017, Reddit user Bailbondshman claimed to have encountered an emaciated, human-like figure while on a camping trip with his father somewhere in  Northern Ontario’s cabin country when he was nine or ten years old. While canoeing on a lake with his father during a mussel-hunting excursion, the Redittor caught a glimpse of something strange amidst the trees on the shore.

“I couldn’t make it [out] very well,” the Redditor write, “but it was white, almost like the texture of birch, and very lankly. I remember thinking that… it definitely wasn’t a person, but it wasn’t too far from the general shape of one. It was staggering around lethargically and slowly; if it was an animal, then something was definitely wrong with it. I waded over to my dad and told him to look up there, and by that point it was gone…”

Later on in the post, the Redditor related other interesting (if unrelated) anecdotes regarding this particular camping spot, including a strange humming noise that he and his father would sometimes hear in the nearby marshes, which was often preceded by sudden and utter silence, as well as a small peninsula on the lake that was covered with mushrooms and dead trees and pervaded by a terrible stench.

The Redditor ended his post with what he considered the most disturbing story regarding the lake on which he and his father would often vacation:

“I remember one morning, I had woken up just before sunrise and was still in bed. In the window adjacent to my bed, I saw something that usually wasn’t there. It was half a . . . face poking around the edge of the window and staring into our cabin. Sickly pale orange with giant black holes where the eyes were supposed to be. This thing was definitely not human. I… hid under the covers, and eventually fell back to sleep. When I woke up again, everyone was also awake, and there was no sign of anything there”

The Ovens Natural Park, Nova Scotia – 2015

Crawlers are not the only creepypasta-esque creatures purported to wander the Canadian wilderness. In recent years, several Reddit users claimed to have witnessed tall, thin, naked, bipedal humanoids, bearing characteristics of both Slenderman and the Rake, in various Canadian locales. One of these is Redditor LilyBirdGk, who created a post in 2016 in which she described her boyfriend’s strange encounter with a mysterious entity the previous summer.

In August 2015, the poster and her boyfriend rented a cabin in The Ovens Natural Park, Nova Scotia- an area famous for its spectacular seaside cliffs and their many sea caves, or “ovens”. They spent their first day in the park hiking a cliffside trail and exploring the area’s eponymous formations.

That night, the couple and a few of their friends settled down in their rented cabin for a game of cards. The poster’s boyfriend lost gracelessly, his temper exacerbated by jokes directed at him by one of his friends, which were intended to poke fun at his stature. To cool off, he decided to go for a walk outside alone.

When her boyfriend failed to return after half an hour, the anxious poster called him on his cellphone. He did not answer her call, but quickly phoned her back and asked where she was. The poster, somewhat confused, replied that she was still in the cabin. After a pause, the boyfriend declared that he was coming back immediately, his voice betraying a hint of alarm. When he finally arrived at the cabin, he told his girlfriend a disturbing tale:

“He had walked out to the trails to get some fresh air and sat down on one of the benches to look out at the ocean. The moon was pretty bright that night so everything was illuminated pretty well. Then he heard someone walking by and he saw this really tall and pale figure stop and look at him, and then continue on. For some reason he assumed this was me coming to look for him, and [that’s] when I called him and told him I was in the cabin. He said that in retrospect it was inhumanly tall and pale (thanks babe) and [couldn’t] possibly be a person. He was not himself for the rest of the night and [didn’t] seem normal until lunch the next day.”

Quesnel, British Columbia – 2018

Throughout the latter half of 2018, Reddit user MZULFT10989 posted about his own encounters with a strange entity which visited his property in the city of Quesnel, in central British Columbia.

The Redditor’s first alleged encounters took place in the early summer, when he noticed an eerie humanoid creature “running inhumanly fast” through the field behind his house before vaulting over a 5.5-foot-tall fence and disappearing into the woods. This creature was emaciated, white-skinned, and “at least 7 feet tall”, with a gaping mouth and no eyes. Unlike the crawler that Don Herbert encountered, this creature was bipedal, and ran with a manlike gait.

In August 2018, the same Redditor published another post in which he claimed to have seen the mysterious creature again, this time at night, darting through a field on his property and jumping the fence into his neighbour’s yard. Two weeks later, the Redditor caught the same creature peering at him from around the side of his house. Frightened, he retreated indoors. Later, he examined the area at which the creature had stood and found scratch marks on the exterior of his house.

In October 2018, the Redditor reported a third encounter. While he was sitting outside on the back porch facing his field, the creature appeared and raced across his property as it had done several times before. This time, however, it stopped in the middle of the field and turned to stare at the Redditor. Before the petrified Canadian had time to react, the creature ran down the field and leapt into his neighbour’s yard.

On another occasion, the poster saw the creature peering at him through his living room window. He ran upstairs to retrieve his hunting bow, with which he intended to protect himself, but by the time he returned downstairs, the creature was gone.

The subject of the Redditor’s fourth and final post took place in November 2018, about two weeks after his previous encounter. This time, the man found the creature staring into his barn through an open window. The entity apparently learned that it was being watched, turned to face the Redditor, and emitted a piercing shriek before running into his neighbour’s yard and into the woods.

