Showing posts with label canada. Show all posts
Showing posts with label canada. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Columbus Who? Let's Discuss Leif Erikson

It's a commonly held belief that Christopher Columbus 'discovered' America. This is wrong on so, so many levels. Firstly, the Americas were 'discovered' by the ancestors of modern Native Americans and First Nation peoples thousands of years before Columbus. Secondly, Christopher Columbus wasn't even the first white man to 'discover' America, because in the early 1000 CEs Viking explorer and Christian missionary Leif Erikson stepped foot on what is now Newfoundland, Canada.

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Leif Erikson
Leif Erikson, also known as 'Leif the Lucky' was the second son of the notorious King of Greenland, Erik the Red. It is unsure when exactly he was born, but, being the son of Erik the Red, it is most likely that he was born and raised in Greenland. Very little is known about Leif's childhood, but at the time of his majority he was described in the Greenland Saga as being:
"...tall and strong and very impressive in appearance. He was a shrewd man and always moderate in his behavior."
 What is certain is that in 1000 CE Leif set sail for Norway. He was blown off course somewhere in the Hebrides, and had a son with Thorgunna, the daughter of a local chieftain. When it came time for Leif to set sail again, Thorgunna asked to accompany him, but Leif refused. When Thorgunna told him that she was expecting a child, Leif refused to take responsibility for the child. Thorgunna, however, swore that she would send the child to Leif in Greenland as soon as she was old enough, and she followed through on that promise.

In Norway, Leif met with King Olaf Tryggvason, who had been converted to Catholicism. Olaf soon converted Leif as well, and tasked him with spreading Christianity back in Greenland. With this charge, Leif went sailing back to Greenland.

Here is where accounts diverge. The Saga of Erik the Red claims that on his way back from Norway Leif was blown off course yet again, and saw the shores of North America. According to the Saga of Erik the Red, Leif never actually set foot on North America, but left it to his younger brother, Thorvald. However, the much more reliable Greenland Saga says that Leif was back in Greenland when he heard tale of a new land in the west from Bjarni Herjolfsson.

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L'anse aux Meadows is the only confirmed Viking settlement
in North America
Bjarni Herjolfsson had seen the coasts of what we now know as the east coast of Canada, but hadn't landed to explore. The people of Erik's court mocked of him for not having landed, and soon Leif was determined to do what Bjarni had not. Sometime in late summer or early fall, Leif set off for the lands to the west with a new ship and a crew of 35.

Leif had originally asked his father, Erik, to lead the expedition. Erik had demurred, saying that he was getting to be too old for that sort of nonsense, but Leif insisted. According to Leif, Erik had the most luck in the family, and luck was needed for this sort of expedition. Erik reluctantly agreed, but on the day that the voyage was to have left Erik was thrown from his horse, and broke his leg.This left Leif the leader of the expedition, and off they went.

Leif's crew first landed in what is most likely modern Labrador. Leif named it Helluland, and essentially called it a wasteland. He was unimpressed by it's glaciers and lack of plant life, and so set off again.

This next time they landed in a place they called Markland. It was a flat and wooded area, most likely in modern Nova Scotia. However, Leif wasn't ready to settle down, and he hurried his crew back to their ships.

They sailed north again, and docked on a large island. It was here that they decided to settle for the winter. The land was fertile and green, and when Leif sent out exploration parties one of them came back with a vine of grapes, leading Leif to name the place Vinland.

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Statue of Erikson in Chicago, USA
Leif and his crew stayed the winter, harvesting wood and grapes to take back with them. When spring came they sailed back towards Greenland, laden with cargo. On their way home Leif and his crew rescued a group of shipwrecked people on a reef. It was his discovery of these people that earned him the title 'the lucky'.

It is about here where the record of Leif Erikson ends. He is known to have died in 1025, and rumored to have succeeded his father Erik as chief after Erik's death, but the adventures of Leif Erikson seem to have ended after he came back from Vinland.

For many years Leif was forgotten about. His claims about having discovered a land were difficult to prove, and historians squabbled over where it could have been. However, in 1960 the remnants of a Viking settlement was found in L'anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, leading many to believe that Newfoundland is the country referred to as Vinland. Leif Erikson was later awarded his own holiday, and to this day Leif Erikson Day is celebrated (well, mostly ignored.) every October 9.

