Pointe-à-Callière presents the first major exhibition dedicated to Québec archaeology
For immediate release
Montréal, February 11, 2016 – Fragments of Humanity. Archaeology in Québec is the first major exhibition dedicated entirely to Québec archaeology, in which some 350 significant pieces will be featured, celebrating 50 years of archaeological discovery in Québec.
Chosen from among collections and finds from archaeological digs carried out on over 10,000 sites throughout the territory of Québec, the objects reflect our past and tell its story while revealing an astonishing range of diversity. The great majority of the pieces have never been seen by the general public and are being taken out of the Ministry of Culture and Communications’ (MCC) archaeological reserve for the very first time.
Produced by Pointe-à-Callière, the exhibition also features objects from about ten other lenders including the City of Montréal, Québec City, Pointe-du-Buisson/Musée québécois d’archéologie, the Musée des Ursulines in Trois-Rivières, Avataq Cultural Institute, and Parks Canada. The exhibition is being presented at Pointe-à-Callière from February 13, 2016 to January 8, 2017 before embarking on a tour that will take it to several other places in Québec and Canada.
“This exhibition and its accompanying book illustrate a half-century of research and discovery in all regions of Québec, highlighting the many pieces conserved at the Laboratoire et Réserve d’archéologie du Québec. These valuable remains extracted from Québec’s subsoil bear witness to our identity, our history, and our heritage. They also testify to the passionate and meticulous work carried out by the Québec archaeologists that brought them to light. I am proud of the Department’s support of this major exhibition, produced in collaboration with Pointe-à-Callière, with the aim of offering the population an unprecedented look at the past,” stated Hélène David, Minister of Culture and Communications, and Minister responsible for the Protection and Promotion of the French Language.
“The City of Montréal is proud to be associated with this exhibition, which will be noted as a milestone in our history and in our way of sharing our cultural and archaeological heritage. I encourage Montrealers to visit this exhibition in great numbers!” said Manon Gauthier, Member of the Executive Committee responsible for culture, heritage, design, the Space for Life, and the status of women at the City of Montréal.
According to Francine Lelièvre, Executive Director of Pointe-à-Callière, “the artefacts excavated from the earth help define who we are and where we come from; they are parts of our collective legacy, our heritage. This is why the Museum is especially proud to be presenting this first major exhibition on Québec archaeology, in addition to raising awareness of the importance of this legacy and its ramifications on Québec culture. Thanks to our partners and lenders, we have the true privilege of presenting, in Montréal, the most important archaeological discoveries made over the past decades at a numbers of sites throughout Québec.”
The exhibition looks back at the events and ways of life behind fragments of humanity that, each in their own way, reveal various facets of our heritage. Presented both chronologically and thematically, the exhibition—which highlights the richness and diversity of Québec’s archaeological collections—is divided into four zones: ancient stories or prehistoric archaeology, a land of trade and commerce, chronicles of daily life, and stories from the depths.
Imagining: history stretching back through the ages
The first part of the exhibition is dedicated to the era preceding the Europeans’ arrival on Québec land. Through archaeological discoveries, it has been possible to confirm that small groups of men and women had already trod upon Québec soil some 12,000 years ago. Without archaeology, this whole swath of Québec’s history would remain unknown. Here, visitors look back in time through tools and objects used by the Amerindians and Inuit. They will explore how these people adapted their instruments to the resources available in their environment to provide themselves with food and shelter, to travel, to defend themselves, and to trade with other indigenous peoples.
Discovering: a land of trade and commerce
A section of the exhibition is devoted to trade between Europeans and Amerindians, and to commercial activities carried out on Québec soil beginning in the 16th century. The Basques, Normans, Bretons, and French, drawn by such natural resources as marine mammals and cod, set up facilities along the banks of the St. Lawrence in order to exploit its assets. Other artefacts found among the remains at dozens of archaeological sites also underscore the increasing number of trade areas and, starting in the 17th century, the development of local industries.
