Fall time – As the leaves change color and begin to fall, the food that has been gathered will be stored for the long winter months ahead. It is now time to collect wood to heat our homes and to harvest the wild hazelnuts, a favourite among the Mi’gmaq.
On the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec, where whales breech the ocean and seagulls line the coast, lies the Mi’gmaq community of Gespeg.
Gespeg means “land’s end” in Mi’gmaq, and it is believed that the French word Gaspé may also come from Gespeg.
The Mi’gmaq were permanently settled on the Gaspé bay by the 16th Century. And by 1675, it is reported that the Mi’gmaq had already been in contact with European fisherman for at least a couple of decades.
The Mi’gmaq traded with the Europeans, gave them tours of the region, and taught the new settlers how to live off this new unfamiliar land. This included knowing what plants and berries were safe to eat.
Along the bay, the Mi’gmaq trapped, hunted, gathered and fished. They relied heavily on their natural resources, especially on our slippery little friend: the salmon.
The Mi’gmaq of Gespeg were very skilled in wood carving and design, and manufactured traditional handicrafts like moccasins, birch-bark boxes, wicker baskets and other small pieces of furniture. Many of these items were sold to Europeans settlers. The Mi’gmaq were very savvy entrepreneurs.
As time passed, the Mi’gmaq of Gespeg began to move and settle along the bay. Their territory grew and extended on to the York and Dartmouth Rivers. They also frequented the northern region of Gaspé, including the spot where the town of Percé now stands.
In the year 1814, there was roughly ten families recorded living near the Gaspé bay. Other families stretched out over the region in places like Sandy Beach, L’Anse-Aux-Cousins, Douglastown, the York River and Dartmouth River.
The Mi’gmaq continue to occupy their traditional land of Gespeg and the community continues to evoke the same vibrant culture today that they demonstrated 400 years ago.