Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
Speech on the Occasion of a Visit to L'Anse-aux-Meadows National Historic Site and Unveiling of the "Meeting of Two Worlds" Sculpture L'Anse-aux-Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador
Friday, July 5, 2002
I'm all prepared, because I'm wearing my seal-skin boots that were made by Inuit in Western Nunavut and they are completely protective against damp weather. I just instinctively put them in my luggage when we were packing for here and I was right – otherwise I'd be in black rubber boots!
It's terrific to be here for this occasion and to unveil the sculpture "Meeting of Two Worlds". It's the second time I've been to this wonderful site. The first time, there wasn't really anything rebuilt here – which shows you how long ago it was. The discoveries of Anne Stine and Helge Ingstad have added enormously to our knowledge of our own history and also to the idea of what life was like for people who came across an ocean to a land inhabited by other people – the Skralings, as they called them. We have a representative and a descendant here of the Skralings.
Just a few weeks ago, we welcomed the King and Queen of Norway to Rideau Hall, as part of their State Visit to Canada. This reminded us again of the reasonably close affinity with the Vikings, of which they are the descendants. And when we went to open the Viking Exhibit at the Museum of Civilization, it made me think of how our imaginations have been captured by who the Vikings were and what they were. If any of you have been to Oslo and seen Bygdøy – the Viking Museum – you will have seen Viking ships preserved almost intact, after being dug of bogs. There you instantly realize something about the Viking people just by the shape of those ships. They're flat-bottomed, wide – and frighteningly efficient looking. I can just imagine if the Skralings were here and they saw these things landing out here, it would be terrifying to watch the approach of these fearsome ships.
Thanks to the sagas, we know something about the life and culture of the Vikings. We know that they weren't princes and kings. We know that they were ordinary people who became very strong. And that they were inveterate voyagers and superb sailors. But why they lived as they did and acquired the reputation that's been handed down the centuries is still a matter of some guesswork. Whatever the scientific explanation, there is no doubt that the Vikings have always captured our imagination.
And to us as Canadians, they are particularly significant, because through the Viking voyages and settlements we have, as symbolized today in this sculpture, the meeting of two worlds – the meeting of the Europeans with the original inhabitants here, the Aboriginal people. This sculpture by Luben Boykov and Richard Brixel should be looked at as part of the interpretation of this history, because it's really about when these two worlds met and what that has subsequently meant for our society. For the Vikings didn't come to an empty land. That's one of the important messages of this sculpture. It was a land already inhabited by Aboriginal people. The Europeans came after, and after them came all sorts of other people. That is the continuity of our history. This is what is important to remember – that others were here before the original European settlers who arrived 400 years ago.
It is very wonderful to be part of this. I think that the weather actually adds to the atmosphere. It shouldn't be 40 degrees, sunny and blue skies. What we have today is probably the kind of weather they all lived in and survived in for most of the time. For that, as well as for their toughness, their determination, their courage, we admire them. It's a wonderful occasion for us to celebrate this sculpture and to think again on the meaning of the historic encounters symbolized by the "Meeting of the Two Worlds".