Thunder Bay·Audio

The 'Viking Hoax that Rewrote History': New book examines notorious scandal born in northern Ontario

A new book takes a fresh look at a notorious scandal involving an northwestern Ontario prospector and a renowned museum director that rocked the archeological world.

The Beardmore sword was on display at the ROM for years before story discredited in 1950s

The so-called "Beardmore Sword" was part of a 2017 exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in November focusing on Vikings. While the story about its discovery in Ontario was discredited decades ago, it is understood to be an authentic relic. (Brian Boyle/Royal Ontario Museum)

A new book takes a fresh look at the story of the so-called Beardmore sword, a notorious scandal that began in the 1930s, with a Viking relic that was reported to have been found in northwestern Ontario.

The sword, which influenced ideas about when Vikings had arrived in North America and how far they travelled, was on display at the Royal Ontario Museum for years before the story was discredited in the 1950s.

"It really was one of the great museum scandals of the 20th century," said historian Douglas Hunter, author of Beardmore: The Viking Hoax That Rewrote History. 

Hunter, who will speak about the story at a public presentation in Thunder Bay, Ont. on Tuesday Oct. 23, said he was motivated to delve further into the history of the scandal after discovering a wealth of documentation related to the hoax.

"I realized there was a much bigger story that hadn't been told before," said Hunter. 

It also doesn't play into common narratives about how museum hoaxes occur, he added. 
Beardmore: The Viking Hoax That Rewrote History, is published by McGill Queens University Press. (Diane Hargrave Public Relations)

Complicated characters

"When we think of hoaxes in museums and galleries in the world, we always think of some clever forger or faker who pulls off something smart and fools the experts," Hunter said, adding that those stories usually involve the charlatan being foiled by a clever detective.

"It doesn't work that way at all in the Beardmore case." 

Central to the story is Eddy Dodd, a prospector who purported to have found the sword on one of his northwestern Ontario claims.

He may have been untruthful, but Hunter said he doesn't believe Dodd ever really intended to hoodwink the museum by selling it the relic. 
Historian Douglas Hunter is an award-winning author of numerous books of non-fiction. (Diane Hargrave Public Relations)

The lack of clear villains and victims in the story is part of what makes it so fascinating, he said. 

"Because really the hoax stayed alive, mainly because Charles Currelly, the esteemed director of the Royal Ontario Museum's archeology division desperately wanted this stuff to be authentic and he really suppressed and opposed any efforts to expose what had happened." 

Hunter will give a free presentation at the Thunder Bay Museum on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 8 p.m.