Making sense: chronicles of daily life
Visitors are then invited to take a look at daily life in the 18th and 19th centuries, mainly in Québec City and Montréal. Three themes provide insight into our ancestors’ private lives, allowing us to consider changes in mindsets, practices, and styles: food and the culinary arts, hygiene, and games and toys. For example, while gatherings around the table among the upper-class in 18th century Québec City and 19th century Montréal are characterized by abundance, objects found in more modest milieus suggest a simpler diet in which soup was very popular!
Bringing to light: stories from the depths
Subaquatic archaeology is featured in the exhibition, with remains from six shipwrecks on display: the Elizabeth and Mary, the fleet of Major General Amherst, the Machault, the Auguste, the Empress of Ireland, and the Lady Sherbrooke. The last of these, owned by brewer John Molson, was one of the first steamships in Canada. It linked Montréal to Québec City in 14 hours, and had three first class cabins for women. The door from one of the cabins will be on display at Pointe-à-Callière. One of the portholes from the Empress of Ireland, whose shipwreck in 1914 claimed 1,012 lives, is also part of the exhibition. Lastly, one of the most impressive demonstrations of the collaborative work of archaeologists and restorers, called the “Heart of the St. Lawrence,” is also on display. Found in the wreck of the Elizabeth and Mary, this brooch was embedded in concretions; restorers worked over 35 hours to extract it.
Several objects in the exhibition are being presented to the public for the first time. The Centre de conservation du Québec has even restored certain objects specifically for the exhibition, notably some stoves and jars found at Basque and French sites on Petit-Mécatina Island on the Lower North Shore. Among the rare pieces are some offerings found in a rich Amerindian burial site, brought to light in Québec during the refurbishment of Champlain Boulevard, in Sillery, in 1966. The star attraction of the exhibition is without a doubt a dugout canoe made of a single piece of wood, which was found in a lake in the Lanaudière region in the mid-1980s. There are only about ten surviving prehistoric Amerindian dugout canoes in Québec, but none is in as fine a condition as the one on display at Pointe-à-Callière.
Fragments of Humanity also features objects from extensive heritage collections that are largely unknown to the public. The Bécancour collection, a treasury of projectile points, some of which may date back over 8,000 years, is the oldest archaeological collection in Canada. Around 1700, Sieur Hertel de Cournoyer donated it to the Ursulines in Trois-Rivières, where it has been kept ever since. The Burger collection, for its part, includes some objects that date back 5,000 years. This collection was amassed between 1930 and 1950 by an American, Valerie Burger, who collected close to 2,000 artefacts around Kempt and Manouane lakes, in the Upper Mauricie region, with the help of members of the Atikamekw community. Visitors will also get to see several pieces from the archaeological collection of Place-Royale in Québec City—which have been designated heritage objects—and from Pointe-à-Callière’s collection.
A fun and enriching experience
In addition to the hundreds of objects, the exhibition is enhanced with images, audio narratives, and videos. Making their way through the presentation, visitors will hear from characters who bring the past back to life through a multitude of fragments: an Inuit elder discusses daily life in the far north, Swedish explorer and botanist Pehr Kalm describes the customs involved in eating a meal in Québec in 1749, and we hear from a survivor of the wreck of the Auguste.
A prestigious book dedicated to Quebec archaeology
Complementing the exhibition, the Museum presents Fragments d’humanité – Pièces de collections, a new title in the “Archéologie du Québec” collection, which already includes Air – Territoire et peuplement. The book features some of the most important archaeological discoveries made over the last few decades in Québec, from the perspective of collections. The subjects addressed in the book are the same as those in the exhibition, enhanced with photographs, artefacts, and rich iconography. The book is the result of a partnership between the Ministry of Culture and Communications and Pointe-à-Callière. It was produced under the direction of Louise Pothier, Head Archaeologist at Pointe-à-Callière, and published by Éditions de l’Homme. The complete collection will be made up of five books; the first two books are available at the Museum Shop and in bookstores.
Fragments of Humanity. Archaeology in Québec is an exhibition produced by Pointe-à-Callière, in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Communications. The exhibition received financial support from the Government of Canada. The Museum also thanks La Presse for its support in promoting the exhibition, the Museum teams that worked on producing the exhibition, and the members of its scientific committee.
Pointe-à-Callière is subsidized by the City of Montréal.