Leif Erikson is probably the most iconic Viking of all. Leif Erikson Day is celebrated on October 9 of each year, and Sons of Norway is all for extending his memory for the entire month!
In that spirit, here is an overview of Leif Erikson’s background and adventures, excerpted from the October 2015 issue of Viking.
Leif Erikson was the first European to reach North America – nearly five centuries before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492. He was born circa 970 A.D. in Iceland, and is believed to have died circa 1020 A.D.
Leif moved from his birthplace of Iceland to the new Norse settlement of Greenland, founded by his father, Erik the Red. After that, reports vary. Leif’s life story is recorded in several sagas, all of which differ greatly, but most believe one of two popular tales.
In the first, Leif is thought to have traveled around the year 1000 to Norway, where King Olaf I Tryggvason converted him to Christianity. The king gave Leif the mission to introduce the religion to the people of Greenland, which he set out to do. But on his return voyage, he sailed off course and discovered a new land that he named Vinland (“wineland”), which some historians believe to be what is now Newfoundland.
In the second saga, Leif and his Viking crew set sail with the hopes of finding land that an Icelandic trader, Bjarni Herjulfsson, had spotted 14 years earlier when his ship blew off course while en route to Greenland. No matter which story is actually true, the rest seems to be undisputed. After wintering in Vinland, Leif returned to Greenland. He didn’t colonize the land he discovered, and he never returned to North America again.
Still, the fascination with Viking Leif Erikson lives on, even with the younger generation, as evidenced in this photo of Annika Saur, daughter of Sons of Norway members Andrew and Angel Saur. The photo was taken at Leif Erikson Park in Duluth, Minn.