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Boardwalk record

Labrador community builds world's longest wooden boardwalk

special feature: Aboriginal Peoples

Part of a special feature focused on celebrating and recognizing the contribution and impact of Aboriginal Peoples in Newfoundland and Labrador and highlighting contemporary topics and opportunities related to Aboriginal Peoples worldwide. This feature coincides with Aboriginal Peoples Week running March 21-24.

By Janet Harron

History has been made in Rigolet, Labrador, with the recent completion of one of the world’s longest wooden boardwalks.

And thanks to a partnership with Memorial University archaeologist Dr. Lisa Rankin, visitors have a unique destination to visit after their nine-kilometre trek along the waterfront and between the forest and the shore.

Three late 18th-century Inuit homes can be found at the end of the boardwalk, following three years of excavation at Double Mer Point by Dr. Rankin and her team.

Double Mer Point was originally recorded as an archaeology site in 1968 by William Fitzhugh, who is now the senior curator of the Arctic Studies Center at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

A crow's eye view of Double Mer Point by a drone.
A crow’s eye view of Double Mer Point via drone.
Photo: Lisa Rankin

In 2012 the town of Rigolet contacted Dr. Rankin to see if she was interested in excavating the site, as they had plans to extend the boardwalk and rebuild the three winter houses as a tourist destination to show how their ancestors had lived. To do this, they needed the site excavated first.

At the time, Dr. Rankin was just finishing the excavation of several Inuit sites on Labrador’s South Coast. She says by that point she had learned a lot about how the Inuit lived in the south, but the kind of household excavation she does isn’t common further north.

“I was beginning to realize that to understand whether the patterns of life I saw in southern Labrador were common to all Labrador Inuit, I needed comparative data from further north. I was thinking that some of the known Inuit sites near Rigolet would be a perfect place to start. I couldn’t believe it when they called me—it was perfect timing.”

The project was completed thanks to another case of serendipity—a research team Dr. Rankin is associated with was awarded a Tradition and Transition research partnership with Nunatsiavut, which funded the project’s two remaining years of excavation.

French and British trade

Materials collected from the site include European cups and bowls—the Inuit who lived at Double Mer Point had strong trading relationships with the French and the British—an Ottoman pipe and even some ancient material from the Dorset Paleo-Eskimo people who lived in the same location thousands of years prior to the Inuit.

“As a result we have discovered a considerable amount of material which tells us a lot about life there.” — Dr. Lisa Rankin

The settlement is adjacent to a spot where the water never freezes, so seals could be hunted all year long. This made for ideal living conditions.

“Being located near a rapid tidal current and a constant source of food means it was a perfect place to live,” Dr. Rankin said. “As a result we have discovered a considerable amount of material which tells us a lot about life there.”

So much so that the excavations have provided data for three master’s theses to date.

Dr. Rankin praises the initiative of the town of Rigolet in developing the boardwalk. She says with the announcement of the development of Mealy Mountain National Park, the town is preparing for an influx of visitors as it will “no doubt” be one of the gateways into the park.

“I think it is wonderful how engaged Rigolet is with their history. They already have two small museums in town—the Netloft museum and Lord Strathcona’s house, which showcase different parts of the community’s history. Now with Double Mer Point they can show what life was like before Rigolet became the centre. And the boardwalk is amazing!”

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