Echoes from the Past Virtual Museum of Canada
menu intro concepts time words art contacts objects credits français
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

Montérégie

MAPLE TREE

«On the evening of the summer solstice, 1 000 years ago, a group of families is setting up their annual summer fishing camp on a point of land jutting out into the rapids of a river.

Everyone who arrives takes part in the preparations. Dwellings were built, fishing devices were made and drying flakes and smoke racks for processing fish were erected.

Communal meals were organized so that people could share the sturgeon and catfish they caught. These festivities strengthened bonds within the group.»

AN IMMENSE GARDEN

Several rivers, including the St. Lawrence, flow through this region, providing a favorable environment for abundant wildlife and plant species, as well as a wealth of aquatic resources.

 

RIVER
 

The various groups of First Peoples who succeeded each other here used these rivers as waterways giving them access both to trade and to the natural resources of their environment.

A PRELUDE TO HORTICULTURE

About 1 500 years ago, previously nomadic Amerindian groups began to move less frequently, staying for extended periods at the best fishing spots. Pointe-du-Buisson was one of their favorite places for setting up seasonal fishing camps, occupied from spring to fall.

 

CORN FIELD
 

Fishing does not seem to have been a major activity for the earliest peoples in the inland regions of the Northeast. However, from the Late Archaic period (6 500 to 3 000 years before the present) to the Middle Woodland (around 1000 years before the present), its importance as an economic activity grew. Pointe-du-Buisson was one of the few places in Iroquois country where food-gathering, or predator, communities placed more importance on fishing than on hunting.

As horticulture developed and the population expanded, the role of fishing diminished somewhat. But it was still very important for the Iroquoians at the time of their first contact with Europeans in what is now Quebec. This was especially true of communities along the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes, where fish stocks were enormous.

CHOICE FISH

Bone studies (zooarchaeological analysis) of the skeletal fish remains found by archaeologists in refuse pits show that three types of fish were particularly popular. Amerindians preferred to eat channel catfish, redhorse (copper redhorse, white sucker, river redhorse and greater redhorse, the largest fish in the Catostomidae family) and lake sturgeon.

CHANNEL CATFISH
CHANNEL CATFISH

All of these fish have fairly oily flesh (although not as oily as eel) and represent good food value for the effort of catching them. The copper redhorse is today in danger of disappearing.

REGIONAL IDENTITY

Pointe-du-Buisson has seen a long series of occupations, beginning over 5000 years ago. Archaeological excavations have unearthed an immense quantity of remains that testify to the region’s prehistory. Some of these remains, especially the oldest ones, strongly resemble artifacts found in Ontario and the State of New York.

 

POTTER DECORATING A RIM
POTTER DECORATING A RIM

These remains thus indicate that vast networks of trade and contact must have existed between the populations inhabiting the northeast region of North America. This hypothesis is supported by material dating from 1500 years ago, when the most populous Amerindian groups began to become sedentary and regional identities started to take shape. The potters of Pointe-du-Buisson made and decorated their vessels in ways that distinguished them from vessels produced in neighboring regions. Slowly, the regional differences observed in the culture of today’s various Amerindian nations evolved.

TURNING AWAY FROM SHORES AND ISLANDS

In the final centuries of this region's prehistory, there was continuous cultural change. The population grew, houses became longer so that several families could dwell under the same roof and new forms of social organization and material culture developed. At the same time, war became more frequent and settlement patterns changed as a result. When choosing a site for a hamlet, Iroquoian communities began to have criteria that were different from those used previously.

 

RECONSTITUTION OF A VILLAGE'S PALISADE (DETAIL) DROULERS SITE
RECONSTITUTION OF A VILLAGE'S PALISADE (DETAIL)
DROULERS SITE

By about 1 000 years ago, the St. Lawrence Iroquoians had begun to rely on horticulture and they gradually moved inland, establishing hamlets and semipermanent villages at some distance from the islands and shores of the St. Lawrence River. They continued to seek locations with good sources of drinking water, near streams and rivers. The village sites discovered in the municipality of Saint-Anicet, south of Lake Saint-François are situated far inland, always close to the banks of the meandering La Guerre River. The choice of a location for a village was determined by military and ecological considerations. Higher land provided both a good defensive position and proper drainage. When further precautions were felt necessary, villagers put up palisades around the settlements that were most vulnerable to enemy attacks.

The Droulers site, occupied about 650 years before the present, is located on a terrace more than seven kilometres from the shores of Lake Saint-François. Covering an area of at least 1.2 hectares (over 12000 m2), this site is largest prehistoric village discovered to date in the territory of Quebec.

KIONHEKWA: THE THREE SISTERS

Iroquoian women sowed runner beans around corn so that the plants could twine up the corn stalks. The bean enriched the soil by adding nitrogen, a nutrient often exhausted by corn. Squash were usually cultivated in the same fields as the corn and beans. The broad leaves of low-growing squash reduced water evaporation and kept weeds in check. This “companion planting” naturally enhanced productivity and helped save time and space.

 

THE THREE SISTERS: CORN, SQUASH AND BEANS
THE THREE SISTERS: CORN, SQUASH AND BEANS

This method was underpinned by a belief. Corn, beans and squash were said to represent the spirits of three inseparable sisters, called the “life givers” which is expressed in Mohawk by the term Kionhekwa. For this reason, it was believed, the three cultivated plants could not grow apart from one another.

Corn, beans and squash originated in Mexico several thousand years ago and gradually spread across the Americas. The “three sisters” were imported by the people of the American Midwest before being introduced to those living in the Northeast. The cultigens and the knowledge required to grow them were obtained by the St. Lawrence Iroquoians through trade networks.

 

REGION'S PROFILE

PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGION:
St. Lawrence Lowlands, the Appalachians

The archaeological sites described here are located in lowlands. The St. Lawrence Lowlands represent a fault trough bordered by the Logan Fault to the south and a fault zone to the north.

The Lowlands lie on the Precambrian rock of the Canadian Shield and were formed by sediments from the Shield and the Appalachians 65 million years ago.

The area sank under the weight of glaciers 12 500 years ago and was flooded by the Champlain Sea when the climate warmed up. When this sea receded, it left a layer of clay over the sedimentary and Precambrian rocks.

PLANT COVER:
Mixed forest (coniferous and deciduous trees)
Maple-hickory stands

PRESENT CLIMATE:
Humid continental

Mean annual temperature between 4.7 and 6.6°C

Warm summers, mean temperature for the three warmest months between 17.7°C and 19.8°C

Cold winters, mean temperature for the three coldest months between –9.7°C and –7.7°C

Length of average growing season between 202 and 221 days

 

RESEARCH

In 1964, a salvage excavation conducted by Ontarian archaeologist J. F. Pendergast on a site two kilometres inland from Lake Saint-François revealed a major Iroquoian site apparently dating from the 14th century. Around 1965, the first systematic archaeological excavations were carried out in the Montérégie region. From 1965 to 1968, the Société d’archéologie du Québec (S.A.P.Q.) did archaeological work at Pointe-du-Buisson. From 1977, Norman Clermont, a professor at the Université de Montréal, undertook a research program at Pointe-du-Buisson.

It was here that Quebec's first prehistoric archaeology field school saw the light as a result of efforts on the part of students, professors and university researchers. From that time, encouragement has been given to research programs in the area. Although only a small proportion of the territory has undergone systematic inventories and excavations to date, nonetheless, over 300 archaeological sites have been identified so far on the Montreal plain, in the Montérégie region.

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

FLASH VERSION