Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Beardmore Relics: Hoax or History? the Beginning

The Nipigon Historical Museum thanks the Royal Ontario Museum for the reproductions of the Beardmore Relics. We trust and hope they will enrich our folk lore and cultural awareness.

Permission to reprint A.D. Tushingham's "The Beardmore Relics: Hoax or History" (ROM 1966) has been given courtesy of The Royal Ontario Museum, Rights and Reproductions Coordinator, August 31, 2011. We are going to make numerous posts to tell the story.

What are the Beardmore relics?

The Beardmore relics are either a fraud - or a clue to one of the greatest adventures in Canadian history. Taken at face value, they tell a story 500 years older than Columbus, of a band of Viking rovers who sailed through Hudson's Strait and Hudson's Bay, on into northern Ontario and almost to the Lakehead.(now Thunder Bay)  If the relics could be believed, they would provide the first concrete evidence that the Norsemen, who certainly founded settlements on the Atlantic Coast, had penetrated into the interior of North America. But their discovery has been so clouded by conflicting evidence and disagreement that it is difficult today to consider them more than a hoax. Sifting the evidence is like following a detective story.

The Beardmore relics consist of three major objects, plus several small fragments.  All are iron. The first object is obviously  a sword. New, it may have been slightly more than a yard long, from point to hilt end; over the centuries, however, the blade has corroded at the tip and been broken in the centre. Two large portions are left, each about 15 inches long - one the hilt and upper blade, the other the lower blade - and three small fragments which may well have come from the missing central portion.  Metallurgical analysis indicates that in its forging the blade was subjected to quenching and tempering. From the style and metal the sword appears to be Norse, 900 to 1,000  years old. 

The second object is an axehead, typical of those used in Norway during the 10th century or slightly later. Metallurgical analysis indicates that it was made of wrought iron without subsequent treatment. The absence of a hard steel cutting edge is strange, but as it was probably welded to the wrought iron body of the axehead it may have corroded or broken away completely, leaving no trace.

The third object is far more difficult to identify. It is a flat iron bar, about seven and a quarter inches long, a little more than one inch at its greatest width, and about one-eighth of an inch thick. Round the edge of one face runs a flange. The other face is slightly rounded.  The bar terminates at both ends in hooks which give an overall length of nine and a quarter inches. One hook curves towards the flanged side; probably it once extended beyond present length, for these is a small fragment which looks as if it had been broken off recently. The other hook lies at right angles to the first, and at its outer end has an eyelet formed by bending the metal back on itself.  Metallurgical evidence suggests that the metal was bent in this pattern in ancient times - that the hooks are not the result of some modern distortion. The material is wrought iron, with no trace of hardening.

The object was first thought to be the handle of a shield. The Norse shield was round and made of wood, perhaps overlaid with leather. At its centre a bowl-shaped metal boss protruded outwards, protecting the warrior's fist as he grasped the handle on the inside. The whole was held together by iron rivets. Over the centuries the wood of most shields has rotted away, but the iron parts may endure. The man who found the Beardmore relics reported that over the bar-like object he had found "a dome of rust, slightly flat, about size of goose egg". in other words, what might well have been the remains of a boss.

An alternative theory is that the bar was part of a rangel or rattle - an object frequently found in Viking graves along with weapons. These rattles were something like overgrown safety pins, formed from an iron strip. On them were strung a number of iron rings or other small objects, which rattled together and (according the magic theories of the day) kept away evil spirits. Rangels were attached to sleigh harness in much the same way as sleighbells were used in Canada.

It is hard to believe that our mystery-object was one of these. The massiveness of the bar, and particularly the flange around the edge, suggest that it was a handle of some kind. The flange in that case would have held a piece of wood (the grip) which would be bound to the bar with cord or leather strips. If these were no hooks, and the ends were straight, it could have easily been fitted to a shield with thongs or. perhaps, rivets. If the hooks were set in line it might have formed the handle of a bucket or similar object, although one would have expected such a handle to be curved. But the peculiar configuration of the hooks as they now appear, at right angles one to the other, leave the object's use a puzzle.

