Newfoundland, Canada’s youngest province, has been inhabited for thousands of years. The Vikings first landed in North America well before Christopher Columbus was even born. When they arrived in, what is now called Newfoundland and Labrador, they met the Beothuk Indians. The site of the oldest Viking settlement in North America is at L’anse Aux Meadows on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland.
The story of the Beothuk is both fascinating and controversial, and it certainly is one of the oldest Mysteries of Canada.
They were tall people with dark eyes and black hair. Their origin is not firmly established, although it is generally believed that they are distant relatives of the Algonquin. They came to Newfoundland, from Labrador, across the 18 kilometer wide Strait of Belle Isle.
Beothuk living sites and burial grounds abound in Newfoundland. It is believed that they inhabited the land for almost 2000 years.
They were first seen from distance. From the time the Indians were first met they developed a well-deserved, fear of the White Man. From the landing of John Cabot in 1497 at Newfoundland, and the first settlement by Europeans in 1610 by John Guy in Cupids, Conception Bay, their land was exploited for its lumber and fish. Some were captured and sent to Europe as slaves, or were put on exhibit as curiosities.
By the 1700’s communities were being built all over Newfoundland. This drove the Beothuk Indiands further away from their native grounds, and away from their natural way of life. Their fear of the white-man kept them out of sight. But did not prevent them from diseases, primarily tuberculosis, brought to the island by the Europeans. Which they had no immunity.
Their isolation and fear of settlers wrote the final chapter of the Beothuk people. In 1823, three sick and starving Beothuk women were found by furriers. Of these, only one survived their immediate illness. Shanawdithit was twenty years old at the time. She lived the remaining six years of her life in St John’s. When she died of tuberculosis in 1829, no more Beothuk Indians were found in Newfoundland.
The Beothuk people were extinct.