What started as a way to pass time through the pandemic has left a Manitoba couple with their very own Viking hut and media attention from around the world.
Left bored through COVID-19, Pedro Bedard and his wife Wendy Speary spent the summer building an authentic, early medieval-era Viking hut — complete with a thatch roof and mud walls — in the backyard of their home in St. Francois Xavier.
Bedard says he’s since been shocked to receive calls from reporters from not only here in Canada, but from the United States, the United Kingdom, and even Germany, asking about the structure, and of course, why in the world they decided to build it in the middle of the Canadian prairies.
“I’m surprised my neighbours were interested, never mind somebody in the U.K.,” he laughed in an interview this week with 680 CJOB, adding it turns out local wildlife have been far more curious about the hut than his neighbours.
“The deer, on the other hand are very interested in it … and we do get birds nesting up inside the roof cap sometimes, so I’ve had to take a stick and sort of scare them away.”
As for why they built the hut, Bedard says it’s something the couple has wanted to try for years and that’s not too surprising considering they normally spend much of their summer helping to set up the Viking Village at Gimli’s annual Islandic Festival.
But with COVID-19 forcing the festival to go virtual this past summer, they had both the time and the expertise to give it a shot at home instead.
“This year we just went ‘you know what, to hell with it, let’s give it a try’,” Bedard said.
“Even if it ends up as a bundle of sticks for the firewood, at least we can say we tried.”
With help from a friend who Bedard says is well-versed in early medieval archeology, the ambitious couple found a report detailing how the Vikings built their huts, and they got busy putting together a six-beam, A-frame-style model of their own.
And they didn’t do it the easy way.
They used three different techniques: the top is a thatched roof made with thousands of strands of woven prairie grass, they built the front using wooden planks, and the back wall was created with a true-to-the-era method using a mix of mud, grass, and sand to create a sort of cement.
As well as keeping the materials authentic, the couple also didn’t use any power tools in the construction.
Bedard even built his own hand saw.
“The only modern thing I really used were nails,” he said. “Because the thought of forging that many nails for the front just made me sad.”
Bedard has also been the blacksmith for historical reenactments at the Festival du Voyageur for the past 30 years, so, had the thought of making the nails not saddened him, he could have done it.
Since finishing their hut, the couple has furnished it with historically-accurate items including a stool, shelving, cups, and wooden bowls.
They’ve even added a bed — with a straw mattress, of course — and, yes, Bedard says they’ve spent a night or two in the structure.
As for how it’ll hold up through a Canadian winter, Bedard isn’t sure, but he says he’s going to attempt at least one night in the hut this winter to find out.
“That’s the plan, although I’ll be sleeping in a very thick, army sleeping bag,” he said. “We’ll see what happens when we get a real Manitoba snowstorm.”
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