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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

Cap-Tourmente

FLOCK OF SNOW GEESE

«In a race against the autumn frost, villagers make haste to harvest corn, beans and squash. These cultivated plants will be used for food and traded with the Algonquian groups living further north.

While the women, children and old men are busy gathering crops in the fields and storing them for the winter, the men take advantage of nature’s cornucopia by catching fish and hunting game.»

IROQUOIANS IN JACQUE CARTIER'S ACCOUNTS

In Jacques Cartier's accounts of his explorations, he says that he met Iroquoians at the northeast tip of Île d'Orléans and that he went ashore on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, probably on the coastal plain at the foot of Cap-Tourmente, in order to trade goods with the territory’s first inhabitants.

 

MOUNTAIN AND RIVER
 

In his description of the region around Stadacona, where Quebec City now stands, Cartier mentions that on the approach to this settlement from downstream, there were four communities in four villages: Ajoaste, Starnatan, Tailla, which is at the foot of a mountain, and Sitadin ("y a quatre peuples et demourances, savoyr: Ajoaste, Starnatan, Tailla, qui est sus vne montaigne, et Sitadin."). Cartier also says in May of 1536, when he made his hasty departure, he left one of his vessels with the people of Sitadin, which must have stood near where the Europeans had spent the winter, at the mouth of the Lairet River.

But the location of the other Iroquoian villages along the shore between Cap-Tourmente and Quebec City remains a tantalizing puzzle. Archaeologists have explored this area in the hopes of finding evidence of occupation that might help to identify one of the places mentioned in Cartier's accounts of his travels.

THE FURTHEST LIMITS OF AGRICULTURE

Archaeologists knew that exploration of the region between Cap-Tourmente and Quebec City would be very informative because this area marks the furthest extent of the St. Lawrence Lowlands, and thus the furthest limits of agriculture, along the north shore of the river. Researchers wanted to know whether the villagers in this region shared the corn-based diet and lifestyle of the other Iroquoians occupying the St. Lawrence Valley.

 

FROM SEED TO HARVEST
FROM SEED TO HARVEST

The region's harsh climate has often been cited as arguing against the likelihood of there being farming villages here. Situated at the extreme limits of the zone in which agriculture can be practised, the region has an annual growing season and number of consecutive frost-free days that compare with conditions further south. It was here that the French first settled at the beginning of the colony, and this lends support to the hypothesis that Iroquoians were farming the area in the 16th century.

It should also be mentioned that this northern portion of Iroquoian territory may have enjoyed a microclimate that was favorable for agriculture, even as it seems to today. The flat topography described by Jacques Cartier appears to have changed very little; the region thus offered an accessible and hospitable place to live.

THE FIRST VILLAGE EAST OF STADACONA

Archaeologists' search for the first village east of Stadacona was guided by clues in the landscape. It was known that the Iroquoians established villages near their corn fields and preferred sandy soil for farming. As well, their villages were often at some distance from the St. Lawrence, on well-drained terraces. The Cap-Tourmente sector, showing these characteristics, appeared especially promising.

 

RETURN OF A HUNTING PARTY
RETURN OF A HUNTING PARTY

These clues had previously led to the discovery of Iroquoian villages at Deschambault, to the west of Quebec City, in the early 1980s. This discovery made it clear that Iroquoians in the Quebec City region were affected by the other St. Lawrence Iroquoians' wide sphere of influence. The existence of these villages made it more likely that others might be found further to the northeast in the Iroquoians' territory.

Archaeological work in the Cap-Tourmente sector revealed several Iroquoian sites, which were probably fishing or stop-over camps. Then an Iroquoian village was discovered. This village - the first to be found east of Quebec City - has been named “Royarnois” in honour of the current owners of the site.

This discovery may be said to confirm the veracity of Jacques Cartier's accounts, which mention the existence of four villages downstream from Stadacona. The Royarnois site is located at Cap-Tourmente, on a terrace about seven metres above sea-level. Excavations on this site have revealed the walls of at least four longhouses. These houses do not all date from the same time, since some of them lie above others.

Excavations also revealed hearths, postholes, pits and over 2 000 artifacts. The village is the most important of the sites identified as dating to the Late Woodland period (1 000 to 400 years before the present) at Cap-Tourmente. The site yielded the largest collection of prehistoric pottery ever found in the region.

The village potters (all women at that time) decorated their clay vessels with complex motifs similar to those generally found on ceramics from 16th-century sites in the St. Lawrence Valley. It follows that the Cap-Tourmente village must have existed in this period and its inhabitants may well have been in contact with Jacques Cartier. It may even be that the Royarnois site corresponds to an area of the village of Ajoaste mentioned by Cartier. This is an interesting idea, but there is no means of testing its likelihood.

A PERIOD OF GREAT CHANGE

For the time being, the Royarnois site is considered to have been an isolated village that was occupied several times. It belonged to a concentration of small seasonal sites that were used intermittently.

 

DECORATED POTTERY SHERD (DETAIL)
DECORATED POTTERY SHERD (DETAIL)

On the basis of the decorated pottery found on the site, archaeologists believe that the village began to be occupied 700 years ago or even earlier. This first occupation corresponds to the time when the Iroquoians were just starting to farm. The construction of longhouses dating from this period at Cap-Tourmente is evidence that the Iroquoians in the Quebec City region were involved in the great economic changes affecting the Iroquoian groups as a whole.

A DIVERSIFIED MENU

The inhabitants of Royarnois seem to have had a varied diet. Bones found on the site have been identified as coming from white-tailed deer, moose, caribou, beaver, members of the dog family and various fish and birds, as well as seal and beluga whales.

 

FISH BONES
FISH BONES

Many factors make it likely that the Eastern Iroquoians, and especially the Iroquoians in the Quebec City area, began to eat corn very early, even in the 11th or 12th century, although they continued to hunt marine mammals and other animals as an efficient and profitable means of sustenance. They appear to have never experienced the agricultural revolution that dramatically affected the rest of the Iroquoians 1 000 to 700 years ago and led them to adopt a settled lifestyle in villages. The Eastern Iroquoians seem to have remained mobile despite the fact that they practised horticulture on sandy ground in the region. At the time of Cartier's explorations, the people of Stadacona travelled in the St. Lawrence Estuary as far as Tadoussac and Gaspé Bay.

These people, who farmed, fished and, above all, hunted marine animals, must have enjoyed feasts with far more diverse menus than did other communities in the Iroquoian universe.

 

REGION'S PROFILE

PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGION:
Canadian Shield, St. Lawrence Lowlands.

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-linden stands
Maple-yellow birch stands

PRESENT CLIMATE:
Humid continental

Mean annual temperature between 2.7 and 4.7°C

Warm summers, mean temperature for the three warmest months between 15.7°C and 17.7°C

Cold winters, mean temperature for the three coldest months between –11.6°C and –9.7°C

Length of average growing season between 182 and 201 days.

 

RESEARCH

The Quebec City region attracted the attention of archaeologists wishing to verify the accuracy of Jacques Cartier’s geopolitical descriptions. Until 1989, there was a lack of systematic excavation and analysis of the area’s Iroquoian sites, with the exception of the Place Royale site, in the city’s centre. Starting at this time, a team of archaeologists directed by Claude Chapdelaine from the Université de Montréal undertook a program that led to the discovery of over 20 sites in the sector between the Côte de Beaupré and Cap-Tourmente. Excavations carried out by Jacques Guimont of Parks Canada on the Petite Ferme site at Cap-Tourmente also brought to light the remains of Amerindian occupations.

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

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