What do you think, Canucks? Are these creatures simply misidentifications or figments of active imaginations? Or is there something strange lurking in the Canadian wilderness? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 12- Slipway When Wet

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 12- Slipway When Wet

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 12 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The Lagina brothers, Craig Tester, and Dan Blankenship gather at the Money Pit area, where Irving Equipment Ltd. is busy re-excavating Borehole H8. The hammergrab has encountered a hard granite-ridden ‘plug’ at the bottom of the shaft, which the team will need to break up and remove in order for further excavation to take place. The treasure hunters decide to initiate this process by starting up the oscillator, which drives the H8 caisson further into the earth.

Later, Rick Lagina, Laird Niven, and Terry Matheson uncover the supposed slipway at Smith’s Cove discovered the previous episode. While they work, Gary Drayton and Jack Begley run a metal detector over the mysterious object. Drayton quickly discovers a rusted wrought iron artifact bearing close resemblance to the supposed crossbow bolt or pilum tip discovered in Season 6, Episode 3.

That afternoon, the crew congregates in the War Room, where they call up runology expert Dr. Lilla Kopar and ask for her opinion of the inscription on Tory Martin’s stone. Kopar explains that she will need detailed pictures of the inscription in order to make an informed opinion, whereupon Alex Lagina offers to send her 3D model of the stone produced by the LIDAR scan carried out in Season 6, Episode 10.

The next day, Rick Lagina and Craig Tester join the crew of Irving Equipment Ltd. at the Money Pit area. The plug at the bottom of H8 has been removed, and so the treasure hunters decide to lift the caisson up in order to fill the void with the surrounding mud, which they hope will contain the artifacts that eluded them the previous season.

Before they carry out this operation, however, they first decide to conduct a sonar scan of H8 in order to investigate the 10-foot-tall, 160-foot deep cavern indicated by results of the seismic scan introduced in Season 6, Episode 3. Mike Roberts and Joey Rolfe of underwater survey company Divetech Ltd. arrive on the island and lower a camera-equipped ROV (remote operated underwater vehicle) into H8. The crew stands by on the surface, watching a screen displaying the results of the ongoing sonar scan.

At a depth of 170, the scanner picks up what appears to be the right-angled corner of a surrounding cavity. “Angular features in nature are always interesting to look at,” explains Rick Lagina in a later interview, “because angles usually are reflective of human intervention- some sort of human construct- so there’s the hope that it’s an association with some sort of room or cavity or void.”

The image on the monitor suddenly flickers and fades, whereupon Mike Roberts informs the crew that the sonar scanner has inexplicably malfunctioned. Anxious to continue the scan, the crew asks Mike to pull up the ROV, fix whatever can be fixed, and lower it back down again as soon as possible. In a later interview, Rick and Marty Lagina express their frustration with the setback and remark that it is just the latest in a long line of unexplainable equipment failure on Oak Island. The ROV is winched back to the surface, whereupon the crew learns that it has flooded with water, and is therefore no longer operable.

Later, the crew meets in the War Room to hear Dr. Lilla Kopar’s assessment of the Martin stone. Kopar informs the crew that the inscription on its surface is probably not runic, as runes were typically bounded by horizontal lines on the top and bottom; the inscription on the Martin stone has only one horizontal line. She further states that she “could not identify a single character that was runic. So my conclusion would be that these are not runes.”

Kopar then offers the crew a glimmer of hope by stating that “the rhythm of the carving” is evocative of some sort of script. She then suggests that the inscription evokes textualis rotundra, a type of Gothic script widely used throughout Western Europe from the 12th to the 15th Century. In a later interview, Rick Lagina remarks that the period in which textualis rotundra was used corresponds with Tobias Skowronek’s pre-15th Century dating of the lead cross. Copar concludes her analysis by echoing Terry Matheson’s initial suspicion that the stone likely served an architectural function.

Later, Rick Lagina, Gary Drayton, and Dan Henskee head to the woods near the Money Pit area to search for the second half of the Martin stone, which appears to have broken off sometime in the past. Drayton, using his metal detector, soon discovers a coin, which Rick Lagina suggests might be a bronze of copper token.

Shortly after the find, Rick Lagina gets a call from Laird Niven, who informs him of an interesting structure that he, Terry Matheson, and Billy Gerhardt recently unearthed at Smith’s Cove. Rick heads to the beach, where Laird shows him the new discovery- an underground wall of concrete located a short distance from the slipway. Rick remarks that “the Romans had concrete that could set underwater”, and suggests that the concrete block could “be incredibly old”. The treasure hunters marvel at the discovery, consider whether it might be connected with the nearby slipway, and discuss the possibility that it constitutes original work, as there is no record of previous searchers having created such a structure.

 

Analysis

The Angular Cavity

In this episode, Mike Roberts and Joey Rolfe of Divetech Ltd. conducted a sonar survey of Borehole H8 using an ROV in order to investigate the 10-foot-tall, 160-foot deep cavern indicated by results of the seismic scan introduced in Season 6, Episode 3. At a depth of 170 feet, the scanner indicated the presence of a surrounding chamber, the nearest wall of which had the unnatural-looking angle of 90 degrees. Shortly thereafter, the ROV malfunctioned, evoking the scores of mysterious equipment failures that have occurred on Oak Island at the brink of potentially major breakthroughs.

Gothic Script

In this episode, runology expert Dr. Lilla Kopar examined the markings on the Martin stone and concluded that they were probably not runes. She then suggested that the markings evoked the “rhythm” of textualis rotundra, a particular type of Gothic script used during the High Middle Ages, from the 12th to the 15th Century.

It is an interesting coincidence that one of the inscribed stones from Joudrey’s Cove bears markings that could be interpreted as letters from the Gothic alphabet, a Greek-derived alphabet used for writing the Gothic language (used by the Goths, a Dark Age East Germanic people who played an important role in the fall of the Western Roman Empire), which, it must be mentioned, has little connection with Gothic script aside from its name.

The Concrete Wall

At the end of this episode, Laird Niven and Billy Gerhardt discover a concrete wall buried at Smith’s Cove adjacent to the mysterious slipway discovered the previous episode. There are no records of previous searchers having built this structure, suggesting the possibility that it constitutes the work of the original depositors.

If true, the underground wall at Smith’s Cove is not the only original working to be composed of concrete. In the summer of 1897, the Oak Island Treasure Company drilled through what they believed to be a concrete vault (dubbed the “Chappell Vault”) in the Money Pit at a depth of 154-161 feet. In 1909, the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company drilled through 6-10-inch-thick layers of cement from 146-149 feet in the Money Pit. And in Season 2, Episode 4, the crew brought up a core sample containing a hard concrete-like substance from a depth of 140-142 feet.

The concrete discovered on Oak Island does little to narrow down the list of suspects implicated in the creation of the Money Pit, as most potential candidates, from the Romans to the Aztecs, are known to have used some form of concrete in their architectural projects.

Viking Voyages to Canada

Viking Voyages to Canada

Who discovered America?

This question will yield a number of different answers depending on whom you ask.

Canadian schoolkids fresh from Social Studies class may recall that Italian navigator John Cabot discovered the rocky shores of Labrador in 1496 on behalf of King Henry VII of England.

American schoolkids might be just as quick to point out that another Italian navigator, Christopher Columbus, discovered the sandy beaches of Cuba four years earlier on behalf of Queen Isabella I of Castile.

Fans of The Curse of Oak Island may pipe up that Portuguese explorer Joao Vaz Corte-Real may have discovered Newfoundland in 1473 on behalf of Alfonso V, King of Portugal.

And people of Native American pedigree may remind you that their ancestors emigrated from Siberia up to 14,000 years ago.

If you ask a member of Canada’s Scandinavian communities, however, such as the residents of Gimli, Manitoba, or New Denmark, New Brunswick, you may hear a tale that was passed down centuries ago by their medieval ancestors- the tale of Viking voyages to Canada which took place more than a thousand years ago.

Who Were the Vikings?

The Norse Vikings were a hardy sea-faring folk from Scandinavia who lived in small kingdoms during the Early Middle Ages. For most of the year, they lived as farmers and fishermen, scraping out as good a living as their harsh northern environment would allow. When summer came, wealthy farmers would leave their lands in the hands of their wives, recruit a company of loyal friends and kinsmen, and set sail in search of fortune and adventure.

From the late 700s until the mid-1000s, during what is known as the ‘Viking Age’, Norse raiders sailed up and down the coastlines and rivers of Europe, pillaging and plundering as they went. With lightning speed, they attacked villages, churches, and monasteries, retreating to their longships with any booty they could lay their hands on before their victims had a chance to organize any sort of resistance. For centuries, the sight of a Viking longship with a carved dragon’s head on its prow and a row of shields lashed to its side struck terror into the hearts of peasants and clergymen from Moscow to Madrid.

Over time, the Vikings transitioned from reaving and pillaging to consolidating and colonizing. Many became settlers at the places they had once ravaged. For example, the enormous Norse raider named Rollo, whom some may recognize as a character from the History Channel series Vikings, became the first Duke of Normandy in the year 911; his great-great-great grandson, William the Conqueror, would go on to wrest England from control of the ruling Anglo-Saxon king at the Battle of Hastings (1066). Around the same time, Norse warlord Harald Fairhair united a cluster of petty Viking kingdoms, which had warred with each other for centuries, into a single Kingdom of Norway.

Many Viking chieftains who were unable to retain their power in this age of unification chose to sail west in search of new lands. In around 860 A.D., some of these political refugees discovered and settled Iceland. Less than a century later, their descendants would establish the Icelandic Commonwealth, which was governed in part by the Althing, the oldest parliament in the world.

 

 

Erik the Red and the Settlement of Greenland

In 960 A.D., a Norse Viking named Thorvald Asvaldsson fled from Norway to northwestern Iceland with his family, having been banished for committing manslaughter. His son, a red-bearded farmer called Erik the Red, was similarly banished from Iceland twenty two years later for a comparable crime. Accompanied by a handful of loyal friends and relatives, Erik the Red left his longhouse and headed out to sea, bound for a mysterious land to the west which had been spotted by Icelandic sailors blown off course.

Erik the Red and his crew spent three years exploring this new land, and discovered that it had areas which were suitable for farming. In 985, the red-bearded explorer returned to Iceland and regaled his fellow Vikings with tales of what he attractively dubbed “Groenland”, or “Greenland”. Having convinced a number of Norsemen to help him settle this new territory, Erik the Red returned to Greenland that year and established a colony there, which was named Eriksfjord.

Erik the Red and his wife eventually had four children: a lucky son named Leif; a brave son named Thorvald; a selfless son named Thorstein; and a cunning daughter named Freydis. Their subsequent discovery of a mysterious land to the west became the stuff of legend. For generations, Scandinavians spoke of their New World adventures around smoky longhouse fires. Medieval storytellers eventually put these tales to parchment, writing what are known as the Icelandic Sagas.

The Viking Discovery of Canada

There are two sagas which detail the Viking discovery of the New World: The Saga of Erik the Red (written before 1265), and the older Greenland Saga, both of which were written several centuries after the events they purport to chronicle. The events outlined in the sagas are also referenced briefly in 11th Century German chronicler Adam of Bremen’s book Descriptio Insularum Aquilonis (1075), a history of the northern world, as well as in 12th Century Icelandic historian Ari Thorgilsson’s book Islendingabok, or “Book of the Icelanders”.

The following are summaries of chapters of the Icelandic sagas which pertain to the Norse discovery of the Americas.

 

The Greenlander Saga

Bjarni Herjolfsson’s Discovery

Around the time of Erik the Red’s settlement of Greenland, a Norseman named Bjarni Herjolfsson had a tradition of alternately wintering in Norway, the Norse homeland, and in Iceland, where his father, Herjolf, lived. One autumn, Bjarni sailed from Norway to Iceland to discover that his father had emigrated to Erik the Red’s Greenlandic colony. Determined to winter with his father as was his custom, he and his crew sailed west.

Bjarni and his men soon encountered storms which blew them off course. When the fog cleared, the Norsemen found themselves within sight of a strange wooded land. Ignoring the entreaties of his curious crewmen, Bjarni refrained from embarking and sailed north. He came within sight of two more strange lands, neither of which he explored, before finally finding his way to Greenland.

The tale of Bjarni’s discoveries became the talk of the colony, and soon Leif Erikson, Erik the Red’s eldest son, decided to lead an expedition west in search of them. Although the elderly Erik the Red initially agreed, with some reluctance, to accompany his son, an omen convinced him to remain behind.

The Voyage of Leif Erikson

Leif Erikson and his crew sailed west and soon came to a barren, icy land covered with flat stones. He called this place Helluland, or “Flat-stone-land”. Most historians believe that Helluland was likely the eastern shores of Baffin Island, the largest island in Canada.

Finding Helluland to be of little interest, Leif and his crew continued south. Eventually, they came to a rugged land of evergreen woods and white shores. The Vikings called this place Markland, or “Forestland”. Most historians believe that Markland is likely northern Labrador.

Leif and his crew continued south, sailing for two days with a wind that blew from the northeast, before coming to a temperate land carpeted with thick dewy grass. The Vikings felt that this would be a good place to spend the winter and set about building houses. That accomplished, Leif sent half his men out to explore this new land.

When one of Leif’s friends, a German named Tyrker, failed to return, Leif led a search party to find him. The Norsemen eventually found Tyrker unharmed but babbling excitedly in German. When they finally managed to calm him down, Tyrker informed them, in Norse, that he had discovered grapevines not unlike those from his German homeland. Leif ordered his men to harvest the grapes, which were so plentiful that the Scandinavians were forced to store them in a small boat and tow it behind their main ship. Leif Erikson dubbed this new land Vinland, or “Wineland”, on account of this pleasant discovery.

Today, there is some debate among historians over the location of Vinland. Many believe Vinland to be Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula, since archaeological evidence recovered there corresponds quite well with the sagas’ descriptions of the colony that the Norse allegedly founded. Others, observing that wild grapes do not grow north of New Brunswick, maintain that Vinland must be located further south. Champions of the former theory counter this argument by suggesting that either Leif and his Vikings mistook gooseberries, which Newfoundland has in abundance, with grapes, or that Leif Erikkson invented the grape story out of whole cloth, giving the land he discovered an attractive name, like his father did upon discovering Greenland, in an attempt to attract colonists.

The Voyage of Thorvald Erikson

After spending a pleasant winter in Vinland, Leif Erikson and his crew returned to Greenland, their ships filled with grapes and timber. The tales they told of their adventures piqued the curiosity of their fellows, and soon Leif’s brother, Thorvald, decided to see this New World for himself.

Setting sail with a crew of thirty men, Thorvald Erikson followed Leif’s route west to Helluland, south down the coast of Markland, to Vinland. The Vikings found the derelict remains of Leif’s camp and, Thorvald having leased these properties from his brother back in Greenland, spent the winter there.

In the spring, Thorvald and his men sailed west on an exploratory expedition. They found little sign of human presence and decided to return to Leif’s camp to spend another winter.

The following summer, Thorvald and his crew made an exploratory expedition to the northeast. One day, after returning to their ship from an inland trek, the Vikings found three brown lumps on the sand not far from their vessel. They cautiously approached the objects and found that they were upside-down skin boats, beneath each of which slept three strange-looking men. Viking lore being littered with tales of goblins, dwarves, elves, and hostile spirits, Thorvald and his crew were anxious to learn whether the strange inhabitants of this foreign land were flesh-and-blood beings or supernatural entities. They began to murder the natives, and managed to kill eight of them; the last escaped in his boat.

