Work at Vinland endures

Susan Flanagan
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L’Anse aux Meadows — My friend Clayton looks like a Viking. You know, red beard and ruddy complexion.

Clayton looks so Viking-like that it’s his gob that you see on the cover of the Viking brochure at L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site.

L’Anse aux Meadows, which, by the way, is on the tippy top of the Northern Peninsula, takes its name from the French — L’Anse aux Meduses, or Jellyfish Cove.

You can see the jellyfish hanging around any wharf in the area.

L’Anse aux Meadows is also the only authenticated Viking site in North America.

Clayton has been an interpreter at the site since 1980. That’s over 30 Viking seasons guiding visitors around the remains of sod huts that haven’t been occupied for 1,000 years. Thirty years. That’s job dedication.

Clayton was a boy when George Decker led the Ingstads to some old grassy mounds back in the 1960s.

Later, when it came time to excavate in the ’70s. Clayton was there on his hands and knees alongside international experts.

Clayton can show you where the most interesting artifacts were unearthed.

Take the butternut for instance — this was a puzzling find, since butternuts have never grown in Newfoundland.

This artifact suggested the Vikings may have gone further south in their travels to suss things out and see if there was anything they could make a buck on back in Greenland.

But after their reconnaissance trips, they returned to their camp in L’Anse aux Meadows. The fact they referred to the site as Vinland, or Land of the Grapes, may simply refer to a grassy area as opposed to the ice-covered Greenland from whence the Vikings had come. The name may have referred to the country as opposed to that one area where they lived.

Clayton can show you where they unearthed the bronze pin, the same type of pin found on Viking sites in Norway, Iceland and Greenland. This is what the Vikings used to make sure their cloaks didn’t fall off.

Clayton can also show you where the spindle whorl was found.

I know. I know.

What the heck is a spindle whorl?

This tiny donut-shaped stone indicated the presence of women on the site, suggesting that L’Anse aux Meadows was more than a way station between two points, but rather intended to be a more permanent settlement.

It is mainly because of these artifacts that L’Anse aux Meadows was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Except for the fact the pesky native “Skraelings” threw a wrench into things, the Vikings might still be there cosied in next to Max and Gladys Anderson at the end of the road in L’Anse aux Meadows. Or Hilda and Lief might be living next door to Clayton out on the point, complaining that the vinyl siding needs replacing.

Clayton can also point visitors to walking trails. He can show you how to get on the hiking trail that circles the site, starting at Harry Youden’s Cove. Or he can send you over to Lacey’s Trail to hike up Round Hill at the end of road in L’Anse aux Meadows. Or he can send you down the road to Straitsview to hike the Cape Raven Trail which, as the name implies, provides spectacular views of the Straits of Bell Isle.

Clayton can recommend a good meal at Northern Delight Restaurant in Gunner’s Cove. Although he would never recommend one restaurant without recommending three — being a good Parks Canada guide and all. He might say, for fine dining check out the Norseman Restaurant in L’Anse aux Meadows.

Although he wouldn’t want to blow his own horn and have you think that the steamed lobster just removed from their ocean crate 20 yards away is the best you’ll ever taste. Or that the local lamb has a slightly salty flavour. Or that the chunks of iceberg ice in your drink are 15,000 years old.

Clayton has lived in L’Anse aux Meadows all his life. The community itself hasn’t changed much, although the population is decreasing. There are now less than 30 people living there.

One thing that wasn’t there when the Ingstads came in 1960 was Norstead, a re-enacted Viking settlement across the road from the parks site just behind the community of L’Anse aux Meadows.

Here, costumed interpreters work as blacksmiths and might make you a nail if you behave well. Lady Vikings cook bannock and toutons over a fire in a nearby sod hut while manly Vikings practice their sword skills outside.

When I worked as a parks interpreter with Clayton back in the ’80s, he taught me a lot of things about Vikings and life on the edge of the Strait of Bell Isle. But the thing I had the hardest time getting a handle on was the dropping and picking up of Hs.

One day on lunch break together I asked Clayton if he was going to heat up the ravioli he was eating cold.

“I’m heatin’ it up, maid, I’m heatin’ it up.”

Years later, after I had married and my husband worked as a reporter for this paper, he was covering a story out of L’Anse aux Meadows about a polar bear that had wandered in off the ice to make a meal of Uncle Joby’s sheep.

I could hear him on the phone with Delena, Joby’s daughter.

“How did the polar bear get to L’Anse aux Meadows?” my mainlander husband asked.

“On the ’arbour hice,” she replied.

I could see his look of complete bewilderment and knew he needed to meet Clayton to wrap his mind about the problem of Hs.

He finally got to meet Clayton this summer when we brought a few offspring to the Viking site. As we entered the visitor centre, there was Clayton standing proudly in his parks uniform preparing to bring a group down to the forge where the Vikings rendered bog iron into nails.

“Susan,” he said, as if a day hadn’t passed since I saw him last, “’ow are you, Maid?”

Susan recommends reading “The Vinland Sagas,” which led the Ingstads to L’Anse aux Meadows in 1960. She can be reached at

Organizations: Straits of Bell Isle, UNESCO, Parks Canada

Geographic location: L’Anse, Greenland, North America.Clayton Greenland.But Norway Iceland

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