The Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) is part of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation (TCR), Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The PAO is the regulatory agency for all archaeology conducted on provincial land within the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The PAO are responsible for archaeological site management and protection; archaeological permitting; review of land use applications; development of policy and procedures; consultation with various groups having archaeological interests and education about archaeology. While it is not explicitly stated as a responsibility or a goal of the PAO, we have a role in assuring that the Province’s archaeology tourism product is accurate. While archaeology has always been a part of Tourism in this province, I think it plays a significant role.
The Tourism Research Division of the Department of TCR maintains statistics and information on tourism in the province. Looking at the number of visits to archaeological sites by tourists in 2013 will give you an idea of the significance of archaeology to tourism: Ferryland, 15,800 visitors; Cupids Plantation 3,400 visitors; L’anse aux Meadows, 21,900 visitors; Port au Choix 7,000 visitors; Red Bay 7,700 visitors; Boyd’s Cove 8,100 visitors and while they are not archaeology sites The Rooms received 74,900 visitors and Labrador Interpretation Centre received 2,000 visitors.
In addition the recent Non-Resident Exit Survey (2011) implemented by the Tourism Research Division indicated that 16% of the non-resident travellers reported a visit to an archaeological site during their stay. It is estimated that between May and October 2011 approximately 25,100 travel parties or 55,900 non-residents visited an archaeology site.
These visitors are more likely than average to be in the province for vacation/pleasure purposes, to be from Western Canada or the United States and report a higher than average length of stay as well as higher in-province per party and per person expenditures. For a full profile of the characteristics of those non-residents visiting an archaeology site please see the Non-Resident Exit Survey (2011).
So, if a tourist came to me asking what are some of the main archaeology tourism destinations in the province, I would answer with the following list – which is my personal opinion. Let’s assume you’ll start out in St. John’s, where would I recommend you go first? Obviously in St. John’s you would need to start with The Rooms, the Museum division in particular if you want to see archaeological interpretation. They have displays and interpretation for just about every culture that can be seen through an archaeological site, starting with artifacts and interpretation of the earliest Aboriginal people, right down to the most recent European immigrants.
Leaving St. John’s I would recommend you go to Ferryland. The site is one of the best preserved 17th century sites in North America. It was first visited by migratory fisherman in the 1500s and early 1600s. Interestingly, the archaeologists in charge at Ferryland have found Beothuk cultural material in the same level as the migratory fishermen and have interpreted that as the Beothuk coming to the site after the fishermen, likely to take advantage of left over European goods.
The main occupation of Ferryland by Europeans began in the 1620s when Sir George Calvert purchased land on the Avalon Peninsula to set up a colony. In 1621 Calvert’s colonists set off for Ferryland under the leadership of Governor Captain Edward Wynne. The colony was later taken over by the Kirke family. Interpretation of all this history can be found in the excellent interpretation centre in Ferryland.
Still on the Avalon Peninsula, I would recommend you go and see the newest Provincial Historic Site in the Province, Cupids. This site contains the remains of Canada’s first English colony dating back to 1610. As at Ferryland, Cupids has a first rate interpretation centre/museum and the dig is open in the summer months so you can get a guided tour. While the archaeological site at Cupids is not as large as at Ferryland, because the colony was smaller, it is no less impressive and is excellently preserved. In recent years they have been uncovering new features including the stone base of a defensive wall. They have recently added a ghost structure over the main colony area which depicts the shell of the main colony building. This adds an interesting dimension to the site because many people have trouble understanding or seeing how the features in the ground relate to former structures.
On the Bonavista Peninsula, the town of Trinity contains several sites which make up part of the Trinity Provincial Historic Sites. “Trinity’s merchants were some of the wealthiest men on either side of the ocean and they made this town a capital in the salt fish trade in the 1700s.” This rich past means that the archaeology in the area is just as rich; in the Trinity-Trinity East area there are more than 30 registered archaeological sites. Those sites include shipwrecks, fortifications, houses, merchant’s premises and even some precontact Aboriginal material.
