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A tribute

Dr. Jim Tuck a driving force behind N.L.'s most significant historic sites

Campus and Community

By Janet Harron

By all accounts, the archaeologist Dr. Jim Tuck, who died suddenly on May 10, was a giant of a man.

The driving force behind Newfoundland and Labrador’s most significant archaeological sites, including Red Bay, Labrador, Port au Choix on the Great Northern Peninsula and the Colony of Avalon in Ferryland, Dr. Tuck was born and grew up in New York state. He attended Syracuse University, where he received a PhD in anthropology in 1968.

The first archaeologist hired at Memorial, he began his career as an assistant professor in 1967. His early work was essential in establishing the pre-contact history of Indigenous Peoples in Newfoundland and Labrador.

By the time he retired in 2005, he had achieved the rank of University Research Professor and was the Henrietta Harvey Professor of Archaeology.

Dr. Jim Tuck as a young man.
Photo: Submitted

Among his many awards and honours, Dr. Tuck was a fellow of both the Royal Society of Canada and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was one of the first recipients of the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador.

He held a series of senior administrative positions, both at Memorial and in the Canadian archaeological community, including director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research, president of the Canadian Archaeological Association and editor of the Canadian Journal of Archaeology.

Far-reaching influence

Dr. Tuck is remembered not only for his work in uncovering the past, but for his influence on thousands of undergraduate and graduate students and mentoring new faculty, among them current Memorial faculty members, Drs. Lisa Rankin and Barry Gaulton.

“Jim could do anything,” remembered Dr. Rankin, Memorial University Research Chair, Northern Indigenous Community Archaeology. “When I accepted my academic position at Memorial I had agreed to develop new research in Newfoundland and Labrador. I had never worked here before and no idea where to begin. Jim spent hours of his time guiding me to research he thought I would enjoy. He had been everywhere in the province and done every kind of archaeology – there was nothing he didn’t know.”

Dr. Gaulton got his start in archaeology as an undergraduate student at the Colony of Avalon dig, which was first established by Dr. Tuck in 1981.

“Jim was among the first archaeologists in North America to recognize the benefits of community-based archaeology,” he said. “Through his words and actions, Jim taught me that archaeology is as much about the people and communities we work in as it is about the past – these very important lessons I will never forget.”

Historian Dr. Jeff Webb was a student of Dr. Tuck and says one thing that stood out for him was Dr. Tuck’s masterful communication skills.

“The 16th-century whale fishery in the Strait of Belle Isle, for example, he evocatively described as ‘Canada’s first oil boom.’ On another occasion, I remember him being asked about the similarity between the Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids — to which Jim, without missing a beat, replied, ‘They had to build them that way, if they built them with the pointy end down they would fall over.’”

Public celebration

Dr. Tuck will be remembered by former colleagues, former students, and friends near and far.

He is survived by his wife Lynn, his children Jim, Mike, Laura, and Robin, and his seven grandchildren. Dr. Tuck died at his winter home on Martha’s Vineyard, but plans are afoot to bring his ashes back to Newfoundland and Labrador in the fall of 2019. A public celebration of his life will be held at that time.


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