Birgitta Wallace

Date award received: 
Birgitta Wallace accepting the award

The single best thing the president of the Canadian Archaeological Association is allowed to do is present the Smith-Wintemberg Award which honours members of our community who have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the discipline of archaeology and to the knowledge of the Canadian archaeological past.  This award is our highest honour and as such is presented only when merited rather than annually.  Eligible candidates need to have 1) significantly advanced the training and practice of archaeology; 2) made exceptional contributions, and /or 3) advanced method and theory in a significant way. 

The nomination process is rigorous.  It involves an examination of the candidate's CV, and multiple letters of support from peers and colleagues.  I was particularly delighted to receive the 2015  nomination for Birgitta Wallace - not only because she is a dear friend, but because as a female CAA president and I am able to present the Smith-Wintemberg award to a female archaeologist for the very first time. 

Birgitta Wallace joins an outstanding list of recipients who have advanced our discipline in extraordinary ways.  Birgitta’s name is synonymous with Norse archaeology and Viking-age evidence in the west.  Her CV contains an outstanding 95 published submissions, including top-ranked national and international journal articles and book chapters, as well as the beautiful illustrated volume, Westward Vikings: The L’Anse aux Meadows Saga.  Her research has expanded far beyond the academic milieu.  As the world’s expert in a field fraught with controversy, mythology, misunderstanding and enormous international interest, she has included in her writing a wealth of public outreach in attempt to educate the interested in the realities of Norse North America.  While always relying on the facts, she has responded to our questions or misinterpretations with grace, never making us feel foolish.  Throughout her career, first as a curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, then at Parks Canada she has also curated an extensive number of public exhibits – something she has continued to engage with, alongside her writing, into retirement.     

The nomination letters, which were many, unanimously commented on her collegiality and willingness to repeatedly offer advice and opinions on purported Norse finds in the Americas and by continuing to debunk the many myths of Norse presence far into Canada and the USA.  In this role she has acted as a liaison for countless documentaries.

Although most of us recognize the work that Birgitta has undertaken in Norse archaeology, especially at L’Anse aux Meadows, her research was much broader.  She undertook significant work with Parks Canada at the Fort Anne National Historic site in Nova Scotia, at Nicholas Deny’s 17th- century trading post in Cape Breton and throughout the shell middens of Prince Edward Island.  It was on Prince Edward Island nearly 30 years ago that I first met Birgitta, and like many other young archaeologists found in her a mentor, a role model and a life-long friend.

It is my pleasure to present the Smith-Wintemberg award to the incomparable Birgitta Wallace