The Viking ship Roskilde 6 (photo: courtesy MuseumsPartner)

Where to Learn About Vikings in Alberta

By Craig Moy

Most of us know that Canada has a unique connection to one of history’s most notable tribes. Almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus, it was Viking explorer Leif Erikson who first set foot in North America, establishing a Norse encampment at what is now L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.

But you needn’t travel across the country to discover the Viking way of life. From April 18 to October 20, the new Royal Alberta Museum presents more than 650 artifacts that demystify early Norse culture as part of the exhibition, Vikings: Beyond the Legend.

Flourishing between the ninth to 11th centuries, the Vikings came from present-day Denmark, Sweden and Norway, but their oceangoing prowess led them to explore—and in some cases, colonize—much of northern and northeastern Europe, Iceland, the British Isles, and even parts of North Africa. Though they’ve been stereotyped as horn-helmeted marauders, most Vikings were in fact farmers, artisans and merchants whose voyages helped shape the development of modern civilization.

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Among the exhibition’s many highlights are the Roskilde 6—a 37-metre-long ship reproduced with 25% of its original, preserved wooden planks—and a full-scale replica of the 10th-century Jelling Stone, by which King Harald Bluetooth declared Denmark a Christian nation. (Rest assured, museum visitors are also exposed to the pantheon of “old” Norse gods—Thor, Odin, Loki and more.) Numerous other artifacts, from jewellery and coins to clothing to traditional games showcase the Vikings culture on a more human scale.

vikings in alberta artifacts royal alberta museum
From left: Viking coins; a Valkyrie figurine; an intricate key (photos: courtesy National Museum of Denmark)

Once the RAM has given you a taste for Viking life, check out these permanent Alberta locales, which offer further immersion in the history of Scandinavian settlement in the West.

THE DANISH CANADIAN MUSEUM
Alberta benefitted from a significant migration of farmers and tradespeople from Norway, Sweden and Denmark throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Outside Red Deer, the Danish Canadian Museum chronicles Danes’ history in—and contributions to—our country with a number of finely crafted exhibits.

Its signature artifact, however, reaches back even further: The Freydis Joanna Viking ship exemplifies Scandinavians’ mastery of the ocean. Built in Denmark using traditional methods and tools, the replica vessel now resides in a recently built naust (boathouse) on the museum grounds. For an even more immersive experience, visit during Viking Days (Aug. 17 & 18, 2019), a weekend of storytelling, crafts, warrior demos and more.

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STEPHANSSON HOUSE
Restored to its circa-1920s appearance, this property near Markerville was once the home of Stephan G. Stephansson, an Icelandic immigrant who became known as the “poet of the Rocky Mountains” for his prolific literary output. Open from mid-May to September, the historic homestead tells of Stephansson’s life and legacy within the context of Scandinavian settlement in Alberta.

Along with the Danish Canadian Museum, Stephansson House is also part of an informal, multi-stop Scandinavian Trail of cultural attractions. In towns including Dickson, Markerville and Spruce View, southwest of Red Deer, these unique heritage sites are sure to take you back to the province’s pioneer days.

VIKING, ALBERTA
Established in the early 1900s by Scandinavian settlers, the town of Viking honours its heritage at its summertime Vikings in the Streets festival, featuring a Viking village, battle reenactments and all manner of family fun. The town’s quaint “troll park” also nods to Norse folklore: Little stone trolls are hidden throughout the grounds, which is filled with various species of plants that are native to Scandinavia.

HOW TO SAVE
Purchase an Experience Alberta’s History pass at an AMA centre and save. With the pass, you’ll enjoy free, summer-long access to 18 museums and historic sites, including Stephansson House.

BOOK WITH AMA
Visit the Vikings and see many other historical landmarks and contemporary attractions this season by taking a quick trip. AMA Travel experts can get you exclusive deals on hotels and help you discover more savings along the way.