Southern end of Trinity Bay

The southern end of Trinity Bay, including Bull Arm, contains some very interesting archaeology sites. Looking at the map below (See the red polygon), we are dealing with 34 sites that contain components from every precontact aboriginal group who inhabited Newfoundland and several interesting European sites.

Southern Trinity Bay including Bull Arm. Sites discussed are the yellow dots inside the red Polygon.
Southern Trinity Bay including Bull Arm. Sites discussed are the yellow dots inside the red Polygon.

Some of the more interesting sites in the area would include a site just outside the community of Sunnyside. The archaeology site is made up of the base of several stone walls and the base of a chimney. These remains were the foundation of a telegraph station that received the first transatlantic telegraph cable from Ireland in 1858. The cable lasted three weeks before it stopped working. It wasn’t until 1866 when the Great Eastern landed at Heart’s Content that the first permanent cable was installed.

Foundation of the former telegraph station near Sunnyside.
Foundation of the former telegraph station near Sunnyside.

To the southeast is a recently discovered site that appears to consist of the remains of a 17th century winter house. The site is being excavated by a MUN Archaeology Professor and an independent archaeologist. The site seems to contain a planter’s winter house with a rock fireplace and an associated earthen foundation. Archaeology sites recognized as winter houses are rare in the archaeological record and I believe that this is the only one from the 17th century. More information on that site can be found in volume 9 for the 2010 field season of the Provincial Archaeology Office Annual Review.

Fireplace of the winter house. Showing remains of the chimney  and extensive burning inside the hearth area.
Fireplace of the winter house. Showing remains of the chimney and extensive burning inside the hearth area. (Gaulton)

Another impressive site in the Bull Arm portion of Trinity Bay is found at Stock Cove and the related Stock Cove West site. The Stock Cove site was found in 1978 and became the focus of a Master’s Thesis written by a MUN grad student. While the site contains mostly Dorset Palaeoeskimo material including several Dorset houses (one of which is likely a long house), it also has Maritime Archaic and Groswater Palaeoeskimo components. There are also late Recent Indian, Beothuk and European components.

The related Stock Cove West site, which was found in 2009, also has cultural components from the Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian, Beothuk and Europeans. This site has become the focus of a multi-year research project led by two archaeologists from the United States. More information on the site can be found in volumes 8 & 9 Provincial Archaeology Office Annual Review.

A selection of bifaces found at the Stock Cove West site made of typical Trinity Bay chert. This chert is mostly found on Trinity Bay sites and has a white and a chalk-like exterior surface. (Stock Cove Archaeology Project)
A selection of bifaces found at the Stock Cove West site made of typical Trinity Bay chert. This chert is mostly found on Trinity Bay sites and has a white and a chalk-like exterior surface. (Stock Cove Archaeology Project)

Another significant site is found in the southeast corner of Trinity Bay on Dildo Island. Essentially this whole island is an archaeology site with cultural components related to the Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian, Beothuk and Europeans. The island is of such significance that it was designated in 2010 as a Place of Provincial Significance.

Some of the precontact components contain Dorset Palaeoeskimo house pits and a Recent Indian hunting camp. As significant as that is, the European occupation of the island is potentially just as important.

Dildo Island also played a role in a number of highly significant events in the European history of Newfoundland including John Guy’s and Henry Crout’s exploratory voyages into Trinity Bay in 1612 and 1613. During Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), 204 Trinity Bay men spent the winter on the island defending themselves against French attack. The Lester merchant family based in Trinity had fishing premises on the island in the 1700s. Over the nineteenth century, the commercial cod fishery expanded into the bottom of Trinity Bay and in 1889 the first cod hatchery in what is now Canada was established on Dildo Island. This was a world-class facility – one of the most modern and largest of its type at the time. Provincial Historic Commemorations Program
 
Excavation of Recent Indian hearths on Dildo Island. (Gilbert)
Excavation of Recent Indian hearths on Dildo Island. (Gilbert)

Another important site is on Frenchman’s Island. This site was found during the same research project that found Stock Cove in 1978. It is likely that this island is the one referenced by John Guy in his letter recounting his travels around Trinity Bay in the of 1612:

The seventh day we spent in washing, and in beginning a house to shelter us when we should come hither hereafter, upon a small iland of about fiue acres of ground, which is joined to the maine with a small beech: for any bartering with the sauages there cannot be a fitter place. Howley 1945:17-18.
 
Frenchman's Island, Trinity Bay.
Frenchman’s Island, Trinity Bay.

The archaeological work which took place on the island in 1980-81 found no definitive evidence of this house. Yet, this is the only island in this end of the bay and it is the correct size, therefore it is likely the same island. There was considerable evidence for other occupations found on the island including Maritime Archaic, Groswater and Dorset Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian, Beothuk and Europeans.

During the 1980 field season the archaeologist thought he had uncovered part of a Dorset habitation structure. He was unable to confirm the presence of this structure in 1981.

Dorset Palaeoeskimo endblades made of Trinity Bay chert.
Dorset Palaeoeskimo endblades made of Trinity Bay chert from Frenchman’s Island.

