Leif Eriksson Day: The New Canadians

Written by Harold McNeill on October 10th, 2011. Posted in Adventure

A Nordic History Lesson

The New Canadians

Two fine Nordic specimes, one with traces to another culture, stand with young women
they captured in earlier raiding parties in Eastern Canada. Even a casual comparison
to the painting of Erik the Red (below), demonstrates an
amazing resemblance to these modern day men.


A Day of Celebration

As October 9th again rolled around we took the city by storm in our Norwegian horned helmets and ninth century Nordic sweaters. With a plentiful supply of mild tasting Aquavit (45% alcohol by volume), delicate lutefisk appetizers and singing the ever popular Norwegian folk song “There Ain’t No Norwegians in Dickeyville”, we spent the evening celebrating the life and times of Leif Erikson, son of the famous Nordic Explorer, Erik the Red.

While last year we had braved heavy winds and rough weather in our trek around the downtown pubs, this year the wool sweaters and helmets took their toll and we had to carry a few who succumbed to heat exhaustion, well, at least that’s what we assumed, as no one ever heard of anyone getting sick from to much aquavit while eating lutefisk appetizers!  

Christopher Columbus was not the First

Nordic Globe TrottersThe man whose life we celebrated, had travelled to North America on a family vacation nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus was even a gleam in his father’s eye. While it was reported in the Italian and Spanish Press that Columbus, a media darling, had “discovered” the new world in 1492, the whole thing revealed to be just an advertising coup by an Italian Public Relations firm representing some spaghetti manufacturer looking for new markets.

Map:  Erik the Red and his middle son, Leif, covered most the the north and eastern shores of North America 500 years before Columbus.

As for Leif, he was the second of three sons of Erik Thorvaldsson (aka “Erik the Red”). The boys, all with the flaming red hair of their father, had been mercilessly bullied in school as had their father before. Fortunately for the father, the nickname ‘Ginger’ had not stuck or he would have forever been referred to in history books as “Erik the Ginger”.  Even a thousand years ago it seems school children could be cruel.

Because of his rebellious nature, and after Leif’s dad was unceremoniously kicked out of Norway following some disagreement with the church or a manslaughter charge, depending on which account you read, he talked the old man into buying a small sailing vessel so they could take a working holiday in search of a new land. It was during those travels that Leif discovered continental North America.

The Thorvaldsson Boat Works

In the early stages of their travels, the family first settled in Hornstrandir in Iceland then, later, built a small village in Thingverllid where they established the first in a line of Norwegian Travel-Gift Shops and the Thorvaldsson Boat Works. From that point Leif struck out on his own along the East Coast of “new world” where he made arrangements with the natives to open franchise shops in Greenland, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and points south (see map insert). These “Erik the Red” shops, sold all manner of Norwegian goods including the ever popular ‘horned helmet’ as well as papyrus run-a-bout that became hugely popular. Amazingly, after 1000  years, the shops continue doing a brisk business.Kon-Tiki

Early in the last century, another Norwegian, Thor Heyerdahl, purchased two of the Thorvaldsson designed papyrus boats, named them the Ra and the Ra 11 and opened a successful eco-tourism business. Thor later became world famous after being chartered by five well healed Americans to sail across the Pacific in a balsa raft named the Kon-Tiki. Design of the Kon-Tiki was taken directly from drawings found in documents left behind by the Thorvaldsson family.

Photo:  The Kon-Tiki sets sail across the Pacific.

Thor and his passengers completed their epic 8,000 km journey from South America to Tuamotu Islands (a part of French Polynesia) in 101 days. While their craft was eventually lost after being dashed on a reef, Thor firmly established that travel between continents could have been accomplished at a much earlier date than first believed. On his visits to Canada, Thor was periodically hosted by a locally famous Norwegian-Canadian archeologist, Bjorn H.G.G. (Hoot ta Goot ta Gorten) Simonsen.

In an unpublished history of the Thorvaldsson family, Simonsen states there is archeological evidence linking Leif’s brothers Thorvald and Thorsteinn and his sister, Feydis, to a number of east coast communities where they opened shops under the name of Oootwalmartian. Evidence in various shell middens, suggest the shops were likely forerunners to today’s retail giant. Whether this proves to be true or not, it is certainly an intriguing hypothesis.

Family Links

Erik and EmmaAlso, Erik the Red and his children have direct genetic links to our very own flaming red haired nephew, “Erik the Twenty Second”, the first son of Debbie and John Tarbush. Erik, better known as the brother of that famous Guelphinian rocker, Emma “Crazyhead” Tarbush, exhibits many of the adventurous characteristics of our ancestors.

While Erik continues his scholarly research at Dalhousie University, his sister attends the more prestigious NSCAD University in Halifax. There she is working to complete a post doctoral thesis on the “Transcendental Aspects of the Norwegian Horned Helmet”.

Meanwhile, back in Victoria, our group of fearless explorers was eventually turfed from the Irish Times Pub after getting into a dust up with a group of exiled Finnians. Can you believe it, those religious rebels tried, unsuccessfully I might add, to steal our horned helmets! Next year we shall return in even greater numbers to claim back our lost territory. At that time it will be our intention to rename the Irish Times Pub to something more befitting of our Norwegian-Canadian heritage. No Norwegian worth his salted lutefisk will put up with being pushed around for long.

Harold McNeill
October 9, 2011

Harold’s Stepfather, Wilfred Geoffrey Skarsen (1922 – 2003) hailed from a long line of Norwegian pioneers who helped to settle north-eastern Alberta in the area around Cold Lake in the last century.  Originally from Beitstad, a farming community north of Trondheim, Wilfred’s mom and dad immigrated to Canada in the late 1800s.

A bit more Norwegian history is provided in Cornocopia Traditions,



Victoria, BC, October 9, 2011. A Proclamation being read by Jim Hill gives the
Son’s of Norway, their families and friends, Freedom of the City.
Seated: Betty Hall and Agnes Capjon

Committee Interrogates a Prisoner

Friends of Norway


Names TBA


Erika and Linda Simonsen


 Norwegian Mom and Daughter (Erika and Linda Simonsen)

Friends of Norway

Fredag kveld jeg utbrakte en skål til ære for kvinnelandslaget i fotball og deres store seier over Sverige i EM i forrige uke.  (Not sure but I think they are celebrating the defeat of Sweden sometime back in the sixteenth century (the only time Norway beat Sweden at something)

A Clash of Cultures


 Names TBA


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  • Harold McNeill

    February 28, 2022 |

    Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email: Harold@mcneillifestories.com)

  • Robert Martineau

    February 25, 2022 |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

  • Julue

    January 28, 2022 |

    Good morning Harold!
    Gosh darn it, you are such a good writer. I hope you have been writing a book about your life. It could be turned into a movie.
    Thanks for this edition to your blog.
    I pray that Canadians will keep their cool this weekend and next week in Ottawa. How do you see our PM handling it? He has to do something and quick!
    Xo Julie

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.