Arctic Studies Center
||| St. Lawrence Gateways Project |||
Smithsonian - National Museum of Natural History


Since 2001 the St. Lawrence Gateways Project has conducted surveys and excavations in one of the least-known regions of northeastern North America. The purpose of this research is to develop information useful not only to scientists and culture historians, but to planners and teachers and residents of a region undergoing rapid social and economic change.

2004 extended crew

2004 extended crew on the beach


During the next 5-10 years the completion of the coastal highway between Havre St. Pierre and Blanc Sablon will connect Quebec’s isolated Lower North Shore into the expanding grid of tourism and regional development that has already transformed Newfoundland and southern Labrador. Our project contributes information that will deepen the understanding of Lower North Shore archaeology, history, and its modern cultures and traditions. It will also provide material for presentation in museums and culture centers currently being built today to present this information to residents, tourists, and other visitors.

  Hare Harbour1 areas 1, 2 and 4
  Hare Harbor 1: areas 1, 2, and 4

The Mécatina Basque site at Hare Harbor is the most important archaeological site found to date in the Gateways Project. This site is a resource for information about a little-known period of Lower North Shore history. While much has been learned about the 16th century Basque whaling era from other sites, little is known historically or archaeologically about Basque activities in the Gulf in the 17th or early 18th C, a time of multi-national competition and when European groups began to interact more strongly, socially, and economically, with Native peoples. Mécatina will help us understand this dynamic period. The presence of trade beads and Inuit soapstone vessels indicate Basque interest in native trade just as the presence of Inuit soapstone vessels indicate Native interest in participating as economic partners in the Basque enterprise.


Bayfield tools


Future research at this site will concentrate on excavations in the water-logged bog areas, where we anticipate excellent preservation and may find dwelling areas and in the midden and dump areas closer to shore; in addition, we plan to explore the underwater Basque deposits we have discovered just offshore.

We will also continue working on gaining better understanding of Lower North Shore prehistory and environments. Our work has already revealed the presence of 7000 year old Early Archaic Indian sites, 4000 year old Maritime Archaic longhouses, and 1000-3000 year old Indian sites with large amounts of Labrador trade materials. We have discovered new geographic limits for Groswater Paleoeskimo groups, the first arctic people to penetrate this deeply into the Subarctic during one of the coldest climatic periods of the post-glacial era, ca. 2500-2000 years ago; and we have also discovered traces of later Inuit peoples living at Mécatina with Basque fishermen, and in Jacques Cartier Bay, where we have found Inuit-style stone animal traps dating to the 17-18th C.

Collaboration is the key to these Gateways results and to our future plans. Laval University has been a strong partner in both research and training, and we continue to enjoy strong support from the Government of Quebec, and from the towns of Harrington Harbor and other communities on the Lower North Shore.

Finally, the Gateways Project can contribute to public understanding of a nearly unknown chapter of North American history by promoting a major exhibition of Basque culture, history, and art seen from a global perspective. “Basque 1000: Shepherds, Whalers, and Artists” would present the origins of the Basque people, culture, and language in Europe; its pioneering whaling and exploration era in the New World; and its subsequent struggle to survive as a small nationality linked by culture and tradition to a far-flung Basque diaspora throughout the modern world. The Basque story is a story of cultural survival that deserves to be better known. Basque whaling and the archaeology of the Gulf and Strait of Belle-Isle region should form the core of this exhibition.