Digging up the past. Developing the future.

Archeology spurs experiential tourism in Blanc-Sablon

If the land could speak, oh what it would share with us! On Quebec’s Lower North Shore, arrowheads, flakes, bones and dark, greasy soil reveal plenty of stories between different Indigenous Peoples, well before first contact with Europeans.

There are at least 8,200 years of history to be explored at Blanc-Sablon, a short away from the shores of Labrador. It is on this land that ancestors of the Beothuk, Innu, French, English and Basque travelled the rivers and the coastline between Pakua Shipi, St. Paul’s River and Blanc-Sablon to trade, spend the season or get assistance from neighbouring communities. The waterways were their highways, and still are today.

Archeologist François Guindon, founder of Archéo-Mamu Côte-Nord, a not-for-profit consultancy, is working with the community to develop this opportunity and protect its rich history. The name and mission of Archéo-Mamu Côte-Nord comes from the word ‘archeology’ and the Innu word ‘mamu’ (pronounced ‘mamo’) meaning ‘together’.

Archéo-Mamu worked with partners, including CEDEC and the local business community, to launch a unique all-inclusive tourism product, Archeological Adventure Blanc-Sablon. Since July 2017, visitors from near and far have signed up to learn and ‘do’ archeology together on the wind-swept shore of the Blanc-Sablon River.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, and photos of finds at the Blanc-Sablon site from July's dig speak volumes, revealing assistants of all ages and experience levels working the land, carefully, while a glacier competes for attention in the background.
Emillie, an Innu from Sept-Îles took part in uncovering the history of life from centuries ago.
Two young local boys spent a day of their vacation carefully searching for treasure from the past and learning about what their future could include.
Gabrielle Obcena, an anthropology student from California, eager to study archeology, made her way to the coast to gain hands-on experience.

Thanks to a community pulling together, the Archeological Adventure in Blanc-Sablon achieved its goal in finding its first customers for this experiential tourism offer. In its first season, the project surpassed its goal of 5 weeks of reservations, says Guindon, who is already planning next year’s adventure offer.

Empowering communities to manage the development of their archeological heritage and shared histories

Just as uncovering and protecting arrowheads found in the soil takes preparation and care, much work has gone into tourism development in the communities along the Lower North Shore.

Since 2010, CEDEC has been mobilizing community members and key stakeholders to create a network of partners to support the development of projects such as Archéo-Mamu. Years of building awareness, planning, developing capacity, and sourcing professionals and funding to develop and market the project all preceded this summer’s opportunity to woo tourists to the area.

Three out of the five seats on the board of directors at Archéo-Mamu Côte-Nord are filled by members of North Shore Innu communities. The organization covers Quebec and Labrador, taking on mandates from provincial and federal departments and agencies, which help support the work with municipalities and communities.

The First Nations partners not only participate in consulting; they are part of the organization’s management team, making decisions and developing projects explained Guindon. “It’s bearing fruit,” he said, of his team in this social enterprise adventure. “They are developing a managing vision.”

That vision, he explained is also leading to a better understanding of Quebec’s laws surrounding heritage sites and the lack of protection for those that are as yet unknown.

Archéo-Mamu Côte-Nord takes its role in community education to heart, travelling to schools up and down the coast to share stories and show the latest artifacts found in the region.

Forging new trails

In addition to launching the Blanc-Sablon Archeological Adventure this summer, Guindon and his team conducted land surveys to preserve the integrity of archeological sites as the Municipality of Blanc-Sablon develops future walking trails and signage on Île-au-bois.

Watch for more exciting news about this experiential tourism offer in advance of the next season.