Well, here we are again up the St. Lawrence River, matching its naturally dramatic shorelines with the characters and events described in the old Norse Vinland Sagas. In this the third blog of my set (of 3), I present my interpretation of the original Norse oral map of the St. Lawrence estuary, from Leif Eiriksson’s first expedition to America circa 1001 AD. My Part 1 and Part 2 blogs interpreted two subsequent maps of the same sailing route, from Thorfinn Karlsefni’s settlement attempt circa 1010 AD.

In this the first oral map of their new country of Vinland, the simplest of Norse storytelling is woven with very memorable and easily memorized time-of-day analogies. A classic Scandinavian “daymark” of 12pm is set as the benchmark that lead sailors “South” up the St. Lawrence River estuary.

The oral map also describes the route’s undulating shorelines with great matching detail. While following the sun across the sky brings sailors safely around the hazards, and on to the end of the map at Ile d’Orleans, Quebec.

“In this country, night and day were of more even length than in either Greenland or Iceland.”

The words “Day” and “Night” marking the map’s open waters, the Saga illustrates here the even width throughout the St. Lawrence River estuary. At the north “Iceland” end, the estuary’s width is its widest. At the south “Greenland” end, the width is its thinnest. On Norse maps (turn our map one-quarter turn to the left), Iceland is placed at the north (top) end of the map, and Greenland is situated ‘south’ of Iceland.

“On the shortest day of the year,”

For Norse sailors with a well developed eye for the shapes of shorelines, the “Shortest Day” (shortest crossing) in Vinland is spotted easily, half way up the estuary. There between the two outcropping pointes of Point-aux-Orignaux (moose pointe) and Cap-aux-Oies (cape goose), is the safest place for a ship to cross.

“the sun was already up by 9am and did not set until after 3pm.”

The Saga then adds direction to the safe crossing, with the sun’s path leading ships across the open water. From the east shore at “9am” to the west shore at “3pm” the map serves to direct sailors safely away from the biggest nautical hazard in the estuary – La Malbaie (the ‘bad’ bay) – where ships can become unpredictably grounded by the bay’s quickly receding tides.

“and did not set until after 3pm.”

With plenty of time left in the day “after 3pm”, these final few words instruct sailors to keep going – until the sun sets. There, where the oral map ends – like Part 1 and Part 2 – at the mouth of the freshwater St. Lawrence River, around Cap Tormente, and across to Ile d’Orleans, Quebec.

– fin –

Stay tuned for my next blog, matching The Vinland Sagas’ description of Leif Eiriksson with the geographical details of the St. Lawrence River between Quebec City and Montreal. Landscapes and landmarks to be cross-referenced with the travel journals of Canada’s first French explorer Jacques Cartier! (1534 & 1535-36)

Donald Wiedman
Toronto, Canada
30, 04, 2017

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