It’s somewhat ironic how Canadians are such amiable people, when amongst the first European settlers to arrive here were the descendants of a mass-murderer from Reykjavik. As penance for slaughtering Eyiolf the Foul (including impaling several members from the Thorngest clan) Erik the Red was banished from his homeland for a period of no less than three years. Not one to bide his time on a distant rocky atoll, this most volatile of vikings loaded his boat with a grizzly crew of savages, several sack loads of horned skulls, swords that flashed in the midnight sun and enough mammen axes to fell a forest. Perched on the prow of his boat, eyes screwed against a westerly gale, Erik set sail for a new and mysterious land worthy of pillage. By around 950 AD he arrived on the shores of a vast continent of snow and ice, proclaiming, “Men will desire much the more to go there if the land has a good name.’ Not willing to allow a few minor details to derail his vision of paradise Erik named this new country Greenland, when in reality Whiteland might have been much closer to the truth.
It was Leif Erikksson, Eric the Red’s son, who a few years later ventured north along the coast of Greenland and crossed the Davis Strait. Skirting icebergs and polar bears and glacial storms, he eventually landed on the northern shores of what is today Newfoundland. Much like his father before him it appears Leif had an eye for the main chance: he named this new land Vinland (wineland) when there wasn’t a vine to be had within a thousand kilometres! But that was to miss the significance of the event. It was one hundred thousand years earlier that man first ventured beyond the African continent, striving northwards and eastwards, crossing Asia and the Barents Straits and into the Americas. When Lief landed on the shores of North America he came face to face with the indigenous Indians and thereby completed mans circle around the world.
COASTAL ROAD TRIP
For the traveller, both Newfoundland and southern Labrador are all about the coast. Inland lies tundra, marsh, impenetrable forest and enough mosquitoes, black flies and midges to provide a lifetime of itching. In southern Labrador not even the shoreline provided respite from their constant attacks: on the 8th of August we took the ferry from Newfoundland to Blanc Sablon, southern Labrador, though within 48 hours we were heading back. It was enough time for us to grasp the reality of life in such a remote corner of the world. A young couple on our return ferry had to take their dog to a vet in Corner Brook, Newfoundland (a one and a half hour ferry ride across the Strait of belle isle, followed by a three hour drive to Corner brook) because it was quicker for them than going to the vet in Labrador.
Like all islands the weather in Newfoundland was changeable by the hour – the one consistent meteorological theme was that we arrived in a rain storm and we left in one. In between, thankfully, we enjoyed a lot of sunshine and in such conditions the island proved the perfect destination for a coastal road trip.