The island also contained a considerable late Recent Indian – Beothuk occupation. One of the features found in this portion of the site contained a midden that was composed of bone and shell. Excavation of this layer also uncovered numerous corner-notched, stemmed, triangular bifaces and European artifacts. Initially the excavator thought that the European artifacts found in this layer were an indication of a European – Beothuk contact site. However, from the selection of European artifacts found it appears the European occupation likely dates to the 18th century.

Assortment of late Recent Indian and possible Beothuk bifaces and arrowheads from Frenchman's Island.
Assortment of late Recent Indian and possible Beothuk bifaces and arrowheads from Frenchman’s Island.

The European component of the island is thought to be related to a military occupation, possibly dating to the period of Queen Anne’s War.  There are four pits and trenches on one end of the island that are thought to be related to this occupation.

Assorted European pipestems and bowls from Frenchman's Island.
Assorted European pipe stems and bowls from Frenchman’s Island.
Elaborately decorated pipe stem from Frenchman's Island.
Elaborately decorated pipe stem from Frenchman’s Island.

Finally, the Archaic occupation of the island seemed to be very sparse and was limited to just a handful of artifacts. This biface seems to be made of a dark blue or purple Rhyolite which is not an uncommon material for Archaic sites on this portion of the island.

Maritime Archaic biface from Frenchman's Island.
Maritime Archaic biface from Frenchman’s Island.

This area of Trinity Bay contains some important and interesting European archaeological sites with potential ties to people who played a significant role in this Province’s past such as John Guy. Considering the near lack of precontact aboriginal sites on the Avalon Peninsula, the density of such sites in this small area of Trinity Bay is surprising. It is not immediately clear why this area has played such an important role in the Province’s past but thanks to archaeology we have a better understanding of these sites and events.

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10 thoughts on “Southern end of Trinity Bay

  1. Thanks so much for this interesting post. Has the source of the “Trinity Bay Chert” been identified? Is it the same chert as the bi-face Bill Gilbert found at Custer’s Head, Hants Harbour?

    1. No the source has not been definitively identified.
      Yes, I believe that biface is made of the Trinity Bay chert. As I said in the post it is typical for Trinity Bay but it has been found in other places like Placentia Bay. I think it is actually weathering that causes the white surface. Broken flakes are actually dark inside.

  2. I’ve paddled to most of these sites over the years. I do have to say I’m a bit apprehensive about your announcement of the sites at backside in Green’s hr and the site in Hopeall. I know these sites havent been dug….and do worry now that it’s out there what will happen to these sites. While your not providing direct grid’s …..it’s kinda obvious where the sites are. I hope not to find these places dug up by arrowhead hunters before archaeologist get a chance to dig the sites.

    1. I see your point but we have to try to educate people about archaeology as well. I tried to keep the site locations vague and the maps small enough that it would difficult to find the sites. As well, the Provincial Archaeology Office has come to realize one of the best ways we can protect our sites is to let people know they exist. You would be amazed how protective some people are over these sites.

      1. Due to Geography…even the vague reference point is a near pinpoint with Hopeall Perhaps you guys should release some information on the Hopeall site as aside from very very few folks many have no clue about the Hopeall occupation site at all.

  3. I wonder if someone can please explain this to me? The descendants of the maritime archaic Indians are the recent Indians. Beothuk and the Mi’kmaq are also descendants of the Maritime archaic . If they have the same ancestry how does it Turman the recent Indian artefacts are not indeed Mi’kmaq ?

    1. Hi Paul
      There is no clear evidence that the Recent Indians (RI) were Maritime Archaic Indian (MAI) descendants. There is a temporal gap of more than 1000 years between the MAI and the RI on the Island, during this time there are only Palaeoeskimo groups on the Island. In Labrador this gap is filled by the Intermediate Amerindians (II). This group seems to be a highly varied mix of peoples moving in to and out of Labrador. The II seem to rely on Labrador trough (interior) lithics and quartzites mostly from coastal Labrador, very different from the lithics used by the MAI. Also, the II completely lack the ground stone technology which was so prominent in the MAI period. So there is little clear evidence for the II being the MAI descendants. The next group recognized archaeologically are the RI and it is not clear at all if or how they were related to the II or the MAI. On the Island there is almost no trace of the II.
      We do know the RI were the ancestors of the Beothuk and likely the Innu as well.
      The Mi’kmaq originated in the Atlantic Provinces. There has never been precontact Mi’kmaq evidence found on the Island despite extensive searching along the south coast of the Island. If they had been here in the precontact I would expect to see lithics from the Atlantic Provinces in association with precontact Mi’kmaq ceramics. This has never been found in this province.

  4. I’m a historian of the Atlantic Cable and other undersea communications cables, and I’m working on a new page on the 1858 cable station buildings at Sunnyside. For this as yet unpublished page on my research website, I would like permission to use your photograph of the remains of the foundation there. My proposed use can be seen at the end of this working copy of the new page:
    http://atlantic-cable.com/Article/1858NFStation/
    I have recently come into possession of the watercolours and site plan of the 1858 buildings shown on the page, which may be of interest to you. I’d also like to know if you have any further photos of the site.

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