Exhausted from the ordeal, Thorvald and his men lay down to sleep. They awakened just in time to see a large party of natives approaching them, brandishing bows and arrows. The Vikings formed a shield wall to defend themselves and allowed the natives, whom they called “Skraelings”, to pelt them with projectiles. When the natives saw that their barrage had little effect on the Northmen, they retreated.

When Thorvald determined that none of his men had been wounded in the skirmish, he revealed that he had received a bone-shod arrow in his armpit, it having glanced off the side of the ship to circumvent his shield. Thorvald knew that he was mortally wounded and asked his men to bury him on a particular piece of land jutting into the sea, on which he had hoped to build a house. The Norsemen did as their captain requested and returned home to Greenland.

The Ghost of Thorstein Erikson

When Thorstein Erikson (Erik the Red’s third son) heard of Thorvald’s death, he determined to sail to Vinland to retrieve his brother’s body. With 25 men and his wife, Gudrid, Thorstein appropriated his brother’s ship and set sail for the New World.

After sailing all summer, Thorstein and his crew were unable to find Vinland. Eventually, they made landfall on a settlement on the western shores of Greenland, not far from where they had first embarked.

Winter was nearly upon them, and so Thorstein Erikson secured lodging for all his men. Without any money left for himself, he and Gudrid were forced to sleep on their ship. Fortunately, a local farmer named Thorstein the Black, who lived a lonely life and desired company, approached Thorstein Erikson and invited him and Gudrid to winter with him and his wife, Grimhild. The couple gratefully accepted his hospitality.

That winter, a sickness swept through the settlement and killed many of Thorstein Erikson’s men. Thorstein Erikson himself eventually fell ill, along with his host’s heavyset wife, Grimhild. Although both Thorstein and Grimhild had been healthy and robust, they, too, eventually succumbed to the malady.

Gudrid was deeply affected by her husband’s passing and kept a gloomy vigil over her Thorstein’s corpse, which her bereaved host had laid out on a bench inside his house. Thorstein the Black, taking pity on the grieving widow, picked her up in his arms and sat her down on his lap on a bench opposite Thorstein Erikson’s body. The Norseman did his best to comfort his guest and promised to accompany her to her Eriksfjord, where Thorstein was to be buried.

No sooner had Gudrid thanked Thorstein the Black for his consolation than her late husband sat up on the bench. “Where is Gudrid?” the corpse asked. Astonished and terrified, neither the widow nor widower dared answer. The dead man repeated the question twice.

“Should I answer his questions or not?” Gudrid whispered to her host. Thorstein the Black shook his head.

The corpse remained seated and so, after transferring Gudrid to another chair further from the dead man, Thorstein the Black asked, “What wilt thou, Namesake?”

“I wish much to tell Gudrid her fortune,” the corpse replied, “in order that she may be the better reconciled to my death, for I have now come to a good resting place.” The dead man proceeded to inform Gudrid that she would marry an Icelander, and that she and her new husband would have many “powerful, distinguished, and excellent, sweet and well-favoured” descendants. She would move to Norway, then to Iceland, and would outlive her husband. She would travel the world, visit Rome, and live out the rest of her days as a nun in an Icelandic convent. When the prophecy was finished, Thorstein Erikson’s corpse fell back onto the bench and lay still.

True to his word, Thorstein the Black took Gudrid to Eriksfjord. There, Thorstein Erikson’s body was interred in the graveyard of the local church.

Thorfinn Karlsefni’s Voyage

After Thorstein Erikson’s ill-fated voyage, Greenlandic Vikings began discussing a potential future voyage to Vinland. Around that time, a Norwegian ship arrived in Greenland’s western shore, captained by Thorfinn Karlsefni, a wealthy Icelander. Thorfinn was hosted by Leif Erikson, who introduced him to his sister-in-law, Gudrid. Thorfinn and Gudrid fell in love, and that winter they married, just as Thorstein Erikson had predicted.

When spring came, Thorfinn Karlsefni decided to lead an expedition to Vinland. Accompanied by sixty men, five women, and his wife, Gudrid, he sailed past Helluland and Markland to the Vinlandic houses that Leif Erikson had built. Having leased the houses from Leif, Thorfinn and his companions prepared for winter, butchering and processing the carcass of a beached whale that they found nearby.

That winter, Thorfinn Karlsefni and his Vikings wanted for nothing, finding plenty of timber, grapes, fish, and game. They also enjoyed fresh milk from a handful of cows that they had brought with them, which were protected against wild animals by a bull they had transported in the hold of their ship.

That summer, a band of Skraelings approached the pasture where the Norsemen kept their cattle. The bull began to bellow at the newcomers, and the natives, having never seen such an animal before, retreated in fear. The Skraelings then proceeded to Thorfinn’s farm. Forewarned of their coming, the Vikings barricade themselves inside the farmhouse.

It soon became evident that the natives had come to trade, not to make war. The Vikings eventually emerged from the farmhouse and began to inspect the fine animal pelts the Skraelings had brought with them for barter. The natives indicated that they would like to exchange their pelts for the Vikings’ swords and axes. Loathe to equip the Skraeling with steel weapons, however, Thorfinn instead had the women bring out milk and cheese. After sampling these exotic foods and finding them to their liking, the Skraelings happily exchanged their furs for dairy products and left contented.

