Introduction to the Gateways Project

Gateways explores the archaeology, cultures, and history of Quebec’s Lower North Shore (LNS). This remote region, populated by Indian cultures for more than 10,000 years and first visited by Europeans ca. A.D. 1000 by Norse Vikings, remains one of the least-known regions of North America. Described by Jacques Cartier in 1534 as “the land God gave to Cain” because its barren lands were unsuitable for agriculture, the Lower North shore has been occupied by Indians since the end of the Ice Age 10,000 years ago, by early Inuit (Eskimo) people sporadically since 500 BCE. The first Europeans to visit its shores were Greenland Vikings ca. AD 1000, and 500 years later by John Cabot. Today’s residents of the LNS include Innu (Montagnais) Indians and Inuit, and Europeans of English, French, Acadian, Basque descent. Its most recent settlers are Newfoundlanders who arrived with the cod-fishing and sealing fleets during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Geography

The Quebec Lower North Shore is located in the northeastern Gulf of St. Lawrence between Blanc Sablon and the Mingan Islands (Havre St. Pierre), 400 km to the west. This is one of the most rugged and remote coasts of northeastern North America, lacking roads and served only by steamer and air transport. Its basic geography is Subarctic, with boreal forests in lowlands and sheltered river valleys and barren hills on the interior. Its coasts are chilled by the Arctic waters of the south-flowing Labrador Current and are visited during the winter by Arctic pack ice. Explorers and fishermen found conditions along the LNS so similar to Labrador that the whole region was called “The Labrador.”

Animal Resources

The spruce and birch forests of the LNS interior are home to caribou, moose, black bear, lynx, wolves, beavers, foxes and a host of small fur-bearers and its many rivers and lakes host trout, walleye, pike, bass. Salmon and char run in some of the rivers in the summer. Coastal resources include harbor and grey seals; blue, minke, humpback, and sei whales; and several species of porpoises. In the fall and winter large numbers of harp seals migrate into the Gulf of St. Lawrence to give birth to whitecoat pups on the winter ice. Cod, mackerel, halibut, capelin, shrimp, and crabs and lobsters are also present, and mussels, clams, and scallops are the dominant shellfish.

These land and sea resources enabled cultures with different adaptations to co-exist. Indians (Innu) lived on the interior and came to the coast during the summer to fish at the rivermouths. At various times Eskimos (Inuit) occupied the coast, fishing and hunting marine mamals at the same time that Indians groups occupied the interior. During the early Holocene the Maritime Archaic Indian culture was primarily adapted to coastal resources because the Labrador-Quebec interior remained under glacial ice until 5000 years ago.