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

EXPLORATIONS IN 2002, 2003 AND 2004
Voyages to the Lower North Shore

La Scie, Newfoundland fishing village
Fishing village of La Scie, Newfoundland
Fleur De Lys Dorse soapstone quarry
Fleur De Lys Dorset soapstone quarry with pot removal scars

For the last two years, our project has departed in the third week of July from Perry's home on Long Island, Newfoundland, over-nighting at one of the fishing communities on the Baie Verte Peninsula before starting the long haul north toward St. Anthony and the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula. This gives the crew a chance to get their sea legs, and to explore Newfoundland's fascinating outport life. La Scie, near Cape St. John, has been a refuge on more than one occasion.
St. Lawrence Gateways Project 2004 Voyage Route Map
St. Lawrence Gateways 2004
Voyage Route (click map for larger view)

In 2002-2003 we proceeded from Cape St. John to the village of Fleur de Lys, location of the famous 1,500 year old Dorset Eskimo quarry where cooking pots and oil lamps were carved out of vertical outcrops of soapstone. New research and a fine visitor's center have made Fleur de Lys a popular tourist attraction. The photo illustrates how pots were isolated from the body of the soft rock. With gentle tapping, wedging, and prying, rectangular pot 'blanks' were detached from the outcrop and then hollowed out. Excavations at the base of the quarry uncovered the remains of wood scaffolding and a variety of quarry tools. The nearby Interpretation Center provides visitors with an excellent overview of local prehistory and serves as a support center for on-going archaeological research.



variegated iceberg

History on ice: variegated iceberg showing different surfaces melted by air and water

Northeastern Newfoundland is near the northern limit of the 'temperate zone', marked by encounters with huge icebergs off the eastern side of the Great Northern Peninsula and warm land breezes carrying the penetrating scent of evergreens far offshore. Still, it is icebergs that make the greatest impression due to their awesome size, their majestic form, and the power released when they split with an immense 'crack', releasing sheets of ice in a tidal wave that races outward hundreds of meters from the berg, followed by a slow turn to a new balance point, or a quick toppling and emergence of a new underwater surface.
collecting fresh water bergy bits from iceberg

Collecting fresh water bergy bits from disintegrating iceberg

The images shown here were taken between Cape Bauld and Belle-Isle in July while Will Richard was photographing another project—the International Appalachian Trail (see; “Gallery” Newfoundland section).

En route, we celebrated the birthday of our navigator, Cristie Boone. The decoration is rather unusual—made from red licorice rope candy donated by Christie Leece.

Cristie Boone's Birthday

Happy Birthday: Cristie Boone


Continuing north along a highly irregular coast marked by bays, peninsulas, islands, ledges, rocks, and other navigation hazards, Pitsiulak works its way into the small harbor of Quirpon (pronounced “car-poon”) just south of Cape Bauld at the northeastern tip of Newfoundland. Local fisherman, Boyce Roberts and his daughter Jaime greeted the ship in L'Anse aux Meadows and accompanied us to the appropriately named Norseman Restaurant, excellent fare was prepared by Gina Noordhof and her husband Adrian. Co-located with the Gaia Gallery, the Norseman has a selection of carvings made from bone, horn, and soapstone by Innu, Inuit, and Métis craftsmen, and a fine selection of other Newfoundland and Labrador crafts and books.

Norstad village re-enactor  
Norstad village re-enactor,
Wayne Hynes
Parks Canada re-enactors
Parks Canada re-enactor, Erica Hynes, and visitor
With the crossing of the Strait of Belle-Isle and the Labrador Sea before us, the group kept a collective eye on the weather. While waiting for fair passage we usually spend at least one day here on land to explore the region where Vikings landed 1,000 years ago. Parks Canada's World Heritage L'Anse au Meadows Viking site has a fine museum, reconstructed village, and interpreters. The nearby Norstad Viking trade village reconstruction provides entertainment as well as a chance to take a 'Viking voyage' on Snorri, the replica Viking ship built in Maine by Hodding Carter that sailed from Greenland to L'Anse aux Meadows as part of Leif Eriksson's Vinland discovery celebrations in 2000. Both villages feature sod houses with resident “Vikings” engaging visitors in discussions of activities in those early days.
L'Anse aux Meadows Viking longhouse reconstruction

L'Anse aux Meadows: Viking longhouses reconstructed by Parks Canada

Norstad village scene

Norstad village scene with goat

Dining at Boyce Robert's home, Quirpon, Newfoundland

Sumptuous dining, Newfoundland style, at Boyce Robert's home, Quirpon, Newfoundland

That evening, Boyce served us all, in the tradition of Newfoundland hospitality, a generous dinner of moose stew, fresh cod, potatoes, homemade wine, and partridge berry pie, after which Perry and Boyce exchanged old sea stories of family and friends.

