Martin Paquette, a 45-year-old father who lives in Luskville, carries a dual identity as the head of Hird Hafn Hullsborg, a group that performs historical re-enactment & martial arts straight out of the Dark Ages.
Through Hird Hafn Hullsborg, Paquette and the 20 other members have created a window into the world of one of history’s most infamous cultures, the Norse (or Vikings), which were a people based out of modern Scandinavia that raided, traded with and colonized Europe, Africa and North America between 793 and 1066 AD.
Paquette got his start in this world while participating in Live Action Role Playing (LARP) events when he was young and was introduced to Viking historical re-enactment at the Salon de la Passion Médiévale in Montreal in 2011, which he described as like a medieval comic con.
“I was really into Viking history and Norse mythology but still doing just LARPing,” said Paquette. “But then I was looking to live blade, what they call combat with a steel weapon, so, I met these guys in Montreal who had a Viking camp. And they were really inclined toward historicity, more like a living museum. So, I was really interested in what they were doing.”
After that, Paquette, who was living in Gatineau at the time, joined up with the Montreal based group and later founded an affiliate organization in the Outaouais.
Fast forward to recent years, Paquette’s original group split and he founded Hird Hafn Hullsborg, which is a part of an international grouping of Viking recreators and martial artists known as Grimfrost Hird .
The group strives to use period accurate customs, armour and weaponry.
Paquette was drawn to the Viking era for a variety of reasons. Despite originally being drawn to the recreations of the medieval era, with its heavy armour and crossbows, he found the simplicity of the Viking era more attractive.
However, the main draw for Paquette was Viking culture and Norse spiritual traditions.
“The fact that they were fearless warriors, that they were not scared of death and they were actually looking to die in battle, that’s something that really got me deep down in my heart,” said Paquette. “I thought it was really interesting to see that, that they would take life by the horns and do as much as they can in a manner as heroically as possible.
For them, being remembered was a kind of eternal life. If you could achieve enough prestige or renown, people would keep telling your story and you would become immortal in a way. Today we still are telling the story of Ragnar Lothbrok or the Battle of Stamford Bridge.”
Paquette’s official title in his organization is the Jarl of Markland, which pays homage to Norse history. Jarl was the Viking title for chief, while Markland is the name of one of the three regions that Vikings discovered in North America during their voyages across the Atlantic Ocean around the year 1000 AD, over 400 years before other Europeans rediscovered the territories and permanently began colonizing them.
While the precise location of the historical Markland is disputed, within Grimfrost Hird the territory emcompasses eastern Canada.
“The fact that they came all the way to Canada like 400 years before Christopher Columbus just impressed me so much,” said Paquette. “It’s almost unbelievable for us to do such a thing without any safety devices or backup in case something goes wrong.”
Paquette said that group is open to anybody, but that he can trace his ancestry back to Normandy in northern France, which was a region granted to a group of Viking settlers in 911 AD by the French King Charles the Simple in order to protect his kingdom from other Vikings.
“The only thing I know is that it speaks to me in my heart and that’s enough in our organization. You don’t need to be Scandinavian or anything to be interested or take part in our activities,” said Paquette about Hird Hafn Hullsborg, which stresses that it is open to everyone.
The group puts on a variety of events for both the public and its members.
The public events include festivals and mock battles.
“In the Viking re-enactment world, the biggest competition is the bridge fight,” said Paquette, describing the hybrid historical re-enactment/competitive sports that the group puts on. “Two teams of five line up on either end of a mock or a real bridge with certain dimensions. And then they meet in the middle of the bridge and fight there. You win by either ‘killing’ all the other team members or if somebody manages to pass through the line and hit a shield on the other side of the bridge that represents the king.”
The group puts a lot of value on providing an as immersive experience as possible.
“We have private events where we only meet up as a group and re-enact for and try to immerse ourselves as much as possible. Like how it was to live in that time,” said Paquette. “Just the fact of spending a few days without phone, electricity, a fridge or any modern convenience, even showering, when I come back from a weekend I’m so glad that I have hot water.”
While the group is registered in Gatineau, Paquette has resided in Luskville for five years and hopes to get more involved in the local community.
“We went to a farm in Pontiac called la ferme Mouflon, where they have Icelandic sheep,” said Paquette. “It’s like the sheep that the Vikings would have had in Iceland, we talked with her because we were interested in wool to make our clothing.”
Paquette stressed that the group isn’t just about the fighting aspect of Viking culture but also focuses on craftsmanship and artisanal skills. The group members do woodworking, sewing, leatherwork and food preparation, all done with as much deference to historical accuracy as possible. The group is even working on building a traditional forge for the group’s blacksmith.
“It takes people that are dedicated to specific skills,” said Paquette. “Because these old skills are long trades to learn. We’re really proud to do preserve the knowledge from those skills that we don’t use much anymore.”
As for future plans, Paquette hopes to get involved in reviving some of the medieval festivals that happened in the Outaouais and Ottawa areas that were shuttered due to covid. He’s also looking to expand the group’s membership.
“We want to get a bigger group so we have more fighters and we can do better shows,” said Paquette. “Right now, we are recruiting people, so anybody that wants to come and try it, they can contact me in the first four practices to get to know and then the way it works, people come see if they like it, for practice to try fighting with the Viking techniques.”
“Our main priority is safety because you need to be in control to fight to steal weapons,” said Paquette. “We don’t want to get injured or stuff like that. It happens but we try to be as safe as possible.”
He said if new participants get along with the group and are safe, they can join.
Paquette also stressed that his group is trying to create a family friendly environment where people can bring their kids to enjoy their activities.
“I have three kids, so if I wouldn’t be able to bring my child that would be a big impediment for me.”
The group is holding training sessions in Gatineau every Wednesday so if you are interested in trying it out you can contact Paquette via email at Hullsborg@gmail.com or through his Facebook page.
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