Sources
Greenlander's Saga
The Saga of Erik the Red
Leif Eriksson
Leif Erikson (11th Century)
Leif Eriksson Explorer
Leif Erikson the Lucky
L'anse aux Meadows National Historic Site
The Norse Discovery of America
Vinland Sagas

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Chilly Neighborhood Relations-the Dew Line

I know, objectively, that the Cold War was a serious matter, and that it caused some major political tensions all across the globe, but in retrospect, it's a little funny. The sheer amount of paranoia and fear of communist nations caused the United States to do some crazy things, and occasionally they dragged Canada, the mild mannered cousin of North America, into their nonsense. There's lots of crazy shenanigans to talk about, but today let's focus on the time that America essentially built a fence in the middle of Canada's yard, and Canada had to pretend that they were cool with it so the local Homeowner's Association didn't think they were weak.

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Greenland DEW Station
Brought to you by AT&T, the Distant Early Warning Radar Line, or the DEW line, is a line of radar stations stretching from the arctic coasts of east of Alaska to the ice sheets of Greenland. Mostly abandoned now, the DEW line was constructed in the late 1950s to provide early warnings should the Soviet Union decide to launch nuclear missals so far north they started to come south.

This genius idea was the brain child of American scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Robert A. Lovett, the US Secretary of Defense, latched onto the idea immediately. Before even pitching the idea to his counterparts in Ottawa, he called up Cleo F. Craig, CEO of AT&T, and asked him to start working on something. Craig put his best men on the job.

When Lovett did get around to telling the Canadians his plans, the Canadian government was less than amused. While they had signed a treaty in the 1940's saying that they wouldn't allow foreign attackers into America from their territory, and despite the fact that Canada was in just as much danger from a Soviet attack as Russia was, Ottawa had several reservations, mainly the cost and the loss of sovereignty over their Arctic territories.

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Black dots are DEW stations
Canada has always been a bit sensitive about its Arctic regions. While the Canadian government has had very little interest in developing the Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories, they sure want to hang on to them. The American government sniffing around the arctic wasn't uncommon, and lead to Canadian efforts like the relocation of the Arctic Exiles  to keep the Americans out. Since it was proposed that American military personnel would build and staff the stations on the DEW line, the Canadian government was worried that de facto arctic sovereignty would pass to the United States due to lack of Canadian presence.

Additionally, the Canadian economy wasn't doing too great. They were already spending half of their budget on defense, and the money required to build the DEW Line would require increasing their military budget by 6%. Canada just wasn't down for that.

However, Canada needed to keep up appearances. They instructed their PR teams to only refer to the DEW line as a joint project between the US and Canada, and to make sure that it didn't seem as if the US was giving Canada aid. Once the line was finished, several members of the RCMP (mounties), were sent to Stations on the DEW line. As many Canadians were put into leadership positions as possible. Canada did their best to make it seem like the DEW line had been their idea.

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DEW emblem
The United States also built a little bit of that fence in Greenland's yard, however, as far as my research proves, the Greenlanders didn't really care. It's possible that there was a massive uproar, but it's also very possible that both Copenhagen and Nuuk just didn't care about the United States challenging its arctic sovereignty. Historically, because of its inhospitable climate very few nations have actually wanted to own Greenland, though should the nation start tapping its plentiful oil wells, that could certainly change. The stations in Greenland were more of an after thought than anything; no one seriously expected a Soviet attack through Greenland.

The DEW line was abandoned in 1985 in favor of the Northern Warning System. Many of the stations were dismantled, and hauled away for parts but there are still several abandoned stations across Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. Building it took three years, and cost something around 750,000 million United States dollars.

