Day 9 |
Sep 11, 2011

St. Anthony 

By Claire Allum, Archaeologist

Co-ordinates: 51° 35’ 42.96” N 55° 31’ 52.4” W
Weather: clear sky with a brisk breeze and scudding clouds
Air Temperature: 5 - 12 C
Wind: 29.5 km/hr at port in the morning

At the small town of St. Anthony on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, I met our local guide, Peggy – an animated woman with sparkling brown eyes and one of the broadest smiles I have ever seen. She was initially shy, until she got used to Hans-Peter, and then she was all bubbling enthusiasm. She spoke a distinct Newfoundland dialect using wonderful phrases such as, “where it’s at,” and “them from away.”

Our first stop was The Grenfell Interpretation Centre. I walked through galleries filled with old black and white photographs taken of Sir Wilfred Grenfell’s work with the local populations living along the coast of Labrador in the late 1800s. A dramatic video in the theatre showed old footage of the life and people he encountered. Outside the Centre I found myself taking photographs of the mixed bed of flowers beside the entrance. I realized it was because the lush profusion of floral colour was in such sharp contrast to the beautiful but stark Icelandic and Greenlandic landscapes I had been traveling through.

Our next stop was The Jordi Bonet Murals at the Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital. The Montreal artist had created a round mural depicting Grenfell’s work. Produced in a series of panels made up of ceramic tiles, it chronologically portrayed his arrival in Newfoundland, the medical work he did there, and the improved lives of the inhabitants of Labrador and Newfoundland as a result of his work.

The Grenfell House Museum, which was our last stop before lunch, was where Sir Grenfell lived while in Newfoundland. I found the artifacts such as Lady Ann’s berry picker fascinating—once I figured out what it was. I went for a lovely stroll up the hill beside the house to develop an appetite for lunch.

Lunch was in a sod hut overlooking Fisherman’s Point. Over our meal of moose stew, clam chowder and partridgeberry pie, a man dressed up as a Viking with a very loud gruff voice periodically came out and recounted parts of the Icelandic Sagas in English. After lunch we watched the Silver Explorer sail out of the St. Anthony bay. She sounded her horn three times for us as we watched and waved from the top of Fisherman’s Point.

After lunch we drove north up the Northern Peninsula. Tuckermore—scrub conifers—and occasionally vegetable gardens lined the sides of the highway. It may have been my imagination, but I thought the landscape became more desolate the closer we got to L’Anse aux Meadows. It had been over 20 years since I had last visited the area.

Things had changed a lot. Instead of a round gravel parking area with a small winding footpath leading off into the scrub, a large sign declaring L’Anse aux Meadows a UNESCO World Heritage Site fronted an attractive, modern interpretive Centre. The Museum inside the building contained a lot of the important artifacts excavated from the Viking levels of the site as well as stone tools from earlier and later Indian occupations of the area.

The highlight of the day for me was seeing the eight depressions in the ground of the old Viking buildings. I knew that below the grass, imprints of old building foundations, shadows of past hearths, and small scraps of Viking refuse represented historical truths contained in the Icelandic Sagas. As I breathed in the crisp salt air I could imagine seeing Viking ships pulled up onto the shores of Epave bay.

The reconstructed Viking Village sits right beside the archaeological site and it was nice to go inside out of the wind and sit beside a crackling fire and listen to guides, dressed as Vikings, recount how Vikings may have lived at L’Anse aux Meadows, and listen to their legends and beliefs.

After that it was a short trip to another reconstruction, the Viking Norstead Village. Their ocean-going replica of a Viking ship was a highlight for me. The thick-sided, wide-bellied vessel really brought home what it might have been like to sail from Greenland to Vinland in an open boat—the final voyage mentioned in the Icelandic Sagas in a ship loaded with cattle and supplies. We rejoined out own ship by Zodiacs from a jetty at L’Anse aux Meadows.

As we began our voyage down the west coast of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, the wind picked up and by evening the waves were crashing over the ship and drenching the windows of The Observation Lounge on deck 6. At dinner it was amazing to watch the serving staff pouring wine and carrying plates of food while the ship rocked and rolled. Nonetheless, The Restaurant was pretty full, and most guests seemed to be enjoying the dramatic sea, perhaps remembering what it would have been like to be a Viking in the open sea.