The Beardmore Relics Hoax or History Part 1, WHAT

The Beardmore Relics
Mr. Jack Stokes, MPP,Lake Nipigon,  "Buzz" Lein,
Nipigon Historical Museum,
and Mr. Christopher Toogood, Metals Conservator, Royal Ontario Museum
with replicas mounted on plexi-glass

Presentation of the Replicas November 12, 1981
at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Mr. Jack Stokes, MPP, Lake Nipigon, left
Mr. Heri Hickl-Szabo, right, Curator of the Europa Department of the ROM

with the REAL SWORD

The Relics: Colourful Past Comes Home 
November 1981

Good old Jim Dodd will rest easy now that he's earned a visible space in Nipigon's colourful history.  Dodd was the guy who happened on a few authentic Viking relics in the basement of a Port Arthur home, and subsequently "discovered" them in a site near Beardmore back in the thirties.  Dodd claimed to have found the relics while prospecting and was soon talked into selling them to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto.

The Puzzle

While historians puzzled over the presence of genuine Viking Relics north of Nipigon, and indeed while some historians even rewrote the history of the Norse penetration into Minnesota , testimony from other northerners began to cast doubt on Dodd's story.


When it was finally determined that the relics had been "planted" in the site, Dodd was discredited, the relics disappeared into the maw of the ROM basement storage, and decades of northerners forgot about this embarrassing chapter in our history.

Let's get them

But eight years ago, the Nipigon Museum's "father" decided to have a look at them, and couldn't.  Buzz Lein figured that even if the relics were planted, there was still a good story behind them, and they ought to be on display in this fledgling museum in the north.

He's been trying off and on for these eight years to get them , and so has MPP Jack Stokes.

Last Friday Stokes arrived at the Gazette office with the reproductions of the relics in hand.

"I had a bit of a time convincing the Nordair officials that I could carry the relics on board," he said, "but here they are."

Got them

Nipigon Museum curator Roland Choiselat and Librarian Betty Brill both played a long and important role in getting the reproductions back to Nipigon, and they both greeted Jack Stokes and his parcel.

The reproductions were officially handed over to Jack Stokes and Buzz Lein a couple weeks ago by Heri Hickl-Szabo, curator of the Europa Department of the ROM.

Just like the real McCoy

The reproductions are identical to the real McCoy...two parts of a sword, an axe head, and a Viking symbol called a rangel.  They're cast in lead and coated with copper, and every indentation matches the originals.

The Story

The Nipigon Historical Museum has just received permission to publish A.D. Tushingham's The Beardmore Relics Hoax or History  c. ROM 1966  (Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum) on our Nipigon Historical Museum's Blog  .  It is a long story so we may do it in parts.

Sunday, 28 August 2011


Special Transportation, Michael Friday getting  a lift by a caribou on Nipigon River.
Photo by Everett


Dr. Bryan, Nipigon's First MD

This is the south-west corner of Dr. Bryan's cabin. Dressing table, sink,
 drug and surgical supply shelves made of empty dynamite boxes.

Slim Bouchard and Dr. Bryan leaving Nipigon for the Mission.

Dr. Bryan referred to himself as the Doctor on Snowshoes.
The Museum Archives have some of his writings
describing how he traveled.

From 1905 to 1908
 Dr. Bryan looked after the men of the Northern Trans- Continental Railway construction sites
 from Armstrong to Hearst.
By rail, canoe, dog-sled and snowshoe.


Abitibi boat launched at Orient Bay Lake Nipigon

Launching in Lake Superior October 1971

I have to do some research to find the boat names but enjoy the photos for now.

The Murals of Nipigon painted by Dan Sawatzky

Racing the Train
The old Nipigon CP Railway station built in 1929, existed on mid-Front Street.
 It was demolished in October  1982 despite a valiant effort to save it by a local committee.
Painted by Dan Sawatzky, July 16, 1992

This mural is on Kinson Millworks, Railway Street, Nipigon.

This mural depicts Mr. Zechner
 returning with a full truck from the blueberry patches, 1937.
Three times a week in blueberry season Mr. Zechner would make a run to Duluth winery.
This mural is on the wall beside Zechner's Ltd., Railway Street , Nipigon.

Log Drive
After WWII, the pulp and paper industry boomed &
 the Nipigon River was one of many area rivers
 used to drive logs downstream to the waiting mills.
This Mural is on the Nipigon Legion Hall.

The Mail Carrier

Mail Carrier at Lake Helen before the highway bridge was built in 1937.  Dog team was going to Hydro (Cameron Falls).  Horse teams hauled empty pulpwood trucks from camps to Nipigon across Lake Helen

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Nipigon Dock Area, assorted views

Diagram from the Red Rock House dig.
 Shows where the original old dock pilings are from the time of the Hudson's Bay Company Dock.
A piece of the old dock piling came up in August 24th 2011, dive to clean-up the old tires
 (used as bumpers for the boats)

A fly-over photo. The two buildings in the centre were warehouses from way back.
Sort of in the general area of the current Marina office, 2011.

