Description of Historic Place
Okak National Historic Site of Canada is a grouping of over 60 archaeological sites dating from 5550 B.C.E to the present, which are located on Okak Bay off the northern coast of Labrador. The sites are spread across three nodes of varying landscapes: the forested mainland surrounding Okak Bay, which lies just south of the tree line; the partially forested inner islands, with small stands of spruce and patches of brush; and the outer (seaward) islands, which are characterized by a landscape of bare rock and tundra vegetation. The sites cluster near the shore on raised beach terraces where cultural material may be found in both surface and buried contexts. Foundations of buildings, walkways and a wharf from Okak Mission, located on Okak Island, are visible amid vegetation on tundra-covered hills. Official recognition refers to a series of 17 irregular polygons that encompass the Moravian mission site and 31 Okak archaeological sites as they existed at the time of designation in 1978.
Okak was designated as a national historic site of Canada in 1978 because:
- it features a series of archaeological sites that represent a long record of habitation from Maritime Archaic (beginning about 6000 years ago) to recent Labrador Inuit;
- it is the location of the second oldest Moravian mission in Labrador, founded in 1776 and abandoned in 1919 after most the population was decimated in the Spanish Flu epidemic.
The archaeological remains found at Okak span more than 6000 years, including its occupation by Maritime Archaic (5550 B.C.E.- 1550 B.C.E.), Pre-Dorset (1850 B.C.E. – 250 B.C.E.), Intermediate Indian (1550 B.C.E. – 250 B.C.E.), Dorset (550 B.C.E. – 1450 C.E.) and Labrador Inuit (1200 C.E. – Present) cultures. Many of the sites are multi-component, incorporating occupations during two or more of these cultural periods. A range of site types, from small surface scatters to groups of sod houses are represented within the site. The cultural material consists primarily of stone tools and flakes documenting changes in tool form, manufacturing techniques, and raw material sources among the various cultural periods. The oldest archaeological finds date from the Maritime Archaic period on Cut Throat Island.
In 1776, Moravian Missionaries established a mission site in northern Labrador, and settled off Okak Harbour on Okak Island. It was the second successful mission to be established by the Moravian Missionaries on the Labrador Coast, the first being founded at Nain, 400 kilometres to the south in 1771. The Okak Mission was prefabricated at Nain, and then transported north to Okak, along with a provisions house and bake house. Inuit houses were also constructed here as families gradually relocated to be closer to the mission. Between changing hunting patterns and the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, which decimated the population at Okak, the mission was abandoned in 1919.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1978, July 2007.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- its location off the northern coast of Labrador, above and below the tree line;
- its setting on varying landscapes, including treed and partially-treed sites, tundra, bare rock hills, lowland portions of rivers, and underwater sites;
- the landscapes to and from the sites and the immediate surroundings;
- the viewscapes to and from the various components of the site.
The integrity of any surviving or as yet unidentified archaeological remains that may be found within the site in their original placement and extent, including:
- any remains from the Maritime Archaic occupation, such as various raw materials, hearths, tent rings, stemmed points and flakepoints, slate celt fragments, and the stem of a ground slate bayonet;
- any remains from the Pre-Dorset occupation, such as tools made of fine-grained cherts, unground burins, sidescrapers, and chipped and ground adzes. In addition, the sites include small and delicately-made triangular and stemmed lanceolate points, tent rings, burin spalls, leaf-shaped and straight-faced bifaces, microblades and cultural materials;
- any remains from the Dorset occupation, such as winter houses, some with an clearly delineated entrance passage and a partially paved mid-passage structure containing a hearth, tip-fluted triangular points, large notched and ovate bifaces, square-based silicified slate bifaces, triangular endscrapers, microblades, a ground slate spatulate tool, a rectangular soapstone vessel, and a cache of quartz chunks, ground schist fragments, chipped and polished stemmed gravers, faunal remains of seal and walrus, a lanceolate, and small stemmed flakepoints;
- any remains from the Late-Dorset occupation, such as features from the interior and exterior of winter houses with mid-passage structures, hearths, and sleeping area; triangular points, notched and stemmed symmetric bifaces, notched and stemmed flakeknives, diagonal knives, endscrapers, polished nephrite and chert gravers, and a variety of oval and round soapstone vessels;
- any remains from the Labrador Eskimo occupation, such as sod winter houses, tent rings and cultural remains;
- any remains from the Okak Mission, such as building foundations, the remains of walkways, the remains of a wharf, and cultural remains including those in the inter-tidal and underwater zones.