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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

Saguenay-Lake-Saint-Jean

LANDSCAPE

«Returning from a long trip from Hudson Bay to the Lake Saint-Jean area, nomadic families set up camp along the banks of the Ashuapmushuan River, erecting huts made of poles and birch bark.

A dog walks beside its master, who carries a canoe to the camp. A moose hide dries on a stretcher while meat is grilled on a spit suspended above the fire. Stews are also made in birch bark containers with meat and water to which red-hot stones are added.»

AT THE CROSSROADS OF A VAST NETWORK

The Saguenay-Lake-Saint-Jean river system extends over an area measuring about 350 km from east to west and some 500 km from north to south. Most of the waterways that flow through this system constitute natural passages to the surrounding river systems. Since the rivers in the Saguenay-Lake-Saint-Jean system converge towards Lake Saint-Jean, this body of water is like a crossroads in the heart of a vast communication network of rivers.

 

MOUNTAIN, FOREST AND STREAM
 

It is clear that this extensive drainage basin played an important role as a strategic area for contact and trade between prehistoric populations. From Lake Saint-Jean it is possible to take waterways leading south to the St. Lawrence River, west to the Great Lakes, northwest to James Bay and north to Ungava Bay. The Saguenay-Lake-Saint-Jean river system represented a major trade route for populations living in the St. Lawrence estuary and the Great Lakes region.

PLACES TO MEET AND TRADE

First Nations people have occupied the Saguenay-Lake-Saint-Jean area from the Archaic period (6 500 to 3 000 years before the present). Throughout the prehistoric period, there were numerous places in this area where various cultural groups came to meet each other and exchange goods. The people dwelling here lived in family groups on terraces along the Saguenay River and around Lake Saint-Jean.

 

MORNING FOG
 

During the Late Woodland period (1 000 to 400 years before the present), the Saguenay-Lake-Saint-Jean river system began to be more densely occupied. Two quite different Aboriginal groups lived in this region up to the 14th century. From Tadoussac to Chicoutimi, groups associated with the St. Lawrence Valley, such as Iroquoians, occupied the banks of the Saguenay River, while upstream from Chicoutimi and around Lake Saint-Jean, the territory belonged to Algonquians, the ancestors of the present-day Ilnus.

PEOPLE OF THE SEA - PEOPLE OF THE LAND

Throughout prehistory, the lifeways of the First Nations people evolved and adapted to various environments. In the Saguenay-Lake-Saint-Jean area, groups around the lake lived very differently from groups dwelling along the river. The economy of those living around Lake Saint-Jean was based on terrestrial resources, while the lifestyle of groups along the Saguenay River was more closely linked to maritime resources.

 

SAGUENAY RIVER'S SHORE
 

The banks of the Saguenay River are so steep in many places that human occupation is impossible. However, at the mouth of one of its tributaries, the Sainte-Marguerite River, there are tiered terraces offering ideal sites for camps. The highest of these terraces were occupied by First Nations people who hunted seals and beluga whales. These groups, coming from the St. Lawrence estuary rather than from inland regions, occupied the area from the Archaic Period (6 500 to 3 000 years before the present) right up to the Contact period.

A KINGDOM OF FUR

After the Contact period, the First Nations people in this area became active in the fur trade, and the basis of their economy was greatly modified. Hunting intensified to the point that animal populations were exhausted, while at the same time the Ilnus of the Saguenay region became increasingly dependent for their survival on European goods, distributed through the posts and missions that were established in the region. Posts built on the Chicoutimi, Ashuapmushuan and Metabetchouan (1676-1880) rivers testify to the growth of the fur trade in the area in the 17th and 18th centuries.

 

BEADS
BEADS

Archaeological work at these sites has revealed many traces of the establishments made by the First Nations and Eurocanadians. Found at several levels of occupation, such vestiges have made it possible to define the main stages and circumstances marking the use of these sites during a period of almost 2000 years. In the historic period, the trading posts were places where Aboriginals traded beaver, moose and martin pelts in exchange for European beads, pipes, copper wares, flour and tea.

 

REGION'S PROFILE

SAGUENAY-LAKE-SAINT-JEAN

PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGION
Canadian Shield

The geological basement of the Saguenay-Lake-Saint-Jean region belongs to the Grenville Province of the Canadian Shield. The main geographical features of this region are the Lake Saint-Jean Lowlands, the Upper Saguenay, the highlands and encased valleys of the Saguenay Fjord and the Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Jean rivers.

The present-day landscape of the Saguenay-Lake-Saint-Jean region was shaped in great part by the last ice age. When the ice sheet began to melt, the territory was flooded by an arm of the Champlain Sea. This body of water, known as the Laflamme Sea, reached a depth of 180 metres towards the north. The Lake Saint-Jean Lowlands were formed as the continent, now freed of the glaciers’ weight, rebounded and the sea withdrew, leaving terraces, peat bogs and dunes in its wake. These lowlands generally range between 100 and 150 metres in altitude, although they attain 200 metres in places. Directly surrounding the lake and the Saguenay River, the highlands of the Canadian Shield rise to an altitude of over 180 metres.

PLANT COVER
Coniferous forest

Highlands: boreal forest (black spruce, white spruce, balsam fir and jack pine)
Lowlands: Laurentian forest (yellow birch, eastern white pine, red pine, black ash and trembling aspen)

PRESENT CLIMATE
Humid continental climate

Mean temperature in July: 18∞ C
Mean temperatures in January: from –15∞ C to –17∞ C

Length of average annual growing season: between 100 and 110 days

 

RESEARCH

The first archaeological work in the region was undertaken by the notary J.-H. Fortin between 1966 and 1968. At about the same time, Father Simard began excavations of the Chicoutimi trading post (1968 to 1972) and the Metabetchouan River site (1967).

During the 1970s and 1980s, great advances were made in our understanding of how the Saguenay-Lake-Saint-Jean region was occupied by humans in the past. These advances were the result of work by J.-F Blanchette, R. Lueger, C. Lapointe and C. Chapdelaine in the Chicoutimi area; M. Laliberté and M. Guitard at the mouth of the Metabetchouan River; and M. Laliberté, Y. Labrèche and C. Larouche on the Ashuapmushuan River. The growing number of researchers working in the region since the early 1970s has heightened the visibility of its archaeological resources and encouraged the documentation of its prehistoric occupations. The local population has become more aware of their region’s human past, and the area has benefited from close co-operation among government and museum representatives, the collaboration of local Amerindian groups, the work of private companies and the involvement of the Université du Quebec à Chicoutimi and its archaeologists (J.-F Moreau and É. Langevin). The development of regional archaeology has also been spurred by private archaeological companies (Archéotec, Arkéos and Subarctique) and consultants, who have made essential contributions to a better understanding of the region’s human past.

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

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