Many thousands of years ago, small groups of nomadic hunters migrated in successive waves from Asia to North America by crossing the Bering Strait. Approximately 11 000 years ago, nomads began living in the Maritime region: Before this, the territory could not be inhabited because it was covered with ice.

The first Mi’kmaq settled in Gaspé 3 000 years before the first Europeans arrived. Because they were nomads, they spent most of the year on the coast where they lived by fishing, hunting marine mammals and gathering shellfish and wild berries. During the winter, they returned to the forest where they lived mainly by hunting moose, caribou and beaver. The Mi’kmaq, who were excellent navigators, built long canoes of birch bark with raised edges, and they could use these to sail the seas. Around the 1500s, about 6 000 Mi’kmaq lived in the Maritime region.

First contact with Europeans

From the 16th century on, the Mi’kmaq spent time with Europeans who fished for cod and hunted whales on the coast of the Gaspé Peninsula. They had close contacts with these newcomers. They helped in their fishing and traded furs with them for their goods. Gradually, they became dependent on these new products, including metal objects (axes, arrowheads, needles, knives), they could not reproduce. Diseases brought by the Europeans, such as smallpox and measles devastated the Mi’kmaq: Depending on the region, 50% to 90% of them died.

In 1605, Chief Membertou met with Samuel de Champlain and his men at Port Royal in Mi’kmaq territory. Later, some settlers from France settled among them. But it was from 1784 on that Loyalists, who were Anglophones, chose to settle in large numbers in the Gaspé

Author: Based on texts from the Récit de l’univers social.  Adapted with additions by LEARN.

Quickly check your knowledge: