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Saturday, October 29, 2011
Vikings, Treasure and the Lake of Bays
Get a cup of coffee, and pull up a chair. Here’s a great tale, a rambling saga full of dastardly deeds, swashing, buckling, loyalty, treachery, sword fights, madness and Viking treasure.
I found it tucked away in a box of old papers, a newspaper clipping from the Muskoka Advance, printed in 1977. That worthy publication had copied it from a previous publication, noting that it has appeared 60 years earlier. It was drawn to their attention by local historian Tom Hungerford, (the grandfather of Vicki and Tec, who currently operate Lumina Resort) who found this “remarkable article appearing in a well known archaeological magazine.”
The publications are old, but the tale is older. I have no idea if it is true. The Vikings were noted for their exploration as well as for their recording of old sagas. It’s possible... parts of it are pretty sketchy... but I present it with the warning that if the Viking treasure is truly here, somewhere on the shores of Lake of Bays, it is buried deep indeed.
All the same, it’s a great tale, worthy of the Pirates of the Caribbean! Got your coffee? Comfy? Let’s go...
‘In the early 11th century, Ronald Amundsen sailed from Ulvik in Norway on an exploring expedition to that part of the North-eastern coast of Labrador which was known to them as Vinland. It is recorded that he had, besides his own long ship, two others of 80 oars, each command by his Lieutenants Rolf Ericson and Valdemar Holmagang. The latter was a swarthy individual of fiery temperament and moody disposition but a renowned fighter amongst a race of fighters.
After sundry adventures which have no bearing upon this part of the story they arrived upon the coast of Labrador where they traded all winter with fair profits to themselves. The entire crew being in good health and desirous of seeking further adventures, Ronald decided to explore the St. Lawrence River and to push on westward to Cathay (China), which was e4ven then known to the Europeans through the trading caravans which took rich cargoes of silks and other Asiatic commodities to Europe.
The expedition was set for the spring of the year after the breaking of the ice, but before it could be taken in hand certain other Viking ships arrived in Norway bearing tidings of internal troubles in that country which made it imperative for Ronald Amundsen to return.
Placing the care of the expedition in the hands of Rolf Ericson and giving him Valdemar Holmgang as a second in command (though with many misgivings which were later justified) her directed him to seek the empire of Cathay and to give to its empower the many and beautiful gifts which he was sending.
The expedition progressed without hindrance until it came to the Niagara Falls which was at that time unknown to them. Here the first trouble arose. It was at once apparent that the long ships could not be taken around the Falls. Ericson, being of an adventurous spirit and determined to carry out the order his Chief, decided to build small boats above the Falls and to continue the voyage westwards. This step was bitterly opposed by Holmgang and a certain part of the crew.
These malcontents wished to return at once. They were, however, outnumbered by the better element and were forced to sullen compliance. The ships, five in all, were built. Ericson had to weaken his loyal force by detaching part of them to act as guard to the ships below the Falls. He knew full well that if he left the dissatisfied members in charge they would once desert and leave him without means of return.
Lake Erie was crossed without adventure, but on reaching the narrows at a point which is known to us as Sault Ste. Marie, Indians were encountered who attacked the ships. In the original narrative many heroic deeds are recorded and the Indians being quite unfamiliar with armour were driven off; being quite afraid to again attack men whose “skin” neither arrow, spear or knife could penetrate.
Dissatisfaction amongst part of the crew continued and was fomented on all occasions by Valdemar Holmgang who was showing signs of mental derangement. Ericson, to protect his loyal men form their own comrades, was forced to place them in two of the ships while the disloyal element were contained in the other three.
Shortly after leaving the Sault St. Marie one of the ships with the mutinous element on board disappeared. It is supposed that they attempted to return to Niagara Falls although no record of their arrival is noted. We may suppose that if they did arrive that they were slain by their comrades who were watching the long ships.
It was no early in the fall and the autumn gales were beginning to blow on Lake Huron. Insubordination was rife among Holmgang’s followers and one night two ships drew off and after defying Ericson, informed him that they were returning at once. A large part of treasure was on board the ships with the mutineers.
