Backgrounder Article from  Parks Canada

Cummins Pre-Contact Site, Thunder Bay, Ontario

The Cummins Pre-Contact Site is an archaeological site located on the outskirts of Thunder Bay, Ontario. At least 9,000 years old, this site was used as a quarry and stone tool workshop as well as a camp during the late Paleoindian period. Today, the site is 11 kilometres from the present shore of Lake Superior, but during the Paleoindian period, this entire region was covered by ancient Lake Minong, and the Cummins site was along its edge.

Late Paleoindian peoples were the first to settle in northern Ontario at the end of the last glacial period. At that time, the environment was one of tundra and open spruce woodlands along the south-facing slopes and beach ridges of Lake Minong, over time changing to pine forests. The lowlands were grassy willow meadows. These early settlers were hunter-gatherers who moved camp with the seasons and with the movement of key food resources. They would have hunted caribou in areas of tundra, made use of freshwater resources, and captured diverse small game. Many of their stone tools were made from a type of stone known as taconite quarried at the Cummins site, found as a red jasper, and in black and grey varieties.

The Cummins site is one of a number of Late Paleoindian sites discovered along the shores of ancient Lake Minong that are considered part of what is known as the Lakehead Complex. These sites represent a unique adaptation to the environment of the region, with shared tool types, many made from the Cummins site stone. Today, the Cummins site is considered to be one of the most representative of the shoreline sites in the Lakehead Complex.

Archaeologists first learned of the site in 1962, when Thunder Bay local Hugh Cummins reported finding stone tools to archaeologist K.C.A. Dawson. The next year, Dawson and fellow archaeologist J.V. Wright of the Archaeological Survey of Canada, surveyed the Cummins site and carried out test excavations. These investigations established that the site had been an early quarry, workshop and camp site, and that it was unexpectedly extensive at over 200 acres in size. Dawson and Wright also recovered a small cluster of burned human bone from the gravel quarry edge, which was dated to 9,500 years ago. This is the best evidence we have that Late Paleoindian peoples in the northwestern Great Lakes cremated their dead. Shortly after the discovery, K.C.A. Dawson went on to become a noted professor of archaeology at Lakehead University.

Cummins Site was declared a national historic site in 1981, and the property is owned and protected by the Province of Ontario.


The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Created in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada advises the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change regarding the national historic significance of places, people and events that have marked Canada’s history. The placement of a commemorative plaque represents an official recognition of historic value. It is one means of informing the public about the richness of our cultural heritage, which must be preserved for present and future generations. Parks Canada supports the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in its advisory role with secretariat services, historical research, policy advice, media relations, plaque unveiling ceremonies, and plaque installation and maintenance.

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Hon. Patricia A. Hajdu Parks Canada History and Archaeology

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