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Chapter 3

Winter Subsistence – Témiscouata, 14th Century

In the third video, we are transported to the shores of Lake Témiscouata, bordered by maples and rocky outcroppings made up of “Touladi chert”, a raw material used to make tools. By the 14th century, there was an open-air workshop where arrowheads, hatchets, spear tips, and tools used to scrape hides were made. We also see sleds and snowshoes, which made it easier to travel over snow.

Témiscouata Stone

For millennia, the Algonquian peoples developed and transmitted their knowledge of how to make the tools and accessories that allowed them to live as nomads. The Témiscouata area, on the shores of Lake Touladi, was a known and frequently visited site for collecting stone used to make arrowheads and spear tips, hatchets, and scrapers. Referred to as “Touladi chert,” this stone was an invaluable resource for successfully accomplishing the subsistence activities of this era and was also used in trade.

Weapons and War

At archeological sites, only arrowheads and chips from the knapping process remain, as the wooden shafts degrade over time. The sometimes great distances between the sites at which arrowheads are discovered and the sources of the stone used to make them show just how widespread the trade network was between Indigenous peoples: indeed, they transported such objects across the entire North American continent.

Even in the absence of written or visual references from this era, it remains easy to deduce that stone projectile points used for hunting were also used in wars between Indigenous groups.

Conflicts were driven by diverse motives, some of them economic, others political; examples might be access to a specific resource or control of a trade route. Conflicts could also be rooted in cultural beliefs. For example, among the Iroquoians, war was often waged to capture prisoners so as to “replace” a person who had died. The captives were then handed over to grieving families, who could adopt them to replace the deceased.

Subsistence Activities

After the warm season, Algonquian peoples left the shores of the river to move inland. Travelling in small groups, they followed the many rivers to the south of the St. Lawrence, including the Rimouski, dispersing throughout the forest. Families divided up the big game hunting grounds. This nomadic lifestyle allowed them to reach hunting grounds for caribou, which were still part of the regional fauna at the time. Large cervids migrated with the seasons, and hunters followed them through the woods.

The Algonquians used canoes to travel up rivers, portaging when needed or continuing on foot or snowshoes beyond the upper limit of navigability. They hunted and laid traplines while on the move. It is said that Algonquian men spent three-quarters of their lives hunting, fishing, and trapping to feed their families.


For millennia, the various Algonquian First Nations were nomads who constantly traveled in search of food. Over time, likely around the 1400s, the population became more semi-nomadic. Small groups continued to travel but did so seasonally and in the same known regions: winters in the forest, summers along the St. Lawrence.


Each type of hunting or fishing requires different techniques. Beaver, moose, bear, and caribou were mainly hunted during the winter. Beaver were hunted using darts or with nets that were suspended below holes cut into the ice. Moose, on the other hand, were hunted during periods of heavy snow topped with ice, which could hurt or exhaust the animal as it ran. Bears were hunted in groups or trapped; porcupines picked up if one crossed the hunters’ path; martens, hares, and squirrels trapped or shot with bow and arrow. Marine mammals such as seals were hunted in January, at their breeding colonies on the ice. Migratory birds were netted or killed with blunt arrows, as were grouse.

Laurier Turgeon writes that during the cold season, Algonquian peoples formed “small, very mobile groups of four to twelve people,” to be able to move quickly as their food needs dictated. That way, if hunts for big game like moose or caribou were unsuccessful, the hunter-gatherers could return to the mouth of the river “to ice fish for tomcod in December or to hunt grey seal in January, or harp seal in February.”

Using Dogs

Dogs have been part of Indigenous peoples’ lives since their arrival on the continent. These Indigenous groups would be accompanied by several dogs to help them find wounded animals and carry belongings. Dogs helped surround wolverine, sniff out grouse, chase beaver out of their lodges, and bite the legs of moose to slow them down. It is said that dogs are the only animal that the Indigenous people domesticated.


The process of preparing hides began shortly after an animal was killed. Women were responsible for stretching hides over wooden hoops, scraping them, and processing them for trade or to make clothing. When used for personal items, hides were decorated with a variety of designs and coloured using small, pointed bones.


Many populations living on the shores of the St. Lawrence relied on fishing for sustenance. Among other species, they fished for capelin, herring, sturgeon, and salmon, in addition to harvesting molluscs. Their fishing gear included nets, traps, darts or harpoons, spears, bows, lines with hooks, dams, and jacklights.