Once the Skraelings were gone, Thorfinn had the Vikings build a palisade around his longhouse. While the work commenced, Gudrid gave birth to a boy, whom she and Thorfinn named Snorri. And thus Snorri Thorfinnson became the first white child to be born in the Americas.

That winter, the Vikings were visited again by a much larger force of Skraelings. Again, the natives appeared intent on trading, and threw bales of furs over the palisade. During the exchange, one of the natives reached for a Viking weapon. Startled, one of Thorfinn’s men slew him. A panic ensued, and the natives retreated.

Thorfinn knew that the Skraelings would return to revenge their fallen comrade. Recalling the effect that the bull had made on them, he decided to unleash the animal in order to scare them off. When the natives arrived as anticipated, Thorfinn irritated the bull and allowed it to charge at unsuspecting natives. His plan worked, and the Skraelings retreated. He and his Norsemen killed many of the natives in the ensuing route.

 

The natives never returned to the Viking village that winter, and when spring came, Thorfinn and his company sailed back to Greenland with lumber, grapes, whale oil, and furs.

Freydis’ Expedition

When the Norsemen of Greenland saw the rich haul that Thorfinn Karlsefni had brought from the New World, many began to consider making another expedition to Vinland. Two such men were brothers Helgi and Finnbogi- Icelanders who had arrived in Greenland that summer.

Another Northerner with her sights set on Vinland was Freydis, the only daughter of Erik the Red. That winter, Freydis payed a visited to Helgi and Finnbogi and suggested that they sail to Vinland together and split any profits they managed to acquire there. The brothers agreed to her proposal.

It was arranged that Freydis and the brothers would each bring thirty fighting men with them to the New World, in addition to their women, so that neither party would have an advantage over the other. Freydis duplicitously broke this agreement by hiding five additional men on her own ship. Helgi and Finnbogi were unaware of her deceit until they reached Vinland.

After a brief dispute, it was agreed that Freydis and her party would use the longhouses that Leif Erikson built, and that the brothers and their men would build their own dwelling.

No sooner had Helgi and Finnbogi constructed their longhouse than winter came. In order to pass the time, they invited Freydis’ crew to play sports with them. Disputes between the players quickly sowed discord which resulted in both camps spending the rest of the winter alone, in their respective longhouses.

One morning, Freydis rose from her furs, slipped on her sark and smokkr (shirt and skirt), and slipped out the door without bothering to put on shoes or stockings. Wearing her husband’s cloak, she walked over to the brothers’ longhouse, found the door ajar, and stood in the threshold. Finnbogi, the only man awake at that time, noticed Freydis in the doorway and asked what she was doing there.

“I wish that thou wouldst get up and go out with me,” she replied, “for I will speak with thee.” Finnbogi did as Freydis requested and went outside to sit with her on a tree that the brothers had felled.

“How art thou satisfied here?” Freydis asked.

Finnbogi replied that he enjoyed Vinland and its abundance resources, but admitted that he did not like the discord that had sprung up between their two camps, and thought that there was no reason for it. Freydis agreed before stating that the purpose of her visit was to trade ships with the brothers, as theirs was bigger than hers, and she wished to return to Greenland. Finnbogi agreed to her proposal. With that, the two concluded their meeting.

Freydis returned to her longhouse and slipped into bed. Her frozen feet awoke her husband, Thorvard, who asked why she was so cold and wet.

With a bitter sob, Freydis falsely claimed that she had visited the brothers in order to ask them about exchanging ships, only to be beaten and used shamefully. “But thou, miserable man,” she snarled with reproach, “wilt surely neither avenge my disgrace nor thine own.” She then threatened to leave Thorvard once they arrived in Greenland if he failed to avenge her.

Thorvard, none the wiser, threw off his furs in a rage. He roused his kinsmen and led them to Helgi and Finnbogi’s longhouse, where the brothers and their men were asleep. Thorvard’s Norsemen bound each of their hapless countrymen and led them out of the house, where Freydis had each of them executed.

At the end of the massacre, only five women remained from the brothers’ camp, whom none of the men would consent to kill. “Give me an axe!” cried Freydis, seizing a weapon from one of her husband’s men. The furious Norsewoman proceeded to hack each of her female compatriots to death.

When the slaughter was complete, Freydis rounded on her husband’s crew and threatened to kill any of them who spoke of the bloodbath upon their return to Greenland. If asked what became of the brothers and their crew, they were to answer that they remained behind in Vinland.

When spring came, the Scandinavians loaded the brothers’ ship with everything they had acquired that year and put to sea. The homeward voyage was an uneventful one, and the Vikings arrived at Eriksfjord in early summer.

In spite of Freydis’ threat, word of the Vinland massacre began to circulate throughout the colony. Incensed, Leif Erikson captured three of Freydis’ men and tortured them until they confessed the whole bloody business. Although Leif suggested that his sister deserved the same treatment, he decided to leave her be, believing that the curse that would hang over her posterity, which her wicked deeds had surely incurred, would be punishment enough.

 

The Saga of Erik the Red

The Saga of Erik the Red paints a very different picture of the Viking discovery of the Americas than that outlined in the Greenland Saga, although there is also much overlap between the two. Instead of Bjarni Herjolfsson, the Saga of Eric the Red contends that Leif Erikson was the first Norseman to see the shores of the New World.

