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Hjortur Elvarsson (The Kalmar Union)

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Hjortur Elvarsson
Timeline: The Kalmar Union

Hjortur Elvarsson (The Kalmar Union)
Portrait of Hjortur Elvarsson

Born: c. May 1250
Breiðafjörður, Greenland
Died: c. April 1294
Isafjordhur, Vinland
Profession: Explorer, Trader

Hjortur Elvarsson was a Greenlandic explorer usually credited for being the first Norseman to reach the Roasjoinn.

In 1282 Vinland confirmed its hold over the eastern Fraeburt Votnum with the Treaty of Mississauga. Even before this a wave of settlement and conquest was occurring over the entire lake system. The Vinlandic who had long used semi-permanent bases to aid their trading were suddenly given wholehearted support in their efforts. Apart from the lucrative fur trade many were searching not only for access to greater fur trapping areas, but also for portage points between the Fraeburt Votnum and the great southern-flowing rivers. It was also was hoped that an overland route to Mexica could be found which would greatly enrich the growing communities of Hafsvaedaland. To this end multiple traders had built on earlier trips and local knowledge, slowly pushing their way westward.

In 1274 Elvarsson was contracted by the Earl of Kyrejya and the Lord of Karontóborg to lead an expedition to Mexica via Lake Gichigamí. Although not all of the saga written about him can be taken at face value to is probably he had at least visited the Baltic and perhaps the great portages of Russia. Gathering a band of 30 or so experienced Vinlanders he set out from Fjallasay as the ice melted in 1275. Traveling along the more or less established portage route to Stothuvatnískog the party rested for a time at the Ojibwe village of Aan'wenha trading food and iron for fur. Using Ojibwe scouts they reached Lethjafyllvatn erecting a cross at their farthest point midway up the lake before returning to the Vinlandic trading posts on Gichigamí.

Elvarsson and his men travelled armed as many of the previous expeditions had simply vanished. However Elvarsson found they were generally well received by the communities they met. It was only in the still volatile Fraeburt Votnum that he and his crew ever had reason to raise their weapons. That and two separate bear attacks in the upper reaches of the Kisiskaciwani that would leave three men dead. The boat they traveled in was, like most Norse boats, shallow drafted and light; they were able to carry it along impassable stretches of river, and on shortcuts between waterways. They also took several horses to help scout out areas further away from the rivers.

After a winter spent fighting off at least three raids by Algonquin tribes Elvarsson returned to Lethjafyllvatn and picking up Cree who knew the terrain forged westward along the Kisiskaciwani River. Following it almost to the source Elvarsson turned back, this time wintering at Lethjafyllvatn where other Vinlandic traders had visited that summer. (The tiny Vinlandic settlement of Aska on the lake's Eastern shore effectively settled the future border of Keewatin Territory and Ojibwe). Elvarsson would spend the next two summers traveling back out to Fjallasay and the Breidurass, trading furs and making sure his backers received their share. While he made preparations and a little money other explorers had followed the rivers from Lethjafyllvatn northward through what would become Keewatin Territory into the Issjo.

In 1280 Elvarsson began a determined push to reach Mexica at the behest of Kyreyja. Recruiting a fresh team of men he made it deep into Cree territory where he met up with his old scouts at the small village of Saskwaton (later to grow into Cree Territory's capital). There they told him of a route through the mountains to the west, which he and his men would spend the next four months attempting to breach. Eventually finding a river capable of settling their boats in they were dismayed to find it flowing northward but followed it nonetheless and once it definitely turned southward his men were considerably less mutinous. The men had luck catching huge sturgeon and by presenting the largest one to a group of Tsawwassen hunters ensured their safe passage to the sea. Elvarsson and his men reached the river mouth in early 1281 having wintered with the Tsawwassen and explored the bay a little, eventually breaching the Roasjoinn in April though they had no idea of its true size. He would simply say the sea was calm or 'roá' giving it its current name.

On his return to Vinland, some three weeks after the signing of the Treaty of Mississauga, Elvarsson related his journey but had to admit he had not reached Mexica. Even so the news that Leifia had been crossed and that there were trading opportunities on the other side was well received. Elvarsson squandered the good will by claiming the islands of Hreindyreyja and Heklaeyja in Lethjafyllvatn and trying to get royal recognition for his 'Earldom'. This led him to fall out of favour with his powerful backers and he returned to Greenland with little to show for his efforts. He would die on a voyage to Isafjordhur in 1294.


Within a decade Vinlandic and other North-Eastern Leifian traders were regularly making the journey that Elvarsson had pioneered. With increased trading came the threat of raiding and forts were soon built all along the route. The Vinlanders had neither the men nor will-power to fully man all of the forts hence the local tribes were given rights of ownership over the forts and the stretches of river under their command. This helped to start the process of nation building in North-West Leifia. The Ojibwe, Cree, Klallam and Ktunaxa can all effectively date the beginning of their national consolidation to Elvarsson's pioneering journeys.

Traders would eventually find they could reach Mexica via Elvarsson's route but the eastern route would soon become much more established once Portugal found their own route across the Atlantic. Even so, interest in the Western coast of Leifia would slowly build as Ktunaxa and Klallam consolidated themselves via war and settled into stable states.

His son Orn Hjortursson would settle on Heklaeyja in 1301 (dropping the claimed title) with a number of Icelanders. This settlement was soon an important trading fort and Vinland's most westerly outpost. Despite hardships and the near abandonment of the island in 1845 is still inhabited. It was attacked by Mexica forces during the Second Mexic-Leifian War but managed to hold out. When Vinland assumed authority over Keewatin Territory in 1852 the territory of 'Elverssonland' was handed to Keewatin.

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