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Legless castaway, vikings and the gold rush

Canadian history mysteries probe gold rush, Viking vineyard, legless sailor
Thu Aug 24, 10:35 PM

By Dirk Meissner

VICTORIA (CP) - The mystery identity of a legless man who washed ashore in Nova Scotia almost 150 years ago in 1863 appears to have been solved in the latest installation of Canadian history puzzles, says a University of Victoria history professor.

The so-called mystery man of Baie Saint Marie arrived in Metaghan, N.S. virtually mute. Villagers took care of him for 50 years, but also put him on show as a circus freak. No one knew how or why he came to be there.

Historian John Lutz said Thursday researchers now think they found the answer about the man villagers called Jerome while researching three new Canadian mysteries for an online education website.

The website is dedicated to making history interesting by getting students to try to answer puzzling, longstanding Canadian questions.

Some questions have answers, some don't.

"This guy washes ashore. No legs, can't speak," Lutz said. "He's taken care of. He lives 50 years in this small village of Metaghan in Acadia."

Was he a pirate who had his legs cut off? Did he survive a shark attack?

Lutz and his fellow researchers now believe Jerome was likely a troubled New Brunswick man who was banished by community members who amputated his legs and put him out to sea with hopes he'd reach New England.

The research team found a reference in a New Brunswick archive about a man who was exhibiting strange behaviour and who couldn't speak.

"So they surgically amputated his legs and sent him to New England. He never got to New England it turns out," Lutz said. "This is likely our Jerome."

Jerome and his troubling history will be available for students from Grade 6 to university to explore on the website next year after the researchers were given a $492,000 grant from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage.

The other new mysteries examine the possible Canadian location of an almost 1,000-year-old Viking settlement and attempt to discover who was the person to first strike gold in the Klondike.

"These are really fun mysteries," Lutz said.

The location of the so-called Viking village of Vinland - believed by many to be in northern Newfoundland - still puzzles historians, he said.

"In fact, the only recorded Viking archeological site in North America is there at L'anse aux Meadow," Lutz said.

George Carmack is largely credited with starting the Klondike gold rush by announcing to a crowded Alaskan bar that he had discovered gold along the Yukon River.

But students will examine evidence that Carmack was prospecting with his aboriginal wife and her family members at the time of the gold rush.

The evidence suggests the family decided that Carmack, a non-aboriginal, should break the news about the gold.

"The premise of our project is we want to hook students and the general public, but especially students, into studying Canadian history," said Lutz.

"They have to be the detectives who put the pieces together to solve the mystery. They're actually doing what historians do."

There are currently six unsolved mysteries on the website at www.Canadianmysteries.ca, a product of the University of Victoria's Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History program.

The research team, which includes Prof. Ruth Sandwell at the University of Toronto and Prof. Peter Gossage at Sherbrooke University, is already considering new Canadian mysteries, Lutz said.

Under consideration for future mysteries are the death of Canadian artist Tom Thomson, one of the founders of the Group of Seven artists, and the death of Herbert Norman, former Canadian Ambassador to Egypt, who committed suicide during the Suez crisis in the mid 1950s.
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