When he was a young man, the saga goes, Leif left Greenland, the place of his birth, and travelled to Norway, his father’s homeland. There, he found his way into the service of Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway.

Olaf converted Leif to Christianity and tasked him with bringing the Christian religion to Greenland. Leif obeyed and sailed west. During the voyage, “he was tossed about a long time out at sea, and lighted upon lands of which before he had no expectation. There were fields of wild wheat, and the vine-tree in full growth. There were also maple trees.”

There, Leif rescued a party of shipwrecked Norseman and brought them back with him to Greenland and gave them food and lodging throughout the winter. “Thus,” the saga goes, “did he show his great munificence and his graciousness when he brought Christianity to the land, and saved the shipwrecked crew. He was called Leif the Lucky.”

Back in Greenland, Leif Erikson began to evangelize his fellow Norsemen. Many of the colonists, including Leif’s mother, converted to Christianity. Leif’s father, Erik the Red, was one of the few who refused to convert, staunchly adhering to the Norse paganism of his ancestors.

Erik the Red’s Expeditions

Although Erik the Red had little use for the new religion that his son brought to Greenland, he did take a keen interest in the bountiful land that Leif had discovered. He set out with twenty men to find it, but encountered a storm which blew his ship east nearly to Ireland.

Following that unsuccessful attempt, a much larger expedition was organized, consisting of many ships and 160 men. According to the saga:

“They were out at sea two half-days. Then they came to land, and rowed along it in boats, and explored it, and found there flat stones, many and so great that two men might well lie on them stretched on their backs with heel to heel. Polar foxes were there in abundance. This land they called ‘Helluland’.

“Then they sailed with northerly winds two half-days, and there was then land before them, and on it a great forest and many wild beasts. An island lay to the southeast, and they found bears and called the island ‘Bjarney’ (Bear Island). The mainland, where the forest was, they called ‘Markland’ (Forest Land).”

Finally, the Viking explorers came to a pleasant cape where the coast was veined with creeks. As sailing was perilous along that stretch of coast, they sent two scouts to head south on foot to see what could be found. The men returned saying that there were two good lands further south. One was choked with wild grapes, while the other was rich with wild wheat.

The Vikings then sailed south down the coast and up a strait, at the mouth of which lay an island encircled by strong currents. According to the saga, “There were so many birds on [the island] that it was scarcely possible to put one’s feet down for the eggs”. The Norsemen continued up the firth, lowered their anchor, and prepared their camp.

After spending a hungry winter in the camp, near which there were mountains and large pastures, the expedition split up. One party attempted to return to Greenland but was blown off course; the Norsemen ended up in Ireland. The other group, led by Thorfinn Karlsefni, travelled south. After some time, they came to river which emptied into a lake, which, in turn, drained into the sea. The land near the river’s mouth, which was dotted with large islands, was abundant in wild wheat, while its heights were choked with wild grapes. The river itself teemed with fish, and the woods were abundant with all variety of wild animals. Thorfinn and his company camped in the area for about half a month, spending their time hunting and fishing and playing games.

Encounters with the Skraelings

“Early one morning,” the saga goes, “as they looked around, they beheld nine canoes made out of hides, and snout-like staves were being brandished from the boats, which made a noise like flails, and twisted round in the direction of the sun’s motion.”

Thorfinn and his companion, Snorri (his son’s namesake), speculated as to the meaning of this strange activity. “It may be that it is a token of peace,” Snorri suggested, before proposing that they approach the canoeists with a white shield- a Viking token of peace.

The Norsemen followed Snorri’s suggestion and cautiously approached the shore with their white shield held high. The canoeists, in turn, began to paddle towards the shore. “They were short men,” the saga goes, “ill-looking, with their hair in disorderly fashion on their heads. They were large-eyed and had broad cheeks. They stayed there a while in astonishment. Afterward, they rowed away to the south, off the headland”.

The Northmen spent the winter near the mouth of the river, during which they saw neither snow nor any more of the mysterious natives, whom they called Skraelings.

“Now when spring began,” the saga continues, “they beheld early one morning that a fleet of hide canoes was rowing from the south off the headland. There were so many that it was as if the sea were strewn with pieces of charcoal, and there was also the brandishing of staves as before from each boat. Then they held shields up, and a market was formed between them.”

The natives proceeded to trade grey furs for red cloth. They also wished to purchase swords and lances, but Thorfinn and Snorri forbade their countrymen from selling the natives steel weapons. While the trading ensued, a bull that belonged to Thorfinn Karlsefni rushed out of the woods and bellowed loudly. The Skraelings became frightened and rowed south in their canoes.

Three weeks later, a large party of canoe-going Skraelings approached the Viking camp from the stream, brandishing spears and howling war cries. The Norsemen took red shields, a signal that they were ready for battle, and rushed to meet them. The Skraelings showered the Vikings with arrows and slung rocks. They also brought with them strange weapons which the saga describes thus:

“Karlsefni and Snorri saw the Skraelingjar were bringing up poles with a very large ball attached to each, comparable in size to a sheep’s stomach, dark in color. These flew over Karlsefni’s company towards the land, and when they came down they struck the ground with a hideous noise. This produced great terror in Karlsefni and his company, so that their only impulse was to retreat up the country along the river, because it seemed as if crowds of Skraelingjar were driving at them from all sides. And they did not stop until they came to some crags. There, they offered them stern resistance.