After three days of inclement weather in Quirpon, a break in the storm gave us a chance to test our luck. We set out for Cook's Harbour, the last point before crossing the Strait of Belle-Isle.

Norstad village Viking church

Norstad village Viking church

The Pitsiulak crossed the Strait of Belle-Isle to the northeast, setting a preliminary course for Red Bay, Labrador. We soon turn southwest, angling off the west coast of Newfoundland, where our crew sighted whales, porpoises, and myriads of types of seabirds: skua, gannets, fulmars, shearwaters, puffins, and of course our namesake pitsiulaks, black guillemots.


killer whale
Killer Whale approaching Pitsiulak

Off Blanc Sablon, at 51°24' north latitude and 56°56' west longitude, a male and a female killer whale came alongside close enough that we heard them exhale and smelled their oily-fishy breath. Killer whales are massive creatures, up to 30 feet in length, and males may have dorsal fins six feet high. Each animal carries distinctive white patches on its side. Because the scientific community is interested in tracking these animals, we made photographs of the sightings for the Allied Whale Project and the Canadian Advisory Council on Oceans.

camping on tundra on Louise Island in St. Augustin Bay
Camping on the tundra on Louise Island in St. Augustin Bay, Québec
In 2003 we crossed a calm, almost glassy Strait of Belle-Isle. After covering 140 nautical miles (161 statute / land miles) in a 14-hour cruising day, Perry anchored among the islands in St. Augustine Bay, Québec. It had taken five days from July 25, when we left Long Island, to the 29th, to reach the Lower North Shore of Québec. 
Map showing islands of Harrington Harbor and Petit Mécatina

Islands of Harrington Harbour and Petit Mécatina
(click on image for enlarged view)

1. Harrington Harbor
2. Havre de la Croix
3. Petit Mécatina-1 Site
4. Hare Harbour Basque Site
black and white spiral bead
Black and white spiral bead
The 2004 project excavations north of the Basque workshop floor (Area 1) produced important new finds and information.Three new areas were explored. Area 2, a sandy beach north of the workshop, was a work space with a large boulder hearth.
Iron lamp
"bec le corbeau", iron lamp
iron butchering knife
Iron butchering knife
Plank floor
Plank floor
We found fewer tiles and iron nails than in A1, but recovered glass trade beads and a metal butchering knife, and recovered a small oil lamp known as a bec de corbeau (raven’s beak) lamp, made of iron, similar to one found at Red Bay (James Tuck, pers. comm.). Such a lamp would have provided light but would have been less efficient for heating and cooking than the larger soapstone lamps used by the Inuit. We also recovered another fragment of an Inuit soapstone vessel from Area 2, making a total of three Inuit vessels so far found at Hare Harbor. Excavations in Areas 3 and 4 produced other surprises.Test pits in the boggy area east of Area 2 revealed a Basque layer with excellent wood preservation beneath a layer of water-logged peat.

In addition to numerous pieces of axe-cut wood we found barrel staves and a decorated wood pin or skewer. One pit exposed part of a plank wood floor (left) that may be part of a habitation structure.

Inuit soapstone fragment
Inuit soapstone lamp fragment
wood pin
Wood pin
lead sinker
Lead sinker
Area 4 revealed a hearth around which we found spalls of European flint used for making fire. But microblades of Newfoundland chert were even more surprising, revealing that the site had been first settled by Groswater Paleoeskimo people 2000 years earlier than the Basques. This was further confirmed by a soapstone lamp fragment found beneath the floor pavement of the Basque workshop. While cleaning up this floor we also found more glass trade beads and grey Normandy stoneware, a flint nodule from a fire-making kit, and a lead fishing sinker.
Groswater microblade
Groswater microblade
glass beads
Glass beads from the Petit Mécatina collection
Normandy stoneware vessel
Normandy stoneware vessel reconstructed by Anja Herzog from 2003, 2004 excavations
DATING    Anja Herzog’s study of the artifacts this year provided new information for dating the site, which we initially believed was occupied in the 16th century, like Red Bay and other Basque whaling locations. However, we were puzzled therefore by the presence of clay pipes, glass beads, and ceramic types dating to the 17th C. Now, a neutron activation study of the glass beads conducted by Anja and Jean-Francois Moreau of University of Quebec at Chicoutimi suggests a dates from A.D. 1630-1750, and this range agrees with the clay pipes and stoneware.The new dates also help explain the absence of whale blubber furnaces at Hare Harbor. While we do have small amounts of whalebone and baleen, we are now fairly confident that Hare Harbor is a 17-18th C. Basque fishing and trading site. Historical documents show that most of the Basque whaling fleet was lost in the Spanish Armada of 1588. After that many Basque whalers shipped out as harpooners on Dutch ships, but a small number of Basque vessels continued to come each summer to the Gulf for seals, fish, trade, and the occasional whale if they could catch one. The remains from Hare Harbor seem to fit this historical picture.