As you read this, a little-known piece of Nova Scotian history is being replayed along the coastlines of Europe. Or is it? Well, it depends on who you ask.
What we do know is that an Italian sailor, Laura Zolo, has set out to retrace the 1398 voyage of Prince Henry Sinclair, a Scotsman some believe landed in Nova Scotia nearly a century before Columbus made his New World discovery.
It's an intriguing and convoluted story that links a story first told by 14th-century Italian mapmakers, the mysterious Knights Templars, and smoking asphalt in Stellarton.
Despite disdain from the academic and scientific communities, Prince Henry has been amassing a growing legion of believers during the past half-century.
The story revolves around Henry Sinclair, who was born at Roslin Castle near Edinburgh in 1345. Actually the Earl of Orkney rather than a prince, he was also a grand master of the Knights Templar - a secretive society that ran afoul of the Vatican - and, according to some sources, possessor of the Holy Grail.
In the closing years of the 14th century, Henry supposedly contracted Italian explorers and mapmakers Nicolo and Antonio Zeno to lead an exploratory fleet of 12 ships to the New World. Funded by the Knights Templar, who were seeking a safe haven in which to practice their beliefs and hide their wealth, the fleet - led by Prince Henry and Admiral Antonio Zeno - left the Orkneys in 1398. They wintered in Nova Scotia and later explored the eastern seaboard of the United States.
As evidence, supporters cite the Zeno map, used for several centuries by mariners; the Zeno Narrative, which includes references to a spring of pitch, linked to a naturally occurring asphalt field in Stellarton; a cannon found in the waters of Louisbourg Harbour; a carving of a knight in Westford, Mass.; carvings of aloe and corn - unknown in Europe at the time - at Rosslyn Castle; and similarities between the Mi'kmaqs' legendary man-god Glooscap and Prince Henry.
More than a few books have been written in support, including Frederick J. Pohl's The Sinclair Expedition to Nova Scotia in 1398, published in 1950, and The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail in 1982. The Nova Scotia legislature even passed a resolution - on June 2, 1998 - congratulating the Sinclair societies on the 600th anniversary of Prince Henry's arrival, although the politicians were careful to refer to it as "legend."
The House agreed to wish supporters "every success in their quest to authenticate the arrival of Prince Henry in North America."
Laura Zolo is a believer. A month ago, she left Venice in her 37-foot steel sloop, 7 Roses, following what she believes was the course charted by her countryman, Antonio Zeno. After visiting numerous Mediterranean ports, she'll begin the North Atlantic portion of her trip in May, sailing from Orkney to Iceland and Greenland, and arriving in Guysborough Harbour in August.
The journey is estimated to cost $38,000. The city of Venice, the Italian Naval College and the Prince Henry Sinclair Society of North America have all lent their support to the project.
Society president D'Elayne Coleman and her husband, Richard, stumbled across the Prince Henry story after moving to Manchester, Guysborough Co. - where they have family ties - in the mid-1980s.
They incorporated the organization, which has more than 300 Canadian members, in 1993. At a 1998 symposium in Orkney "three out of five (experts) agreed - from all the evidence - that the voyage did occur," says D'Elayne, on the phone from Phoenix, Ariz., where the couple spends part of the year.
"He (Antonio) characterized Guysborough Harbour with such precision that there was no question he had been here," says her husband.
The Colemans' Nova Scotia home looks out over a monument erected in Prince Henry's name at Chedabucto Bay, which has drawn dozens of visitors from across North America. They're lobbying government to establish a Prince Henry Sinclair Historic Village on the 120-acre site.
They're hoping Zolo's trek will raise awareness about the Prince Henry story and his connection to Nova Scotia, says D'Elayne.
`Run with it'
"I would love to have officials, not just from Halifax, but from Ottawa here to welcome her," adds Richard, "because our history in Canada is so important. We've got to take this history and run with it."