Discovering the archaeology of the Chambly Canal
In recent decades, archaeological interventions have been conducted under the Parks Canada umbrella to document the land use history of the sectors of the Chambly Canal in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and at the Fort Chambly site. Through this work, the general public has had the opportunity to discover the richness of the cultural resources along this waterway.
Work that has revealed a human presence dating back 5,000 years
Archaeological work conducted along the Richelieu River and Valley has brought to light a significant paleohistoric presence. The banks of the Richelieu were once covered with pockets of woodland and a few grassland areas that were conducive to human settlement. This context sheds light on the history of human-nature relationships. These discoveries, which date back over 5,000 years, show that the first groups of hunter-gatherers to have occupied the shores of the Richelieu had settled temporarily as early as the Laurentian Archaic period (5,500 to 4,200 years ago).
Note that, according to the Inventaire des Sites Archéologiques du Québec (ISAQ), a number of archaeological sites have been identified in the Chambly Basin area. However, three paleohistoric sites have been subject to inventories and digs. This work was conducted in the 1970s near the Fryers Rapids and continued around the Fort Sainte-Thérèse site by Parks Canada from 2008 to 2010.
Sites that tell the story of a nomadic lifestyle
More specifically, the first two sites were discovered in summer 1972 during an archaeological survey of the Chambly Basin area. The first site discovered, called the Many site, located west of the Chambly Canal at an altitude of 37 meters above mean sea level (MSL), contained a collection of seven stone-cutting flakes, two of which were retouched. The second site faces the Fryer Rapids on a narrow strip of land between the Chambly Canal and the Richelieu River, at an altitude of 28 meters above MSL. According to Quebec professor and researcher Normand Clermont, this Early Archaic site, which contained stone tools, is connected to the Brewerton phase (5,000 to 4,000 years ago) of the Laurentian Archaic period. The 32 m2 dig produced 168 stone tools, 2,033 cutting flakes, 65 lithic cores, two hearths, one stake imprint, and depressions left in place by Archaic occupants.
These indicators provide evidence of a temporary period of occupation during which several types of activities, including fishing, hunting, food smoking and tool making, were being conducted. This site may have been an autumnal camp where eels were dried in preparation for the difficult early winter months. The site was partially destroyed during the demolition of a house immediately following the dig in 1974.
A site of cultural exchange
The third site was discovered downriver from Fort Sainte-Thérèse. The first inventory was conducted by archaeologist Michel Gaumont in 1974. Some thirty years later, Parks Canada archaeologists resumed the work, which allowed for two paleohistoric collections including 57 representative objects to be built in 2008. These artifacts clearly demonstrate that occupants were living in this sector and using lithic materials primarily from the current states of New York and Vermont, but also from local sources. According to archaeologist Jean-Yves Pintal, the presence of a significant proportion of Mistassini quartzite suggests that these occupants’ sphere of interaction centered around the Saint-Maurice River. This shows that a number of exchanges took place between various groups along the Saint-Maurice and Richelieu rivers. As for the length of occupation, the shape of most of the points and knives gathered suggests that this sector was inhabited during three main time periods: from 5,000 to 3,500 years ago; from 3,000 to 2,500 years ago; and from the 10th to the 17th-18th centuries.
It is fascinating to be able to understand our land through archaeological discoveries. Still today, the archaeological potential of this sector as a whole remains high owing to the environmental and cultural integrity of the Chambly Canal.
André Miller – Archaeologist – Parks Canada.