Sources
Adventures from the Coldest Part of the Cold War
The Distant Early Warning Line, and the Canadian Battle for Public Perception
Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line)
DYE-2 A Relic From a Not So Distant Past
The Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The High Arctic Exiles OR The Time the Canadian Government Abandoned 92 Inuit in the High Arctic

It's 1950, and the Cold War is downright frigid. The Russians and the Americans are sniffing around Canada's arctic islands, and Canada needs to assert its sovereignty. So what do they do? They force around 92 people to leave their homes in more reasonable climes, and move them to the high arctic. Sound like a human rights abuse? That's because it is. Or if it isn't, it should be. However, because it happened to First Nation people, nobody cared. It wasn't until 2011 that Canadian government finally acknowledge the immorality of what they had done, and apologized for the suffering of the Arctic people.
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Resolute, 1953


The town of Inukjuak, located in northern Quebec, was the original home of many of these exiles. It was, and still is, home to a large Inuit population. In 1953 members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) swept through the community, looking for volunteers to go live in the towns of Resolute and Grise Fiord in what is today Nunavut. The stated reasoning behind this was that the Canadian government was worried that the area around Inukjuak was becoming over-hunted, and would no longer be able to support the local population. The RCMP promised plentiful hunting and a better life to people who made the move, as well as the opportunity to come back to Inukjuak after two years should those who relocated wish to return. Several families eagerly agreed, and they set off for their new homes in the C.D. Howe.

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From Inukjuak to Resolute and Grise Fiord
Or so the Canadian government claims. The Inuit who actually made the move tell a far different story. Instead of being asked politely to move the RCMP brutally harassed, and all but forced the families to make the move. The Inuit were told that upon arriving in Resolute and Grise Fiord there would be houses, clothes, and boats for hunting waiting for them. They were promised that their families wouldn't be split up. The RCMP spun a tale of a life with better hunting and good employment opportunities, with, of course, the offer that anyone who didn't like it up north could come back after two years. The RCMP lied.

Once they were on board this ship the people were told that they would be divided into two communities--one for Resolute and one for Grise Fiord. The Inuit were, to understate, not at all pleased with this, and they were less pleased when they landed and found out that there were no houses, no boats, and no animals to hunt. They had left a city with a school and medical facilities, they were taken to a frozen wasteland.

The Exiles lived in tents that first year. They survived mainly of of seal meat and scraps that they found in the RCMP garbage dump. Finding water was difficult, and catching anything was near impossible. Not only was it always dark, but there were just no animals around to hunt. And in the summer when the birds returned, and on the rare occasion they found a musk ox, the Inuit were unable to shoot them, because they were protected species. When the Inuit asked to go home they were told that it was impossible, and that they needed to stay where they were.

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Monument to the exiles in Grise Fiord.
Though the Canadian government claimed that this was for the good of the Inuit people, there are other theories which seem much more believable. As I mentioned above, the Cold War was positively glacial at the time, and both the US and Canada feared that Russia would attempt to establish a base in the Canadian High Arctic, so they would have a good vantage point to attack North America. To combat this, the US wanted to snatch up the Canadian High Arctic, and basically make it part of Alaska. Canada wasn't down for this.

The problem with the High Arctic was that it was largely uninhabited. Canada could say that it was theirs, but they weren't really doing anything with it, so what would it matter if the US or the USSR took it? The prevailing theory is that the Canadian government sent the Arctic Exiles to Resolute and Grise Fiord as 'human flagpoles' to establish their sovereignty.

The communities of Resolute and Grise Fiord are still running today. Both communities are very small, with less than 400 inhabitants between them. In 1996 the Canadian government offered the Exiles and their families a settlement of $10 million to make up for what they put them through. Much of this money has failed to appear.


Sources
The High Arctic Relocation
Out in the Cold: The Legacy of Canada's Inuit Relocation Experiment in the High Arctic
Inuit Get Federal Apology for Forced Relocation
Inuit Were Moved 2,000km in Cold War Maneuvering
Exile (documentary)


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Documentary Review- The Polar Sea

Something you may not know about me is that I am in love with the arctic. I think it's beautiful, and completely improbably that people manage to survive there. And for someone who starts complaining when the temperature drops below 73 degrees Fahrenheit, I want to go there a whole lot. So when I saw this documentary on Netflix, naturally I watched most of it in a day.

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"The Polar Sea" chronicles the adventures of Richard Tegner and various companions as he sails through the Northwest Passage. It chronicles his journey as an 'arctic hitchhiker' from Reykjavik Iceland to Dutch Harbor, USA.

