Archive for March 18th, 2008

Bjarni Herjolfsson was the first

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

In school I learned that the first European to reach the Americas was Christopher Columbus. This was taught as though it were fact. I don’t recall my teachers ever teaching me about Bjarni Herjolfsson, the Norwegian trader whose ship went off course on a trip between Iceland and Greenland, and who spotted what was probably the coast of Newfoundland. That happened in the summer of either 985 or 986, more than 500 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

I do vaguely remember hearing about Leif Ericsson, son of Eric the Red, who was so impressed by the wild grapes he found that he called the new land Vinland, but he was almost treated in the category of Norse mythology, like Thor, rather than history.

Of course when I was in elementary school in the 1960s, the Norse settlement dating to circa 1000 at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland hadn’t yet been excavated by Parks Canada archaeologists, so I suppose my teachers can be excused.

Being of Norwegian descent, it’s fun to imagine how history might have unfolded if the Norse settlers hadn’t given up on the hostile new land. Instead of English and French, would Norwegian be the official language of Vinland today? Would those warlike Norse have ever learned to get along with their aboriginal neighbours instead of attacking them with their broadswords upon every sighting? Would I be a 30th-generation Vinlander? …