au Choix, National Historic Site of Canada
Wonders & Cultural Treasures
exhibit at Port au Choix Visitor Centre
About 2800 years before
present (B.P.), several hundred years after the Maritime Archaic Indians had
abandoned the area, the Groswater Paleoeskimos arrived at Port au Choix. These
people originating from the Arctic may have moved south to Newfoundland during
a period of climatic cooling. Coming from the Arctic, the Groswater
Paleoeskimos may have been culturally better adapted and had better technology
to exploit the marine resources during a period of a colder climate.
The Groswater Paleoeskimos
were even more marine focussed than the Maritime Archaic Indians. Their tools
were for hunting marine animals such as seals and were distinctive in their
smallness and fine craftsmanship. To date their unique bone, ivory and antler
harpoon heads have only been found at Port au Choix.
Paleoeskimo tools, (left) Harpoon head, (right) Side-notched endblade
With these tools, including
the distinctive side-notched harpoon endblades, the Groswater Paleoeskimos
returned to Port au Choix every spring to hunt seals. They would set up camp at
Phillip's Garden, near where modern-day seal hunters take off by boat.
Excavations of the Groswater Palaeoeskimo camps at Phillip's Garden East and
Phillip's Garden West suggest that the Groswater occupied the sites only on a
About 1900 years B.P. the
Groswater Paleoeskimos disappeared from this site and seemingly from history
itself. Perhaps these people were displaced or assimilated by the newly
arriving Dorset Paleoeskimos. Another idea suggests the Groswater were
ancestral to the Dorset Paleoeskimos. There is simply not enough evidence to make
an absolute conclusion about the fate of the Groswater Paleoeskimos and
archaeologists continue to disagree on this point.
Cooler times brought an
arctic folk, the Palaeo-Eskimos to these shores. These people specialized in
hunting marine mammals and intensely used whatever resources were abundant.
Seals were their most important food, and when seals were scarce starvation
came. For 16 centuries they hunted these shores, then left no further trace.
The term ‘Recent Indian
Cultures’ encompasses all Indian occupation of Newfoundland since the end of
the Palaeo-Eskimo period. Unfortunately this occupation is not well represented
in the archaeological record of the park, and the people who left the remains
are unidentified. There are traces of Indian occupation within Gros Morne
National Park at Cow Head and Broom Point about a thousand years ago, but so
far nothing more recent has been found.
Arrival of the Europeans
A thousand years ago,
Norsemen exploring west from Greenland built the oldest known European
dwellings in the Americas, just a few days’ sail north of Gros Morne National
Park. The remains of their camp, discovered in 1960 by Helge and Anne Stine
Ingstad are now a part of the L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site.
archaeology at Red Bay
© GMNP / PNGM /
During the 1500s, in the wake
of explorers John Cabot and Jacques Cartier, Basque fishermen and whalers
crossed the North Atlantic to ply their trades in Newfoundland and Labrador
each summer. Find out more about the Basques fisherman and whalers at the Red
Bay National Historic Site.
Jacques Cartier, sailing for
the King of France, charted the waters around the Island in 1534 and landed at
St. Paul’s Inlet on June 16th. This voyage gives us the oldest description and map
of the park area. Two hundred years later, the British Admiralty commissioned
James Cook to survey the north, south, and west coasts of the colony. He named
many of the places around Bonne Bay.
The French Shore
Britain and France fought for
decades over ownership of eastern North America. Britain gained sovereignty
over Newfoundland in 1713, but France retained the lucrative rights to catch
and cure fish on the island’s northeast coast. By 1783 the boundaries of the
French Shore had to be redrawn. Newfoundland’s expanding population wanted
control of the fishery of the northeast coast. In exchange, France gained
fishing rights along the west coast. By treaty, neither French nor British
subjects were allowed to erect permanent buildings along the west coast. In the
late 1700s, while the French were away at war, transient fishermen began to
encroach on the French fishing area. They caught and cured salmon and codfish,
then returned to St. John’s and the Avalon Peninsula to sell their summer’s
catch. Eventually, some built rough cabins and began to over-winter, facing
conditions very similar to those experienced by the earlier cultures.
Settlers had to use resources
as they came into season. Fishing was the main occupation. Meat and firewood
came from the woods, and berries supplemented garden produce. Winter was a time
for trapping, and in March men went out on the sea-ice to hunt seals for meat,
oil, and skins. With only infrequent visits by merchant vessels and official
ships, isolation was a way of life.
