Cultural Treasures | History of Human Settlement in Forillon

A Rich History

Anse-Blanchette
Anse-Blanchette
© Parks Canada/J. Beardsell

Through its maintenance and conservation efforts, Parks Canada invites you to discover this historical testimony to human settlement in Forillon. Authentic buildings restored with care, thematic exhibitions, interpretive trails, films, interpretation activities and historical animations will allow every member of the family to learn about this chapter in history.

Grande-Grave, a Hillside Fishing Village

In the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries, Grande-Grave bustled with activity from May to October. Under the far-reaching control of two powerful fishing companies, hundreds of families along the coast and many seasonal workers caught cod, then dried and salted it into the world-famous "Gaspé Cure" for export to Italy, Spain and the West Indies.

Grande-Grave
Grande-Grave
© National Archives of Canada/Thomas Pye, 1866

Of the 26 historic buildings on the south shore of Forillon, two of them in particular bear witness to the commercial and industrial activity of this bygone fishing village. The Hyman Store was originally the residence built by William Hyman in 1864. The ground floor was made into the company store in 1918, and you will get a feel for the period as you look over the wide variety of stock assembled: canned goods, patent medicines, Sunday dishes, farm implements, fishing tackle, clothes and much more. You can watch a video called "Time and Tide Remembered" in the adjoining projection room. The exhibit upstairs, "Living with the Seasons", shows how families worked to survive given the natural resources at hand.

Hyman Store and Warehouse
Hyman Store and Warehouse
© Parks Canada/J. Audet

The Hyman warehouse was used to store the huge amounts of dried cod produced over the summer before it was shipped off to faraway countries. Exhibits provide engaging descriptions of the international cod trade at the turn of the century. The staff in the Hyman Store will greet you and introduce you to the past with the help of educational games and personalized interpretation.

View of The interior of Blanchette's house
View of The interior of Blanchette's house
© Parks Canada/J. Beardsell

While hundreds of men worked non-stop on the company production lines on the main cod-drying shore (Grande-Grave * ), many families living near small coves went through all the same steps in catching and processing cod, but on a smaller scale, and then sold it to the same companies. Men, women and children worked together to earn their daily bread, making ends meet by doing a little farming and raising a few animals at the same time.

At Anse-Blanchette, you can look around the Blanchette homestead, barn, fish house, woodshed, stage (raised platform) on the beach and other equipment used in drying cod. Guides in period costume welcome you into the house, furnished in the style of the 1920s, and take you back in time as they carry on conversations typical of the era, display their musical talents and demonstrate traditional crafts. In the barn, you can watch the video "We Always Looked to the Sea".

* Grave is an old french word referring to a pebble beach where cod was once dried.

To the top

Present Thousands of Years Ago

Projectile Points
Projectile Points
© Parks Canada/J. Jolin

Thanks to preliminary archaeological surveys initiated by Parks Canada and carried out in 1994, a paleohistoric Amerindian presence in the Anse au Griffon Valley can now be proven. Four new sites have provided undeniable material evidence, mostly in the form of stone splinters, that toolmaking was carried out there.

Three of these sites occupied ancient terraces of marine origin, and these natural platforms certainly offered vantage points for a visual survey of the surrounding landscape.

Between the Gulf and the Bay

The dating recommended for the most conclusive site is around 9,000 years before present. During the millenia that followed, the L’Anse-au-Griffon valley knew a long occupation by the Paleoamerindians and their successors, and had been used commonly as a corridor between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Gaspé Bay.

Gathering, Hunting and Fishing

Relying on an intimate knowledge of the natural environment and its resources for their sustenance, human groups had to deal with climactic features. The conditions that prevailed 9,000 years ago were colder and damper than today and the analysis of fossil pollens in the Gaspé indicates rather scattered vegetation of coniferous trees and shrubs. However, between 7,000 to 4,000 years ago, an ideal warming allowed oak, elm and sugar maple forests to spread.

To the top

They Came from Jersey and Guernsey

Cod Dressers
Cod Dressers
© Parks Canada

Under the French regime, the Gaspé coast remained virtually devoid of permanent settlement, and all attempts to develop fisheries ended in failure.

However, after the region came under British rule, cod-fishing and trading companies from the Channel Islands established themselves on the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They especially settled around Baie des Chaleurs and along the Gaspé Peninsula.

To insure an efficient industry, these companies established several posts along the coast and organized a credit system for fishermen. Consequently, many immigrant families settled permanently in the area.

In search of manpower, these companies hired families, mostly from the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. On the coast of Forillon, names such as Bourgaise, Fruing, Gavey, Janvrin, LeBoutillier, Lemesurier, Lescelleur, Luce, Pipon and Simon are closely related to the history of traditional fisheries and trade.

To the top

L'Anse-aux-Sauvages - Efficient Entrepreneurs

Anse-aux-Sauvages
Anse-aux-Sauvages
© Parks Canada

Families settled along the Forillon coast during the 19 th century mainly made their living by fishing for the large exporting companies. They supplemented this income with subsistence farming.

