Kuujjuaraapik finds lost Hudson’s Bay trading post

Harpoon discovered on site of future parking lot for cultural centre

A view over the Great Whale River and the community’s Hudson Bay post, taken sometime between 1902-1904. Archeologists say they’ve located the site where the former post once stood. (Image courtesy of Queen’s University Archives, A.A Chesterfield fonds/ Avataq Cultural Institute Archives)

By Sarah Rogers

Kpik cultural centre

Residents park along the front of the Kattitavik cultural centre in Kuujjuaraapik, close to the site of the original Hudson Bay trading post. (Photo courtesy of Blouin Orzes architects)

The Northern Village of Kuujjuaraapik was about to construct a parking lot next to its cultural centre this spring when a resident made a surprising find — a six-inch harpoon head.

“[It had] some ivory and a metal head,” said Kuujjuaraapik Mayor Anthony Ittoshat. “He brought it to my office because it was a particularly interesting find.”

The harpoon was discovered after a wind storm — known to kick up the dust and sand dunes for which Kuujjuaraapik is famous.

The municipality called in archeologists from Nunavik’s Avataq Cultural Institute to have a look at the site before the municipality went ahead with any work.

Avataq archeologist Elsa Cencig helped lead the fieldwork, considered a preventive dig, typically done before a major construction project.

Her team discovered other tools: ceramic pipe pieces and forged nails — the kinds of items that the Hudson’s Bay Company would have sold 100 years ago.

The harpoon head, made of metal and tusk, was most likely used for beluga hunting, she said.

Cencig believes the artifacts may point to a bigger discovery — the community’s historical Hudson’s Bay trading post, its exact location previously lost to history.

“The site corresponds to the Great Whale trading post, which first opened in the early 1800s, and through until the 1940s,” Cencig said.

“That site is documented in archives, but no one has ever recorded it.”

The Hudson’s Bay Company established one of its first trading posts in the region in the Richmond Gulf area in the early 1800s, roughly 100 kilometres north of Kuujjuaraapik. The HBC then moved that post to the current-day Kuujjuaraapik town site in 1878, which was then an established whaling station.

The municipality is already working with Avataq to restore Kuujjuaraapik’s historical Anglican church, a boarded-up building known simply as “the old church.” The community plans to turn it into an interpretation centre, Ittoshat said.

“We’re just going to extract all the things we can [from the site] and try and preserve them,” he said.

“Our goal is to move those artifacts to the interpretation centre, once it opens.”

The Hudson’s Bay Company played a role in the colonization of the region, Ittoshat said, and though that legacy isn’t always a positive one, he said it’s important for the community to be able to document its own past.

“It reignited our thirst for history, our desire to know where we came from,” he said. “And it reminded us that we were a whaling community.”

‘It really opens up the mind to the past occupation of that area’

Archeological test pits at the Isuarsivik site in Kuujjuaq, excavated in June. (Photo by Elsa Cencig/Avataq)

Avataq archeologists led two other preventive archeology projects in Nunavik earlier this summer.

One was along the road to Innavik, the hydroelectric project currently under construction in Inukjuak.

Archeologists documented a few sites in the area, including a small Tuniit or Dorset camp, where they found tent rings, microblades, soapstone vessel fragments and end-scrapers.

Another project was in Kuujjuaq, on the site where the new Isuarsivik treatment centre will be constructed.

Evidence of historical occupation in that area came to light much the same way it did in Kuujjuaraapik —a resident discovered micro tools while walking through the site.

Allen Gordon, the executive director of the Nunavik Tourism Association, first flagged the area to Avataq in 2016 after a friend found a bunch of stone flakes in a spot previously used for picnics.

“We located about 11 concentrations of artifacts or finding spots,” said Avataq’s Cencig. “It’s an Archaic site, which is very interesting. It’s a very large timeline; its occupation is estimated between 5,000-3,500 BC, according to the elevation and the artifacts that we found.”

Documented Archaic sites in Quebec are mostly concentrated around the James Bay region, and farther south along the St. Lawrence River, but not very common to Nunavik, Cencig said. There have been some sites found northeast of Kuujjuaq, closer to Aupaluk.

Avataq archeologist Elsa Cencig holds out a large stone flake discovered at the Isuarsivik site in Kuujjuaq earlier this summer. (Photo by Allen Gordon)

In these cases, archeologists aren’t sure which peoples occupied the sites, Cencig said, but they would have been nomadic groups who lived part of the year in tents and used stone tools, similar to pre-Dorset peoples.

“We can’t say much about them — we don’t have much data,” she said.

The items found at the Isuarsivik site will be preserved and eventually put on display in the new treatment centre, which is slated to open in 2022.

Cencig said this summer’s preventive digs were all requested and led by the communities, which are the projects she enjoys the most.

Gordon said the sprawling expansion of communities like Kuujjuaq has prompted a need for local governments to check on sites before they go ahead with building new roadways, housing or gravel pits.

“I’m absolutely happy that it’s being done,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s gone forever. It really opens up the mind to the past occupation of that area.”

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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Jean-Luc Pilon on

    It is good to see that the archaeological heritage of Kuujjuaraapik is being taken care of by the community. Too often there can be a tendency to separate ‘our’ from ‘their’ history. The HBC post in Kuujjuaraapik is an integral part of that community’s history and heritage. Good job!

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  2. Posted by History on

    well done and a good story. we need to learn from this that history is history no matter if it is not pleasing. It helps us to keep going too and away from where we came or bring what we wish with us. One people, all people.

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  3. Posted by Dean Goodman on

    Hi, I’ve enjoyed this article and would like to read more.

  4. Posted by This is the type of news I like to read! on

    🤯 awesome story

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