About 1942 showing the Boat Houses and buildings in the 'Mud Flats' area.
Lake freighters in the Bay, Red Rock mill on far shore.

Brompton Pulp and Paper Company, dealing with a sunken boat.

Nipigon River still flows in its original bed. The Hudson's Bay Co.
 Red Rock Post is in full swing so it is likely 1870"s.

Photo from the air, showing Lagoon.

This map shows the flood hazard areas of the waterfront.


This is 1910 David Haig photo of birch bark canoe construction, Lake Nipigon area.
Armstrong photo of canoes on Lake Nipigon, 1910.
Nipigon Historical Museum Archives.

The Nipigon Historical Museum had a ten foot birch bark canoe
 but it was destroyed in the fire of 1990.

Nipigon Quarries

Article on Nipigon quarries on
Title of post

Nipigon wasn't always just a pretty place

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


This has to be the oldest photo
of Nipigon's main street in our archives.

Far left top of Taylor House. nmp534

The following is 1905 further up the street

This is 1905. International Hotel, Revillon Frere Bros ,
 Hudson's Bay Co. are central.

Before 1929. Far right Nipigon Inn on Front Street.
 Still has the old train station for C.P.R. .

This is the first picture after the completion
of the Trans-Canada Highway Bridge over the Nipigon River September , 1937
The Canadian Pacific Railway Bridge on the far side was completed in 1885.
This view overlooks Gapen's Pool.  The far shore still has dock in place.
 The Canadian Northern Railway runs under the two bridges.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

fishy tails

Mills photographs from the 1930's 1940's and 1950's Northern Ontario fishing trips.
Nipigon museum archive.

Do You Have A Book On The History Of Nipigon?

You don't have to work long at our local Public Library before you hear that question coming at you.  Some year the Librarian's face may light up with a smile and answer, "We sure do!"
 We have come close with the Kelso-Demers' book, "Our Living Heritage,The Glory of the Nipigon" but that book is just the tip of the iceberg, giving little teasing chapters on our vast and magnificent history. It will make you look for more.

However, until that day, the following list of books will give you a sense of our area's history, a feeling for the times, the background setting for our past.

This list had the heading "Buzz's Shelf". That name hails from the early '70's when I was librarian and Buzz could never re-locate the books he read and liked and wanted to recommend to others.

Every summer I would pull these books from their normal shelf spaces, place them all together in a conspicuous location and tape a "Buzz's Shelf" label under them.  This satisfied Buzz but frustrated the smart card-catalogue-user to no end.

DD = Dewey Decimal Number ( may change)