To support any economic activity, certain basic services must be established. Soon after they had arrived from Guernsey in 1817, the brothers Pierre and William Simon began to take action. Within a few decades, they had made Anse-aux-Sauvages into a nerve centre. A sawmill was opened in 1841, providing facilities for the locals to process wood quickly for building boats, fishing installations and houses. A flour mill also came into operation, to which fishermen-farmers from all around brought their wheat to be ground into flour, a staple food in their diet.

Later on, the Simon brothers opened a smithy, despite the fact that the Fruing Company of Grande-Grave was already operating one. In this way, they responded to the growing needs of the of the local population who wanted to repair their tools, their fishing rigging and their transportation equipment.

Under the monopolistic rule of foreign companies, the Gaspé Peninsula was known for a long time as "the land of the cod". But in view of this industry, the clergy urged the Gaspesians to sustain their living by more diversified means, namely by attaching a greater importance to farming.

To the top

Anse-au-Griffon Valley - Farming as a trade

Agricultural scene
Agricultural scene
© Parks Canada/C. Soucy

The geography of the Gaspé does not allow farming on good quality soil everywhere. But at Anse au Griffon, it was possible, especially along the inland axis formed by the valley.

As early as the French regime, a trail cut through here to join Gaspé Bay. In 1851, governmental surveying finally opened these lowlands to colonization. Under the influence of cod merchant John Le Boutillier, who was established at the mouth of the river, the "Portage" was made suitable for vehicles, and the following year 14 houses were built there. In 1900, no less than 37 families occupied the lots. These families made most of their income through raising cattle for milk or meat and through cereal and vegetable farming.

For the people from the "Portage", as opposed to the coastal population, fishing was only of secondary importance.

Making the Most of the Forest

Forest scene
Forest scene
© Parks Canada/C. Soucy

Even more than agriculture, the lumber industry succeeded in diversifying the traditional fishing-based economy of the Gaspé Peninsula. At the end of the 19th century, the forestry industry went through a boom time, and the village of Anse-au-Griffon knew how to take advantage of it.
A good road giving access to the hinterland was certainly an asset. Besides the farmlands, people from the "Portage" owned wooded lots which they harvested according to the evergreen or broadleaf species present.

The great demand for wood kept the sawmills established in the "Portage" in business: planks and beams for house- or shipbuilding, cedar shingles, staves for big cod barrels, timbers for the building and repair of wharves and bridges .... In addition to the small local businesses, export companies established at the mouth of the river, such as the Calhoun Lumber Co. Of New Brunswick, bought their wood supplies from the surrounding farmers.

To the top

Gaspé Cape - A Short Lighthouse on a Tall Cliff

Aerial View of Cap-Gaspé
Aerial View of Cap-Gaspé
© Parks Canada/J. Beardsell

Lighthouses are usually tall towers. The Gaspé Cape lighthouse, however, is only 12.8 metres high. But perched as it is atop a 95-metre cliff, sailors far out at sea can see its signal.

A Beacon in the Night

When darkness or fog obscures the coast, sailors depend on lighthouses to guide them safely to port. Three lighthouses in turn have stood at Gaspé Cape since 1873. Each used the same type of lighting system-a catoptric one.

The name comes from the Greek word "katoptrikos", meaning mirror. Catoptric systems use a parabolic metal reflector to take rays from a light source and focus them into an intense horizontal beam.

Foggy Weather

When fog shrouds the shore, the lonely wail of foghorns helped lighthouses pierce the gloom.

Each lighthouse had a unique "call" that enabled sailors to pinpoint their location in foggy weather. The following sequence was the "call" of the Gaspé Cape lighthouse:

  • A 3-second blast;
  • 3 seconds of silence;
  • A 3-second blast;
  • 51 seconds of silence.

The arrival of new geographical technologies, like the GPS (Global Positionning Systems), have facilitated navigators duties ... hence the lighthouses are now silent.

To the top

Fort Peninsula - in Search of Wartime History

illustration representing a soldier at Fort Peninsula
Soldier at Fort Peninsula
© Parks Canada/A.-C. Delisle

A little-known episode of the Second World War took place right in Gaspé Bay. At the outbreak of hostilities, the Department of National Defence requisitioned the future site of Fort Peninsula and set up a coastal battery to protect Gaspé Port from possible enemy attack.

A Strategic Harbour

The Gaspé Bay, a vast natural port, offers one of the best harbours in North America. Because it is well sheltered by both coastal relief and the sandy points of Penouille and Sandy Beach, the Gaspé basin is easy to defend. In addition, large ships are able to drop anchor there.

Organizing the Defense

Taking advantage of the natural features of Gaspé Bay, military strategists built a naval base there. Fixed defences protected entry points. This system included an anti-submarine net, stretched between Sandy Beach and Penouille and three coastal batteries: Fort Prével, Fort Haldimand and Fort Peninsula.

On May 1, 1942, the HMCS Fort Ramsay naval base was officially inaugurated. Three months later, over 2000 men were dispatched to the base by 3 military forces (the Navy, Army, and Air Force). The flotilla sent to the Gaspé included 19 warships: 5 minesweepers, 6 Fairmile patrol boats, 7 corvettes and an armed yacht. The Air Force also dispatched a few amphibious planes.