For those of you who are unaware, the Northwest Passage is a sea route that stretches from Baffin Bay to the Aleutian Islands. It weaves its way through the many islands and ice floes of Canada's northern territories: Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon. The Northwest Passage is frozen for most of the year, and when it's not frozen it has some of the most treacherous waters in the world.

Tegner, originally from Sweden, was persuaded by a friend to undertake the journey. An inexperienced sailor, Tegner departed with his friend on the Dax, a small sailboat. Sailing from Iceland, the Dax broke down around Pond Inlet, Nunavut. Tegner's friends returned to Sweden, while Tegner decided to stick it out, and hitch a ride through the passage.

Image result for northwest passageAt first, I was really worried for this dude, because hitchhiking is known to be notoriously unreliable below the arctic circle, and I would think that it would be even more so above, but Tegner made it work, hitching a ride first with a Russian cruise ship, then with a Swiss catamaran, which, I take, is a type of boat.

(It is a type of boat, and that particular catamaran was the first boat of its kind to sail the Northwest Passage, sailed by the youngest sailors to make the journey)

Along the way they stopped at multiple Inuit communities and research stations. One of the biggest focuses of this documentary, or really, the main focus, was how global warming has changed the arctic.

It's climate change that made Tegner's journey possible. The ice in the passage has started melting earlier, and freezing later every year. This has had a bad impact on the Inuit who live in the arctic regions. While this does open up streams of ecotourism to boost the Inuit economy, it is driving the local wildlife from the region. As the Inuit have traditionally relied on hunting to survive, this is something of a problem.

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Narwhal are real?? And they live in the arctic?
Additionally, erosion is threatening Inuit communities. The ice melting leaves their communities vulnerable to the explosive autumn storms. The documentary focused on the town of Kivalina in Alaska, which experienced extreme flooding in 2004, but a quick google search turns up dozens of other towns with the same plight.

If you've ever doubted that climate is changing, this is a good show to watch. If you've ever wondered about Inuit culture, and the history of the Inuit in the arctic, this is a great show to watch. If you just really like the arctic, this is a good show to watch. It can be a bit of a bear to get through, but it's well worth it.

If you want to learn more about the show, and more about Tegner's arctic experience, you can visit their website here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"Holy Moly, That's Old!"

"Holy moly, that's old!" is a quote directly taken from Alisha Gauvreau, PhD candidate at the University of Victoria. At the time, Gauvreau was presenting her finds on an archaeological dig that may change the way we think about how First Nation people originally came to North America.

Apparently, the annual meeting of the American Society of Archaeology was last week. At this meeting, which sounds pretty dope by the way, Alisha Gauvreau gave the findings of her dig at Triquet Island, BC. What she found was pretty standard for what you would expect from a stone age settlement--atlatl, fish hooks, hand drills for making fire. It wasn't necessarily what she found that was interesting (although that's still some cool stuff), but how old it was. When her finds were carbon dated, they learned that the settlement she and her team had discovered was nearly 14,000 years old.

Now, just in case you're confused, let me explain why this is significant. The most common theory for how people migrated from what is now Europe to North America is that people crossed over on the Bering Land Bridge--an area of land connecting modern Japan (or Siberia, depending on who you ask) with Alaska. Supposedly, First Nation people spread out over the continent from there. However, recent finds suggest that this isn't the case. In 1996, the discovery of a nearly 10,000 year old skeleton in Kennewick Washington, known as 'Kennewick Man' provided evidence that there were people in North America long before anyone crossed the Bering Land Bridge. Gauvreau's find helps support the theory that a small area of British Colombia and Washington didn't entirely freeze over during the ice age, and ancient people settled there.

This find was only presented a few days ago, so there's not a lot of in-depth scientific information about it available to the general public yet, but I, for one, am very excited. Finding a village like this can provide valuable insight to how stone age people lived, and who they were. I hope we hear more about this soon!

On a scale of one to ten, how excited about this are you? How do you think people originally came to North America? Make my day by leaving a comment. :)

Sources
Smithsonian
Anthropology.Net
Newser