  • Algoma 100  Diocese of Algoma 1973  DD 971
  • Anderson, J.W.  Fur trader's Story  Ryerson 1961 biography
  • Armstrong, W. Early Days on the Great Lakes M&S 1971  DD971.05
  • Arthur, E. Thunder Bay District 1821- 1892  Champlain Society U. of T. 1973 DD971.312
  • Barkhouse, J. George Dawson: the Little Giant Clarke Irwin 1974 DD971
  • Berton, P. The National Dream M&S 1970 DD 385.0971
  • Berton. P. The Last Spike M&S 1971 DD 385.0971
  • Bertrand, J.P. TImber Wolves Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society 1997 DD338.1
  • Blackwood, H.G. My Canadain Journal 1872-1878 Longmans 1969 DD971.05
  • Brennan, Louis Artifacts of Prehistoric America DD732.2
  • Campbell, M.W.  The Nor'westers  Macmillan 1966 DD971.2
  • Campbell, M.W.  McGillivray: Lord of the Northwest  biography
  • Chappell, E. Narratives of a voyage to Hudson's Bay on His Majesty's Ship Rosmond DD917.03
  • Clautier, Jean-P. Fort William - food related artifacts Ft. William Arch. Project 1976 DD971
  • Cumby, John R. Historic Fort William  Mika 1974 DD971
  • Currelly, C.T.  I brought The Ages Home  Ryerson 1956  DD571
  • Dawson, K.C.A.  Algonkians of Lake Nipigon  an archaeological survey Nat. Museums of Canada 1976 DD970
  • Dewdney, Selwyn  Indain Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes DD 970
  • Dictionary of Canadian Biography DD920.07
  • Encyclopedia of the Indains of Canada DD reference
  • Geological Survey of Canada  Early Canada  DD971
  • Grant, George M. Ocean to Ocean  DD971.03
  • Hall, E.  Early Canada Gov. of Canada 1967 DD971
  • Hannon, L.F. Forts of Canada  DD971
  • Jeffreys, C.W.  The Picture Gallery of Canadian History vol. 1,2,3, DD971.002
  • Jenness, Diamond  Indians of Canada U. Of T. 1977 DD971
  • Johnston, J.  Wilderness Women  Peter Martin 1973  DD920
  • Kane, Paul Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America DD970.412
  • Kellogg, L.P. The French Regime in Wisconsin and the Northwest Cooper Square 1925 DD971
  • Landes, Ruth  The Ojibway Woman  Norton 1971 DD 572.970
  • Littlejohn, D.  Superior the Haunted Shore  Macmillan 1975  DD917
  • Long, John  Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader  DD970.1
  • Macdonald, R. Canada II the Owners of Eden Ballentrae 1974 DD970
  • Macdonald, W. Out of the Wilderness Scribner 1926 DD819.2
  • MacGillivary, G. A history of Fort William and Port Arthur Newspapers from 1875 DD971
  • MacKay, Donald  The Lumberjacks McGraw Hill Ryerson 1978 DD634.9
  • McKenney, Thomas L. Sketches of a Tour of the Lakes  Ross Haines 1959
  • Marsh, James  The Fur Trade  Collier MacMillan 1971  DD971
  • Mitchell, D. Lady Lumberjack  Mitchell Press Vancouver 1967 biography
  • Newton-White, E. Gillmor of Algoma  biography
  • Nute, Grace L. The Voyageurs' Highway  Minn. Hist. Soc. 1965 DD971.2
  • O'Meara, W. Daughters of the Country  DD301.42
  • Packard, Pearl  The Reluctant Pioneer Palm 1968  DD971.05
  • Quimby, G. Indian Culture and European Trade Goods U. of Wisc. 1966 DD970
  • Quimby, George  Indian Life in teh Upper Great Lakes  1100BC - AD 1800 DD970.477
  • Rankin, L. The Nonsuch Clark Irwin 1979 DD971
  • Renison, Robert J.  One Day at a Time Kingswood House Toronto 1957 biography
  • Rich, E.E> The Hudson's Bay Company 3 vol. 1670 - 1870 M&S 1960 DD971
  • Ritchie, Cicero T.  Runner of the woods Macmillan 1966 DD971.01
  • Robbins, Maurice The Ameteur Archaeologist's Handbook HarRow 1974 DD913
  • Strickland, Helen  Silver Under the Sea Highway Book Shop 1979 DD971.312
  • Superior: Portrait of a Living Lake Har Row 1974 DD917
  • Syme, Ronald  Bay of the North DD910.09
  • von Kirk, Sylvia  Many Tender Ties  Watson D&D Winnipeg DD 971.2
  • Warren, William History of the Ojibway Nation Ross & Haines 1974  DD970
  • Waters, Thomas F. The Superior North Shore  U. of Minn Press1987 DD333.7
  • Wilson, C. Adventurers from the Bay  DD971
  • Wright, J.C.  Ontario Prehistory DD971.13

Saturday, 20 August 2011

World Record Brook Trout

Assigned the World Record in 1916 by Field and Stream no one has topped it.

Caught By Dr. Cook ,  July 21, 1915
Fourteen and one half pounds. Near the Virgin Falls area of the Nipigon River, Rabbit Rapids.

Split in two and mounted on birch bark, originally, it went through a series of remounts. The museum fire of 1990 destroyed all but a possible small piece of gill. Most of the mount structure remains and is on display in the Nipigon Historical Museum.

Coming up this Labour Day Weekend is the Nipigon Fall Fishing Festival the fishing tournament is mostly based on mystery weights and draws so you don't have to catch the biggest to win. The Museum will be open so do stop by and see our displays.  Also hope to have some fishing photos up on Facebook

Friday, 19 August 2011

How the Viking Relics Came to the Nipigon Historical Museum

L.M.( Buzz ) Lein  1912 - 1995

Buzz Lein's passing was a great loss for the Nipigon Museum in 1995. 

I knew Buzz from his Nipigon Years, so I wrote about my Museum memories of him.

Buzz Lein was a collector.  In 1970 he collected a group of friends together and they met in St. Edward Separate School, in Mr. Choiselat's room.  It was decided that Nipigon needed a Cultural Complex ( a generic title to cover the debate of what to call it). This wasn't just an off the cuff meeting.  We had flow charts, time lines, committees and sub committees designated from finance to research.

