The best books about the Norse in Canada

Gordon Campbell Author Of Norse America: The Story of a Founding Myth
By Gordon Campbell

Who am I?

I live in England but grew up in Canada, where my Grade 5 Social Studies teacher filled my head with stories of people and places, including the Vikings. In the early 1960s, I learned about the excavations at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland featured in Canadian newspapers. My first job was in Denmark, and I subsequently travelled in the Nordic homelands and settlement areas, including the Faeroes, Iceland, and Greenland, visiting museums and archaeological sites at every opportunity. Norse America is my 26th book, but it is both the one with the deepest roots in my own past and the one most engaged with contemporary concerns about race.


I wrote...

Norse America: The Story of a Founding Myth

By Gordon Campbell,

Book cover of Norse America: The Story of a Founding Myth

What is my book about?

The book presents the story of the Norse in North America as both fact and fiction, from the westward expansion of the Norse across the North Atlantic in the tenth and eleventh centuries to the myths and fabrications about their presence in Canada and the USA that have developed in recent centuries. The Canadian dimension includes accounts of real archaeology in L’Anse aux Meadows and Nunavut, and fake archaeology such as the Beardmore relics in Ontario and the Yarmouth stone in Nova Scotia. American content includes accounts of American runestones (notably the Kensington Runestone) and of the myth of a long-lived Viking settlement in what is now the United States. 

The books I picked & why

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Beardmore, 246: The Viking Hoax That Rewrote History

By Douglas Hunter,

Book cover of Beardmore, 246: The Viking Hoax That Rewrote History

Why this book?

The discovery of artefacts from a Viking grave in northern Ontario in 1936 was a sensation, and their subsequent display in the Royal Ontario Museum added a new dimension to the colonial history of Canada. The exposure of the discovery as a hoax in 1956 damaged the reputation of the Museum and its director. Hunter’s account, which is securely anchored in archival evidence, is skillfully assembled as an unfolding drama. In this book, the Beardmore hoax has received its definitive treatment by a scholar who writes brilliantly for a general audience.


The Last Imaginary Place: A Human History of the Arctic World

By Robert McGhee,

Book cover of The Last Imaginary Place: A Human History of the Arctic World

Why this book?

This book by a distinguished Canadian archaeologist is the finest overview of the human history of the circumpolar region. Its twin concerns are the indigenous peoples of the Arctic and the impact of intruders from the south. It is unusual in its coverage of the Russian and Scandinavian Arctic. The excellent account of the Norse colonies in Greenland feeds into a compelling analysis (through the prism of trade goods) of Norse penetration into the territories of the Dorset and Thule peoples. 


In the Province of History: The Making of the Public Past in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia

By Ian McKay, Robin Bates,

Book cover of In the Province of History: The Making of the Public Past in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia

Why this book?

This book is an eye-opening account of how the history of Nova Scotia became distorted in the interest of attracting tourists. This manufactured history exalts whiteness and masculinity, and quietly excludes ethnic minorities and women. The Yarmouth runestone, which is adduced as evidence that the Norse landed in Yarmouth, is an important artefact in this ideological history, and the authors give an excellent account of its history and its place in tourist history. 


Westward Vikings: The Saga of L'Anse Aux Meadows

By Birgitta Linderoth Wallace,

Book cover of Westward Vikings: The Saga of L'Anse Aux Meadows

Why this book?

Birgitta Wallace spent decades at L’Anse aux Meadows, which she excavated and expertly interpreted. The happy coincidence of a supremely important site being placed in the hands of a supremely gifted archaeologist has been a boon for both public and scholarly understanding of the site. This lavishly illustrated book is at once a guidebook for the site and an account of its historical significance. 


The New Land with the Green Meadows

By Anne Stine Ingstad,

Book cover of The New Land with the Green Meadows

Why this book?

The Norse site at L’Anse aux Meadows was discovered by the Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad in 1960. The following year he returned to the site with his wife Anne Stina, a trained archaeologist who led the annual summer excavations until 1968. This book is her memoir of the digs, which was published in Norwegian in 1975 and translated for the predecessor to this edition in 2006. The book ranges beyond the archaeology to encompass an evocative and sometimes lyrical account of the Ingstads’ spartan life on the site, its moments of great excitement when Norse artefacts were found, and their experience of the local community.


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