Description of Historic Place
Waapushukamikw National Historic Site of Canada, located in an area of gentle countryside along the Témiscamie River in the Québec Mid-North, is a white quartzite hill that stands out clearly in a relatively flat, forested landscape. Also known as the Colline Blanche, the hill is approximately 40 metres high with a width of 400 metres, extending 1200 metres along a northeast/southeast axis. Its three ridges, roughly 100 metres apart, are relatively bare, contributing to its clearly whitish appeareance. Abutting the main peak is a quarry containing millions of fragments of Mistassini quartzite, and along the foot of the hill are a number of natural cavities, the largest of which is the smooth-marble walled cave, the Antre de Marbre. This area has only been habitable since 5050 B.C.E. Official recognition refers to the cultural property as defined by the Government of Québec.
Waapushukamikw was designated a national historic site of Canada in 2008 because:
- Aboriginal people have come here since the retreat of the glaciers 7,000 years ago to obtain the very distinctive fine-grained white quartzite that occurs in this area;
- it was the major quarry site for hundreds of kilometres in any direction; this quartzite was used for cutting edge tools throughout an immense territory covering much of northeastern North America; and,
- to the Mistissini Cree, Waapushukamikw, in particular the quartzite cave at this location, is a place of spiritual significance and a respected place of memory.
Located in an area that became inhabitable after the glacial melt, about 7000-6500 years before present, Waapushukamikw is a source of Mistassini quartzite, a fine-grained and mainly white stone that generally presents a waxy surface and is translucent in thin sections. In reference to its white colour and waxy texture, the Cree call this stone Wiinwaapskw, meaning “animal fat”. Mistassini quartzite reacts predictably to blows from artisans, making it a material of choice for tool makers. While aboriginal craftsmen could produce most of the stone tools they needed for their activities from Mistassini quartzite, the lack of animal resources in the immediate vicinity of the hill did not lend the site to prolonged occupancy. Therefore, after laying in supplies of quartzite, archaeological evidence suggests that the craftsmen and their families preferred to move on to more accomodating, temporary places where the craftsmen would transform the stone into tools. This enabled families or groups to make the journey back to their customary place of residence without transporting large portions of stone.
It is believed that these early stonecutters did not need to dig the hill to obtain the materials they required. Archaeological evidence has shown that the stone needed could have been layed into by gathering the blocks that detached naturally, particularly from the erosion talus of the main peak, commonly known today as Rogers Quarry. It is possible that they sometimes took things further, possibly leaving the site with finished objects. Finished tools, such as scrapers and endscrapers, found at the bottom of the hill suggest the preparation of handles or shafts, customary casings for objects such as knives and points. Interest in Mistassini quartzite manifested very early among various Aboriginal peoples, and its use quickly spread throughout much of northeastern North America.
Located at the base of the hill is the Antre de Marbre, the largest cave at Waapushukamikw. Known as Tchichémanitououitchouapi, or house of the Great Spirit, to the area’s aboriginal peoples at the time of the European re-discovery in the 18th century, this cave is a place of spiritual significance and a respected place of memory for the Cree community of Mistissini. The large, smooth-marble walled Antre de Marbre, which served as a place for shamanistic rites and rituals, has an aura that testifies to the religious beliefs of the northeastern Algonquians in general and the Cree of Mistissini in particular.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 2008.
Key elements contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
- the distinctive characteristics of the natural landscape of the site, defined by the Temiscamie River, which traverses the forested rolling landscape, and in which the surrounding hills do not exceed an altitude of 60 metres;
- the visual relationship between the hill and the natural setting, namely the contrast between the distinctive white appearance of the hill’s high and relatively bare ridges, and the surrounding low, forested terrain;
- the presence of Mistassini quartzite, a fine-grained and mostly white stone, which can also be dark grey, pinkish, and green, with a waxy surface and high clastic quality, and is translucent in thin sections;
- the smooth-marble walled cave, 2.5 metres high, over 4 metres wide, and up to 7 metres deep, capable of accommodating twenty people, as well as the many other caves, grottoes and openings of various shapes and sizes found throughout the site;
- the integrity of the main peak’s erosion talus, also known as the Rogers Quarry, as the most visible and most easily accessible source of Mistassini quartzite, as well as many other sites all over the hill where the procurement of the stone is possible;
- the integrity of any surviving or as yet unidentified archaeological remains, which may be found within the site;
- viewscapes between the hill and the surrounding landscape;
- its association with the Cree community of Mistissini.