An Indigenous Presence

Huron vase of 500 AA (before today)

Huron vase of 500 AA (Before Today) found by Jean-Louis Courteau and Jacques Lech during a dive in the Lac des Seize Îles.

The discovery of a Huron vase in Lac des Seize Îles in 2013 brought a previously unknown history to this area from the depths and aroused great curiosity. It is an exceptional object because it has been preserved intact in the cool waters of the lake for 500 years. Analyses of lipid residues on its interior confirmed that it was a container for cooking sagamite, a porridge of meat, legumes, animal fat and herbs.

The region of the Petite Nation, Saumon, and Red River watersheds, which includes Lac-des-Seize-Îles, would have been the territory of the Weskarinis of the Algonquin nation. Samuel de Champlain (1574-1635) mentioned it twice during his 1613 voyage up and down the Ottawa River:

« Ainsi nous nous separasmes: & continuant noftre routte à mont ladite rivière, en trouvasmes une autre fort belle & spacieuse, qui vient d’une nation appelée, Ouescharini, lesquels se tiennent au nord d’icelle, & à 4journées de l’entrée. Ceste rivière est fort plaisante, à cause des belles îsles qu’elle contient, & des terres garnies de beaux bois clairs qui la bordent: & la terre est bonne pour le labourage.»

«En chemin nous rencontrasmes 9grands canaux de Ouesharini, avec 40hommes forts & puissans, qui venoient aux nouvelles qu’ils avoient euës...»

Les voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale, dicte Canada, faits par le SR de Champlain, Paris 1632, p.188 and 206.

The ancient history of this nomadic hunter-gatherer people is being written as archaeological digs are carried out in the greater Laurentian region. Each discovery is valuable to these peoples of oral tradition who struggle to pass on their culture to younger generations because of the policy of cultural assimilation that followed colonization.

An Early Woodland pottery

St. Lawrence Iroquoian silt, found in the Lac des Seize Îles by Jean-Louis Courteau and Jacques Lech during a dive in 2014. A year later, a second piece of pottery was unearthed from the sediment bed by the same divers, not far from where they found the first one. This time, it is a St. Lawrence Iroquoian vase identifiable by its neck, its facing and its decorative markings. This piece datesback more than 700 years and comes from a nation that farmed in the St. Lawrence Valley.

The origin of these two vessels could suggest a frequentation of the lake by different nations at distinct times, but the hypothesis currently favored by archaeologists is that these domestic potteries were acquired by local groups during trade between the Weskarinis, Hurons, and Iroquoians.

These artifacts are now part of the government's collections located in the Quebec Archaeological 

Reserve. Replicas can be seen at the Laurentian Water Interpretation Centre (Centre d'interprétation des eaux laurentiennes -CIEL) in Lac-des-Seize-Îles.

In 2019, excavations were effected on Cook Island, not far from where the vessels were found, in search of an archaeological context that would explain their presence. To date, no samples have revealed any Native American encampment or habitation on the island. As the traces sought are usually located in a shallow layer of the soil, disturbances related to deforestation, development and natural erosion, unfortunately diminish the probability of success of such investigations. Nevertheless, the lake remains an important study site and other excavations are not excluded.

The Weskarinis

Baskets of ash splinters and sweetgrass. Collection from the grandmother of a resident of Lac-des-Seize-Îles.
Source: CIEL

The Weskarinis, whose name means 'little nation', would have known a tragic destiny in the 17th century following conflicts with the Iroquois nation. Many deserted their territory to join other groups such as the Kichesipirinis or the Catholic missions of the St. Lawrence Valley. After the Great Peace of 1701, the Algonquins returned to their ancestral territory, but no longer dominated the region.

Nineteenth century survey records that announced the settlement of the area indicated the presence of several native families settled along rivers or lakes north of Montreal.

A resident of Lac-des-Seize-Îles remembers that in the early 20th century, indigenous people came to the lake to sell baskets and other handicrafts to vacationers. First Nations basketry is highly prized by collectors who consider these baskets more as works o f art than ethnographic pieces. This traditional expertise is still held by a few Elders and is the object of cultural valorization to ensure its continuity.

Extract of
Lac-des-Seize-Iles... History and Heritage

Lac-des-Seize-Iles... History and Heritage image circuit

Presented by : Municipalité de Lac-des-Seize-Îles

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