Field Notes: Reviving the Lost Art of Viking Warfare, in Eglinton Park
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Field Notes: Reviving the Lost Art of Viking Warfare, in Eglinton Park

So you want to be a Viking? This midtown group has you covered.

Photo from the Torvik website.

Photo from the Torvik website.

Armed with swords, axes, spears, and homemade shields, a ragtag group of Viking warriors overtook midtown Toronto’s Eglinton Park on Sunday afternoon.

Several combatants stand in a row, knees bent and spears held high, ready for action. Helmets gleam in the sun, and the clanging of swords mixes with the cries of children playing nearby.

The battleground is a cement court nestled behind North Toronto Memorial Community Centre (200 Eglinton Ave. W.), but their goal isn’t to pillage, as their forebears may have done—it is to learn and educate.

A number of the Norse revivalists here are members of Torvik, a local non-profit founded in 2002 that brings Viking culture to the masses through public performances and workshops.

“We are a community,” says Lindsay Eyton, secretary at Torvik. “We go and recreate the Viking age based on historical and archaeological information. Everything we do, we try and make it as authentic as possible,” she adds.

Sunday’s gathering was made up of a series of hands-on workshops, and there was also an information session touching on Viking history. Participants learned how to swordfight, spear, and wield an axe.

Torvik member Stef Proctor’s weapon of choice is the axe, and she came from St. Catharines, Ont., to demo it. “You can actually grab onto the other person’s shield,” she explains, describing a crafty battle-axe technique—one of her favourites from her workshop outpost.

John Colter, meanwhile, dishes out pointers on using a centre-grip shield. “The Vikings, when they were fighting, they would use the shield as a weapon as much as anything,” he says, chainmail draped from his helmet. “This would be like the can opener, this would be your fork,” he says, motioning to his shield, then his sword.

Torvik meets at the park twice a month: once to host public workshops like these and again for private battles among society members, who pay around $50 annually. That fee comes with an official-looking card and Tandy Leather discount—which members can take advantage of to fill out their Viking-period wardrobes—and goes towards covering insurance.

The battles, however, are more theatre than sport, though it takes a good deal of physical stamina (“I probably won’t be able to lift my arm tomorrow,” says one of the more than 60 who showed up for the workshops throughout the afternoon.)

“It’s like sparring. You’re practicing. You’re not actually trying to really harm each other,” Eyton explains of the hand-to-hand warfare. “Accidents do happen,” she adds, indicating a scar on her face. “I’ve had my eyebrow bisected by an axe.”

For all that, Eyton says there’s never been a serious injury at a Torvik event (the eyebrow incident didn’t even warrant stitches, she tells Torontoist).

As 4 p.m. approached on Sunday, the day’s final round of workshops began. One girl, an earlier participant, got ready to leave.

With friends, she walked up the winding path towards the community centre—and the year 2016.

Twenty or so others stayed behind for just a while longer.