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


Basque ships and whaling
Basque ships and whaling

The Gateways Project is a Smithsonian Institution archaeological and environmental survey of the Lower North Shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The project was initiated to increase knowledge of this remote coastal stretch of the Gulf of St. Lawrence that, compared with other portions of the Gulf, the Canadian Maritimes, and Newfoundland-Labrador, is little known and this region has received scant attention both as a Native settlement area and as a European migration route.

Fieldwork began in 2001 with surveys in the Mingan Island region around Havre St. Pierre and extended eastwards to Blanc Sablon on the Strait of Belle-Isle. Special attention has been given to study of the least-known portions of this coast – the islands, capes, and headlands. In 2002—2004 research has concentrated on the region surrounding Harrington Harbour from Cape Whittle to Petit Mécatina and La Tabatière.  

General and Mrs. Raymond Mason
General and Mrs. Raymond Mason visit the Petit MÈcatina Basque site

This region of the Lower North Shore has been inhabited for at least 8,000 years by a succession of Indian and Eskimo groups, including the Maritime Archaic, various Paleo-Eskimo groups (Groswater and Dorset), and later cultures leading to the modern Innu and Inuit. In historic times, this area was utilized by European Basque, Dutch, French, and English. It is almost certain that the Vikings explored this coast during their Vinland voyages. Thus, the Lower North Shore has a rich history and prehistory, most of which is still to be discovered and revealed.  Today, North Shore communities of English, French, Acadian, and Innu (Indian) origin continue a traditional lifestyle with economies based largely on natural resources.  History and tradition are important to all these groups, as can be seen in the French Acadian settlements, which fly their own tricolor together with the fleur-de-lis of Québec. The project narrative that follows is based on correspondence and annual reports produced by Bill Fitzhugh, expedition leader and director of the Arctic Studies Center at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, and Will Richard's field notes. Most images were produced by expedition photographer Will Richard. During the 2002 work at the Petit Mécatina Basque site (Hare Harbour 1), expedition sponsors Major General and Mrs. Raymond E. Mason visited the site. Another important sponsor, Anina Glaize of Winchester, Virginia, an avid fisherman, plans to make a field visit in the near future.

Project Goals

The Gateways Project is a multifaceted program whose objectives include scientific and historical studies, investigation of nature and landscapes, and participation in local education and economic development projects.

Science and History
Archaeology and history are at the core of the project, which seeks to understand how humans have utilized the lands and resources of this region from Ice Age times to the present.

Specific Project Goals Include:

  • puffins flying at Mingan islands

    Puffins in flight. Mingan Islands

    Basic archaeological exploration of a little-known region;
  • Identifying and studying Maritime Archaic and later Indian sites;
  • Defining the western limits of Paleo-Eskimo and historic Inuit cultures;
  • Identifying trade and culture contacts among different native groups;
  • Searching for early European (Viking, Basque, and later) sites; and
  • Studying European-indigenous contact.

Research has produced exciting results in each of these areas. The Gateways project operates under permit from the government of Québec's Ministry of Culture and Communication and is conducted in collaboration with researchers at Laval University and with participants from the villages and towns in the study region, especially from Harrington Harbour. All finds are housed in the Ministry's archaeological repository in Québec City, where detailed field reports and artifact catalogs have also been placed on file.

Public Programs
In addition to pursuing scientific and historical goals, the Gateways Project is working closely with authorities in Harrington Harbour to facilitate public access to research results and materials for use by local schools, interpretation centers, and economic development planners.