Ericson and his followers continued their voyage westward and pass out of this story. It may, however, be said that they probably reached the Pacific Coast as there has recently been discovered a giant boulder covered with Runic inscriptions detailing the story of their expedition.
There is no doubt that Holmgang was no violently insane. He conceived the idea of taking a short cut back to the Labrador coast by sailing in a north-eastern direction. Maybe the idea of evading the guard at Niagara Falls had something to do with this. In any event, he reached Georgian Bay and by some chance or mischance he entered the mouth of the Muskoka River and continuing up he eventually reached what are now known as Fairy Lake and Peninsula Lake. He crossed the portage and entered the Lake of Bays. It must not be thought that they came through these voyages scatheless: in Georgian Bay one of the boats was wrecked and the survivors were heartlessly abandoned on those desolate shores.
The remnant of ten men and the treasure to which they had clung were all that reached the Lake of Bays. Here on this little known northern lake there took place a series of as coldly calculated crimes; planned by the cunning brain of a madman; as are scarcely equalled outside the annals of the pirates and buccaneers who roamed the South Seas many generations later.
That Holmgang was criminally insane at the time there is no doubt and that he conceived the idea of destroying his followers and keeping the treasure for himself is also equally certain. Why his men did not destroy him is hard to understand, but probably that superstition in regards to the insane, which seems to be ingrained in primitive peoples the world over, was strong in them.
His following of nine was soon to be reduced again. Two of his who had fallen sick he deliberately abandoned, knowing that they would fall into the hands of the Indians as indeed they quickly did.
Their screams of agony as they were tortured that night were plainly heard by their comrades who were camped upon a hill to wind-ward.
After this his men arose against him, but with the fury of the insane he slew four of them and the remaining three threw down their arms and continued to follow him.
The chest in which the treasure was contained had become increasingly burdensome to carry, and now with the party reduced to three men and Holmgang himself, it was found to be impossible to transport it further, and so plans made to bury it.
But Holmgang decided that dead men tell no tales, and therefore that no one should remain alive to relate where the treasure was hidden, he planned to murder the remaining three.
In his insane ravings he must have made known his intention to his followers and this knave instead of warning his companions, planned to destroy Holmgang but only after Holmgang had killed the others.
As described in the original document the place of the crime could scarcely have been more fitting. Presently the low hanging branches are pushed aside and four figures carrying with them the treasure chest glide into sight. A hole is hastily dug, with their swords, and though it soon large enough to contain the chest, Holmgang always urged his men to make it longer and deeper, nor with the exception of one man did they suspect that they were digging their own grave.
Holmgang sprang from the hole, and with the first blow of his sword killed one of the diggers. So powerful was the blow that the man’s head was clave in twain and the blade became fastened in the steel gorget which he wore around his neck.
This gave the remaining two time to scramble from the hole. The survivor as related by himself stole behind a tree to await the outcome of the fight. His companion and Holmgang sprang at each other cutting and thrusting with their swords.
Wounds were given and received and blood flowed until the ground was slippery under foot. But in the madman’s strength prevailed and with a final thrust through the throat he destroyed his opponent.
As he stood there watching the dying struggles of his victim, there crept upon from behind a nearby tree the figure of the remaining man.
Closer and closer to his chief, who, spent with battle and wounds heard nothing, came this inhuman wretch and with one deadly stroke of his knife, ended the life of the lunatic Valdemar Holmgang.
How he dragged the bodies to the hole and buried them with the treasure chest; how he feigned insanity to the Indians who fed and clothed him, how he worked his way south to Lake Ontario and then down the St. Lawrence until at last he came in contact with his own people is all narrated at length.
To them he told the story of hardships and fighting to account for the disappearance of his companio9ns, but of the treasure he said not a word, nor did the true story appear before he made his confession shortly before his death.’
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We are very proud of Napster, our tail-painting cat, who uses his lovely artwork to raise money for charities. This lovely little creature passed away July 2015, but left a huge legacy, having raised over $12,000 for various charities through the sale of his artwork. That artwork, through prints and notecards, is still available. Click here to visit Napster's Blog and visit the gallery of his tail-paintings.
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