LEIF, COLUMBUS, FROBISHER, PILGRIMS. 2015/10/11
Monday October 12th is Canadas’ Thanksgiving Day which as evident is different than our cousins to the south. It is also Columbus Day in the U.S. in celebration of Columbus landing in the Americas on 12 Oct. 1492. This is about who discovered America and who held the first Thanksgiving in North America.
Growing up in the 40s and 50s we were taught in school how Columbus discovered America and the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock had the first Thanksgiving. The Vikings were mentioned in passing that they might have been to America before Columbus and no mention was ever made to the British explorer Frobisher holding the first Thanksgiving in what is now present day Nunavut. For those who don’t know Nunavut is the most northern and eastern part of what was once called the Northwest Territories. Nunavut was officially separated on 1 April 1999. It is the largest territory in North America and it was on Baffin Island in July of 1578 that the British explorer Martin Frobisher held the first day of Thanksgiving in North America. Frobisher did not give thanks for a bountiful harvest but for surviving a rather harrowing journey across the North Atlantic. So it seems that 43 years before the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock held their first Thanksgiving the first had already been celebrate in Canadas’ Arctic just south of the Arctic Circle.
Sometime in the late 10th century a Norse ship travelling in convoy from Scandinavia to Greenland was blown off course and after three days sail bumped into the North American Continent possible somewhere along the Labrador Coast. After finding their way back to the colony in Greenland they reported what they had seen. By the year 1000 Leif Erickson son of Erik the Red set out on a trading and exploring mission along the northeast coast of North America. By the year 1009 a colony was established on the northern most tip of Newfoundland but did not last long and was abandoned possibly because of hostile natives. So 492 years before Columbus bumped into one of the outer Bahamian islands which he named San Salvador the Vikings had been to Continental North America and left. Somehow over the centuries the story was told how Christopher Columbus discovered America and the foray of the Vikings almost 500 years earlier was pushed into the back ground. I remember back in the 90s (I think) there was a clip on the American TV News about a protest against Columbus Day by Native Americans. One carried a placard saying something to the effect “Columbus 1492. There goes the neighbourhood” I found it rather profound.
The inevitable happened first in the 11th Century between the medieval Iron weaponed Vikings trying to colonize what is now Newfoundland and in the 15th century when Renaissance period Spaniards armed with Cannons landed on the Caribbean Islands. A clash of cultures. In the case of the Vikings the Native population drove the Vikings out but in the Caribbean the inhabitants succumb to the Spanish onslaught and within 100 years the great civilizations of Mexico, Central America, and South America were gone. In what is now the U.S. and Canada the process took a bit longer but the results were the same. Between war and disease the Native North Americans were decimated some like the Beothuk of Newfoundland ceased to exist.
So we celebrate our holidays and give thanks for our wellbeing and never stop to think of what it cost others for our prosperity.