Woody Point with
Norris Point in the background, early 1900’s.
© GMNP / PNGM /
By 1809, Bonne Bay had a
trading station set up by Joseph Bird, a merchant from Dorset in England. He
provided supplies in exchange for fish and furs, making year-round habitation
By the 1870s, trawl fishing
for codfish created a great demand for herring as bait. Herring were abundant,
and wintered in the deep waters of Bonne Bay. This lucrative fishery drew a
flood of year-round settlers. Merchants prospered and tradesmen became
established. Teachers, doctors, and itinerant clergymen arrived. A steamship
now served the coast, a courthouse was built at Woody Point, and telegraph and
postal service became available.
In the late-1870s, herring
stocks declined. Fishermen from Nova Scotia initiated the trapping and canning of
lobster for the Boston market. Lobster was so important by the end of the
century that 76 canneries employed 1,400 people year-round, and every available
inlet was occupied. So hot was the competition that it led to hostility between
French and Newfoundland fishermen.
Things were getting out of
hand on the “uninhabited” French Shore. Settlement increased while stocks of
cod, salmon, herring, and lobster dwindled. In Europe, war loomed. The time had
come for France and Britain to settle territorial and tariff differences. In
1904 France exchanged her Newfoundland fishing rights for warmer territory in
Africa, although she retained the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon off
Newfoundland’s south coast. The west coast was free to enter the Twentieth
Century. Today there is a plaque commemorating the French Shore Treaty at Point
A New Beginning
The ocean’s bounty is not
endless - the over-exploited 6 fishery failed. People turned to the woods. In
the 1920s, the St. Lawrence Timber, Pulp, and Steamship Company set up in a
place called Lomond, named by the mill manager, George Simpson from Scotland.
Logging brought cash to a society based on barter. Fishermen took to the woods
for the winter working out of lumber camps.
During World War II, Canada
recognized Newfoundland’s strategic importance, and was worried by American
ambitions in the colony. After two referendums, Newfoundland and Labrador
agreed to Confederation in 1949. Canada’s social programs and the development
of new industries completed the switch to a cash economy. Roads linked
communities, and new schools were built. Electricity and television brought a
very different way of life.
The national importance of
the Bonne Bay area was recognized in 1973. By agreement with the Province of
Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Canada established Gros Morne
National Park to protect and present an outstanding example of Newfoundland’s
western highlands. In 1987, the United Nations declared Gros Morne National Park
a World Heritage Site for its exceptional geological features and natural
Situated on the west coast of
the island of Newfoundland, the park provides a rare example of the process of
continental drift, where deep ocean crust and the rocks of the earth's mantle
lie exposed. More recent glacial action has resulted in some spectacular
scenery, with coastal lowland, alpine plateau, fjords, glacial valleys, sheer
cliffs, waterfalls and many pristine lakes.
The spectacular Long Range Mountains, land-locked fjords, pillow rocks and mysterious Tablelands of Gros Morne
National Park not only bestow the land with incredible beauty, but reveal secrets
of the major stages of the earth's evolutionary history and are an essential
part of the reason the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Woodland Caribou can be
seen in summer at higher elevations, and the Moose population,
non-native to Newfoundland, has exploded!
Although permanent settlement on these shores
did not occur until the turn of the 19th century, archaeological evidence has provided a
record of human history that goes back 3500 years.
The spectacular, complex
geology and glacier-sculpted scenery of this 1,805 sq km park have earned it
designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as the tale told by its ancient
Precambrian rocks was instrumental in the formation of the Plate Tectonics
theory of moving continents. Located on the west coast of the island of
Newfoundland, in Atlantic Canada, Gros Morne National Park has landlocked
fiords, ocean cliffs, sandy beaches, serpentine barrens, coastal lowlands, the
large fiord of Bonne Bay, and the sudden rise of the Long Range Mountains.
There are over 40 sites rich in ancient fossils such as trilobites, and some
exposed rock strata are 1.25 billion years old.
The park contains 2 distinct
ecoregions, the coastal lowlands along the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the alpine
plateau of the Long Range Mountains, creating a richly diverse mix of arctic,
boreal, and temperate species. It is home to moose, red fox, black bear,
snowshoe hare, and herds of woodland caribou, ptarmigan, bald eagle, and
osprey. Offshore, harbour seals breed on small islands, and whales can be seen
on migration. Activities include hiking and backpacking on the than 100 km of
trails, rock and ice climbing, and ski mountaineering.