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PLACES MENU GASPÉ PENINSULA EASTERN TOWNSHIPS ABITIBI-TEMISCAMING NUNAVIK QUEBEC CITY REGION (CAP-TOURMENTE AREA) NORTH SHORE LOWER ST.LAWRENCE MONTÉRÉGIE OTTAWA VALLEY INTRODUCTION SAGUENAY-LAKE-SAINT-JEAN
Places

North Shore

SEA WAVES

«Under a starry winter sky, hunters sleep, lulled by the sound of spouting whales just off the headland and dreaming of what they will catch during their stay here.

They hope that the great river will be in a mood to help them reach the drifting ice floes where the seals give birth to their pups in the late winter months.»

HUMAN OCCUPATION

The mouth of the Saguenay River marks a gateway to the North American continent. The region saw one of the first posts in New France and today is recognized as an exceptional place for observing and studying marine mammals. In this area of the St. Lawrence, salt and sweet water mingle, and there are strong upswellings full of nourishing organisms that attract several species of whales and dolphins.

 

LANDSCAPE
 

Archaeological research conducted on certain sites (Ouellet, Pointe-à-Crapaud and Cap-de-Bon-Désir) indicate that the groups that made seasonal camps there engaged almost exclusively in seal hunting. Elsewhere, on more recent sites, there is evidence that Iroquoian groups from the Quebec City area visited the North Shore.

ANIMAL RESOURCES

Archaeological remains show that these groups hunted three species of seals: harp seals, which frequent the St. Lawrence Estuary in winter and early spring, and gray seals and harbor seals, both of which are found there the rest of the year. This means that the hunters were active both in winter and summer.

 

BACK FROM SEAL HUNTING
BACK FROM SEAL HUNTING

On other sites (Lavoie and La Falaise), the remains of beaver and several bird species, as well as seal, indicate that hunting was more diversified at these spots. The archaeological evidence uncovered is characteristic of nomadic groups who have adapted to living in the north. These sites were occupied by Algonquian-speakers who were probably the ancestors of the Montagnais now living in communities along the North Shore.

8 000 YEARS OF SEAL HUNTING

The earliest evidence of seal hunting has been found on a site at Cap-de-Bon-Désir, which stands 36 m above sea level. This plateau-like headland emerged from the Goldthwait Sea between 8 500 and 9 000 years ago. Even at that time, the mouth of the Saguenay was free of ice in winter and, just as it does today, offered particularly good conditions for marine animals.

 

SEMI-CIRCULAR KNIFE (DETAIL)
SEMI-CIRCULAR KNIFE (DETAIL)

Excavations at this site have revealed part of an encampment with tiny pits, the bones of a single seal and stone tools. A sample of wood charcoal from one of the pits was radiocarbon-dated and the mean age obtained was 8113 years.

At about the same time, groups of another people (the Plano) came from the Great Lakes area and, travelling along the St. Lawrence Valley, reached the Lower St. Lawrence and the Gaspé Peninsula.

EVIDENCE OF SEASONAL HUNTING

Harp seals frequent the St. Lawrence Estuary in winter, when their breeding period occurs. Since the pups are born on ice floes and the adults are less mobile out of water, this is a time when harp seals become relatively easy prey. Early hunters would have used harpoons or clubs to kill them.

 

SEAL BONES
SEAL BONES

The presence of harp seal bones on an archaeological site is thus a fairly reliable indicator of the season in which the site occupied. Bone analyses reveal that seal carcasses were brought back whole to the encampment and then cut up there.

 

REGION'S PROFILE

PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGION:
Canadian Shield

The Canadian Shield dates from the Precambrian Era, about 4 billion years ago. It was formed when ancient mountain chains were eroded by great glaciers into the plateaus, hills and low mountains to be seen today.

PLANT COVER:
Boreal forest (coniferous trees)

PRESENT CLIMATE:
Humid continental

Mean annual temperature between 0.8 and 2.7°C

Warm summers, mean temperature for the three warmest months between 13.6°C and 17.7°C

Cold winters, mean temperature for the three coldest months between –13.6°C and –11.6°C

Length of average growing season between 163 and 182 days

 

RESEARCH

At the beginning of the 20th century, the vast sand cliffs at Tadoussac caught the attention of those who would lay the groundwork for North Shore archaeology. The American ethnologist Frank J. G. Speck, passing through Tadoussac in 1917 on his way to study the Montagnais’ way of life, collected flaked stone tools from the surface of terraces exposed by timber felling. An Ontarian archaeologist, John William Wintemberg, studied these artifacts in the mid-20th century and associated them with occupations dating to 7000 years before the present. Around the 1950s, Louis (Ti-Louis) Gagnon, an unconventional, enlightened amateur from Grandes-Bergeronnes, alerted professional archaeologists to the wealth of artifacts to be found along the shore. In the 1970s, Serge-André Crête and Charles A. Martijn undertook the first systematic scientific field work in the region.

Excavations conducted on significant archaeological sites in the Grandes-Bergeronnes area since 1980 have made it possible to reconstruct several occupations that occurred between 8 000 years ago and the Contact period. The field school of the Université de Québec à Montréal was run here for 10 years by archaeologists Tassé, Lebel, Plumet and Moreau. Since 1995, Michel Plourde has been continuing the work of his predecessors, focussing on the presence of Amerindians at the confluence of the Saguenay and the St. Lawrence before and during the Contact period and, in particular, on the way these people made use of their marine environment. The results of this research program, which has been conducted with the collaboration of the Centre Archéo Topo and the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, has been summed up in a publication.

© Exhibit Center, Université de Montréal 2006. All rights reserved. Questions/comments?

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