Foraging is not often mentioned in historical records. However, it is reported that the Algonquians collected eggs from seabirds and Canada geese. From spring to the end of summer, women and children harvested plants with medicinal or culinary properties alongside berries and molluscs.

Tree Harvesting

Trees were cut using stone axes. The Algonquians used tree trunks to make basins or troughs in which they boiled food, including maple sap.


The Algonquian peoples in this era had a fairly varied diet including plenty of meat, fish, seabird eggs, berries, and nuts (boiled and crushed acorns). They may also have used other foods sourced from trade with other peoples, such as cornmeal and squash.

The challenge of preserving fresh foods over long periods of time had a strong influence on diet. Smoking and drying were the only way to preserve food. Algonquian peoples constructed wood racks to smoke and dry meat and fish. They laid butterflied fish, gutted eels, and slices of meat on interlocked branches. For example, eels fished at the end of the fall were smoked to preserve them, so they could be kept in reserve for October and November, before moose hunting season. Quartered meat was wrapped in bark and hidden high in the trees or on racks to keep animals from eating the provisions.

Techniques for processing and storing food varied according to needs and levels of seasonal abundance. If the hunt was good, the Algonquians of this era did not hesitate to eat the meat before it was hung. Food was cooked in containers made of pine bark, clay pots, or wooden troughs filled with snow or water, to which red-hot stones were added. Wooden poles were also used to cook food. One end of the pole would be buried in the ground, and the meat or fish would be speared on the other end and suspended over the fire. Another technique was to hang pieces of meat from rope above the coals, turning them regularly. Sometimes meat and fish were cooked directly on the coals.

Many Indigenous peoples consume broth, in which meat and other foods are cooked. The French referred to the many different soups consumed by the various Indigenous nations they encountered in North America with the blanket term sagamité, likely borrowed from the Algonquin word kijagamite, meaning “the water is hot.” Among corn-growing peoples such as the Wabanaki (part of the Algonquian linguistic and cultural family) or the Iroquoian nations, sagamité is a soup thickened with cornmeal, to which meat, fruit, or fats may be added.

Despite their hunting and gathering skills, Indigenous groups were not immune to famine, especially in the fall or early winter when the snow was slow in coming. This might force them to eat not only roots, but even their dogs, hides, or other objects made of animal hide.


The Algonquians of this era carried all of their belongings with them. To facilitate this task, they made rope out of birch bark and strips of leather. By positioning these straps across their foreheads, they were able to carry heavy loads.

When travelling over land, men carried their canoes on their shoulders. All group members contributed by taking their share of baggage. The items carried included furs, dried and pulverized meat, corn, dried eel, hatchets, bows, arrows, quivers, tobacco, hides, resin and sheets of bark for repairing canoes, and natural dyes and other items used for matachias (body ornamentation). They even carried fire in small bags. The bark used to cover homes was rolled up and carried from one place to another. Poles for construction were left behind in camps that would be revisited.

In the winter, the Algonquian peoples of this era made snowshoes and pulled their baggage on toboggans.

In the summer, they used birch-bark canoes. These were made by sewing together sheets of bark with thread made from wicker, conifer roots, or bark.


Blair, S. (2004). Wolastoqiyik Ajemseg [The People of the Beautiful River at Jemseg], vol. 2: Archaeological Results. New Brunswick Archaeological Services, Heritage Branch, Culture and Sport Secretariat.

Bouchard, S. (2017). Récits de Mathieu Mestokosho, chasseur innu [Tales of Mathieu Mestokosho, Innu hunter]. Boréal.

Bouchard, S. (2013). Confessions animales: Bestiaire [Animal confessions: Bestiary]. Bibliothèque québécoise.

Laberge, M. (with Girard, F., ill.) (1998). Affiquets, matachias et vermillon [Affiquets, matachias and vermillon]. Recherches amérindiennes au Québec.

Turgeon, L. (2019). Une histoire de la Nouvelle-France: Français et Amérindiens au XVIe siècle [A history of New France: French and Indigenous peoples in the 16th century]. Belin Éditeur.

Campanella, R. (2013). Geography of a Food, or Geography of a Word? The Curious Cultural Diffusion of "sagamité". Louisiana History, 54(4), 465–476.

Illustration: Chapter 3