Our next stop on our archaeological tour of the province will be the Provincial Historic Site of Boyd’s Cove which is about a 30 minute drive north of Gander. This site has a really nice interpretation centre/museum and a beautiful walking trail that will lead you to the site of a Beothuk village. Boyd’s Cove was occupied by Beothuk ancestors starting about 1000 years ago. The historic Beothuk occupation of the site falls within the 1650-1720 A.D. period. If you visit the site today you’ll see an open grassy field with a series of round or oval depressions – each one is a Beothuk house pit.
Leaving Boyd’s Cove, I would suggest you also visit Fleur de Lys which is a small town on the tip of the Baie Verte Peninsula. Along with being a beautiful little town, Fleur de Lys is home to a large and well-preserved Dorset Palaeoeskimo soapstone quarry; the only known Dorset quarry of its kind. For nearly 100 metres along a bedrock outcrop there are soapstone pot removal scars from when the Dorset carved blocks of soapstone from the exposure. These blocks were eventually turned into soapstone pots and lamps ~1600 years ago.
From the Baie Verte Peninsula we’ll next head up the Great Northern Peninsula to the National Historic Site at Port au Choix. Part of the significance of Port au Choix is that every precontact aboriginal group that ever existed in on the Island seems to have lived here at one time or another. The best example of that can be seen at Phillip’s Garden, a large open field just outside the community. The field contains one of the largest Dorset Palaeoeskimo dwelling sites known anywhere. The site was used by the Dorset more or less continually from 2000 to 1200 years ago. In 2013 Christina E. Robinson finished her Master’s thesis research in which, using three non-intrusive survey methods including magnetometry, she increased the number of potential dwelling structures at the site from 68 to 198.
From Port au Choix it is a short drive up the Peninsula to the next National Historic Site and UNESCO World Heritage site at L’Anse aux Meadows. This site contains the only authenticated remains of a Norse village in North America. Along with all the Norse artifacts the site contains the remains of several halls, several huts and a smelting hut.
Heading across the Strait of Belle Isle to Labrador, I would next recommend you visit Red Bay. Red Bay was identified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013 because of the 16th century Basque Whaling station located there. The Basques came to Red Bay in the early 1500s in late spring/early summer from Europe to hunt for whales. When the whales were caught they would be dragged up on shore and cut into big chunks and the whale fat would be melted down in huge copper pots which sat on top of ovens called tryworks. The oil would then be stored in barrels to be shipped back to Europe. The foundations of buildings and the tryworks used for their large cooking pots are excellently preserved in the ground in Red Bay. This was a huge business and involved hundreds of men and numerous large sailing ships. At the end of the season almost all the men would go back to Europe with their ships filled with barrels of whale oil which was used in various products and as fuel for lamps.
Some of those ships sank in Red Bay Harbour. At least one was excavated which is believed to be the San Juan because of the court documents in Europe which indicate that the San Juan wrecked in Red Bay Harbour in the 1565.
Last but not least I would recommend you visit the Labrador Interpretation Centre at North West River, Labrador. This is a quote directly from their webpage:
At the Labrador Interpretation Centre you’ll discover the founding peoples of Labrador – Innu, Inuit, Metis and Settlers. In the permanent exhibition The Past is Where We Come From, you’ll hear the voices and see works of art and artifacts from each of our cultures. You’ll also explore our ancient Aboriginal history and see how we live our lives today. The exhibition is presented in Inuktitut, Innu-aimun and English.
This list of places to visit is by no means exhaustive. Many communities throughout the Province such as Norris Arm, Cow Head and L’Anse au Clair, for example, have their own museums/interpretation centres that interpret local archaeology. I would encourage you to visit as many as you can to learn as much as you can about the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Robinson, Christina E. 2014 What Lies Beneath?: Three Non-intrusive Archaeological Surveys to Identify Dorset Palaeoeskimo Dwellings at Phillip’s Garden, Port au Choix, Newfoundland.