Thus came about the creation of the Nipigon Historical Museum Society.  In 1972 the Township of Nipigon created the Nipigon Museum Board to go with the newly acquired building, Domtar's Woodlands Office to become the Museum. Buzz was appointed the first chairman a position he held until his retirement. His pet peeve for those years was never having a petty cash. " I can't even go out and buy a box of stick pins!"

Buzz was a tenacious communicator. If he wasn't talking you into something he was trying to talk you out of something...for the museum, naturally.  If you lived far away he wrote you letters, and more letters and still more letters.  Take the Beardmore Relics for example:  Poor Mr. H.Hickl-Szabo was curator of the European Department of the Royal Ontario Museum. He got his first letter in August of 1974.

The Nipigon Museum wished to borrow the Beardmore Relics to the home folks what they looked like.

By 1977 ...this came:

Dear Sir: While the whole affair of the so-called 'Beardmore Relics" harks back to 1935, I will refer only to my file, which begins in August 1974.  Since then you have been most eager to persuade our Director to lend - perhaps not realizing that even if you involve the Government the final verdict will at least be influenced by my attitude.

It is for that reason that you and I should try now to size up the situation.  Your persistence, I confess, fills me with admiration, because I realize that it is born of your dedication to your museum.  I might even guess that the flourishing of your museum is judged, falsely, by attendance. But I am in no position to pass judgement even though I you a chance to judge my attitude.  My attitude is a negative one, but you must realize that it is based on the principles of my profession, to be spelled out here as the prevention of the perpetuation of a hoax.

While all this deals with the perhaps philosophical lardings of the situation, let us look at the legal angle.  You feel so safe saying, "the Beardmore Relics should be brought home to Nipigon"; but the home of these fragments is Scandinavia, and they were bought from a private owner by the Director of the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology Dr.C.T. Currelly, with money donated after taxes by a private sponsor of the R.O.M. 

Neither your Museum, nor Mr. Stokes, nor anyone else you wish to involve, has any claim to the relics.

Just as I suggest that we should regard each other as colleagues, I now suggest that you should drop the whole matter once and for all, and leave me in peace to deal with controversial subjects which are under my jurisdiction.  With all good wishes for the season...H. Hickl-Szabo



In 1982 the Beardmore Relics REPRODUCTIONS went on display in the Nipigon Museum along with a reprint of A.D. Tushingham's article: The Beardmore Relics: Hoax or History.

The 1990 fire burned their case down to the casters bust the reproductions were picked up intact out of the ashes.

We have had a few days to reminisce and always Buzz's sense of humour is the first topic of conversation. In his writings, Museum Musings, he would sometimes poke fun at someone or someplace.  If he knew you, you were fair game.  If he met him at the Post Office on a Saturday morning, chances were he's drag you to the library, order a couple cups of instant coffee from the staff pot, and then ply you with assorted books that would give you the feel of history of the fur trade and then he would invite you to visit the museum.

To be given a museum tour by Buzz was something special that even strangers recognized.  I remember one lady had been looking through the building for about an hour and then went up to Buzz and said, "Now, I want to see it though your eyes."

Buzz was one of our summer curators even after he moved to Midland.  We set up on e of the upstairs rooms as a bedroom and he found the quiet workroom atmosphere easy to write in.

When he discovered some significant fact in history to do with our area he was determined that it be recognized.  Two road side historic plaques were dedicated to our prehistoric cultures. At last report the plaque at the old Kama Lookout is still there but the other has succumbed to vandalism.

Buzz retired from Nipigon in 1975.  In a way I'm glad he did for now I have nearly twenty years of letters to treasure with my memories.

Memories of crawling around on the floor of his Railway Street home looking at large maps of the Nipigon River.  Or shading in contour maps of the Nipigon area with blue pencil crayon..."Listen kid, if you want to know where the copper culture Indians lived you got to bring the water level up to where it was a couple thousand years ago..."

Memories of a man who saw what was,
 knew what had been
and dreamed of what could be. 
 A starter,
a doer
and a finisher.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Nipigon River 19th Century Photos

These are areas visited by our "Mad Fisherman".

Photographs taken by J.F.Cooke , Nipigon Historical Museum Collection.


Cameron Pool


Along Split Rock Portage

Above Split Rock


Island Portage Rapids

Downriver from Hamilton Pool


Middle and West Channels of Hamilton Rapids


Virgin Falls

Above Virgin Falls

Above Camp Victoria