“Freydis came out and saw how they were retreating. She called out, ‘Why do you run away from such worthless creatures, stout men that you are, when, as seems to me likely, you might slaughter them like so many cattle? Let me have a weapon. I think I could fight better than any of you.

“They gave no heed to what she said. Freydis tried to accompany them, but soon lagged behind because she was not well. She went after them into the wood and the Sraelingjar directed their pursuit after her. She came upon a dead man, Thorbrand, Snorri’s son, with a flat stone fixed in his head. His sword lay beside him, so she took it up and prepared to defend herself.

“The Skraelingjar came upon her. She let down her sark and struck her beast with the naked sword. At this they were frightened, rushed off to their boats, and fled. Karlsefni and the rest came up to her and praised her zeal. Two of Karlsefni’s men fell, and four of the Skraelingjar…”

Land of the One-Footers

Although the land was bountiful, the Vikings decided that the Skraeling were too numerous to allow for any permanent settlement and headed north. A hundred of them, Freydis and Bjarni included, decided to remain at the strait at which they had previously camped, while the remainder explored more of the region.

The saga then tells us that, while exploring a river north of Vinland, Thorfinn Karlsefni and his crew encountered a “One-Footer” (also known as a “monopod” or a “sciapod”), a mythological one-legged dwarf which hopped from place to place. The monster shot Thorvald Erikson in the lower abdomen with an arrow. The Viking pulled the projectile out of his gut and remarked that Vinland must be bountiful indeed, as he had grown such a belly that winter that the arrow had failed to harm him. The One-Footer then hopped away to the north.

After briefly visiting the land of the One-Footers, Thorfinn and his crew returned to the camp at the strait. That fall, Thorfinn and Gudrid had their first son, Snorri.

After spending three more years in the area, the Vikings sailed for home. On the way, they stopped in Markland, where they found a family of Skraelings. “One was a bearded man,” the saga goes, “two were women, two children. Karlsefni’s people caught the children, but the others escaped and sunk down into the earth. They took the children with them, and taught them their speech, and they were baptized.”

The saga continues:

“The children called their mother Vaetilldi and their father Uvaegi. They said that kings ruled over the land of the Skraelingjar, one of whom was called Avalldamon, and the other Valldidida. They said that there were no houses, and the people lived in caves or holes. They said, moreover, that there was a land on the other side over against their land, and the people there were dressed in white garments, uttered loud cries, carried long poles, and wore fringes. This was supposed to be [White Man’s Land]. Then came they to Greenland, and remained with Erik the Red during the winter.”

 

The Discoveries at L’Anse Aux Meadows

In 1960, a 60-year-old Norwegian trapper named Helge Ingstad, along with his wife Anne Stine, set out to prove once and for all that the Viking sagas were true, and that the Norse really had explored and briefly colonized the Americas in the Middle Ages. Aided by a copy of the Skalholt map, a 16th Century Icelandic document which alleged to show the relative locations of Helluland, Markland, and Vinland, they began traveling around the rugged coast of Newfoundland, examining different areas and interviewing the locals.

“And people,” said Helge in an interview in later life, “old fishermen, thought I was a little crazy asking about the settlement that was a thousand years old. But I kept on, and after many disappointments, late in the fall I came to the very northern part of Newfoundland, the very tip.”

There, near the town of L’Anse aux Meadows, Helge and Anne met a grizzled old fisherman named George Decker.

“I asked him the old question,” said Helge. “‘Have you seen any old… ruins here?’ And he was a very intelligent man. And he said, ‘Yes, I have. Follow me.’”

Decker led the couple to an assortment of grassy mounds, which locals had long assumed were the remains of some old Beothuk or Mi’kmaq camp. Helge and Anne Ingstad proceeded to excavate the mounds. What they found changed North American history forever.

Helge and Anne unearthed a number of interesting artifacts beneath the mounds at L’Anse aux Meadows, including a soapstone spindle whorl, iron nails, and charcoal which they carbon dated to around 1000 A.D. The most interesting find, however, was a Viking brooch which proved almost without a doubt that the area was once a Norse settlement.

Today, archaeologists believe that the ruins at L’Anse aux Meadows once consisted of eight buildings, three of them longhouses capable of housing around eighty people. Near the residential halls was a smithy where nails were made.

Some believe that the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows is none other than Leif Erikson’s Vinlandic colony. Others, noting that Newfoundland is devoid of wild grapes, believe Vinland to be further south, and suggest that the settlement at the tip of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula served as a stopping point, perhaps being the burial place of Thorvald Erikson or one of the camps referred to in the sagas.

Although we may never know the true location of Vinland, we do know without a doubt that long before John Cabot, Christopher Columbus, or even Joao Vaz Corte-Real stepped foot on American shores, Canada was a colony of the Vikings.

 

Sources

  • Greenlander Saga (13th Century)
  • Saga of Erik the Red (13th Century)
  • The Vikings in North America: The History and Legacy of the Norse Settlements in Greenland and Vinland (2015), Charles River Editors
  • Ancient Mysteries: Vikings in North America (1995), A&E