Archeologists had walked the sandy shoreline and scrubgrass around Forteau before, but never spotted it.
The stone fox trap was apparently easy to miss, in an area scattered with 12-gauge shells, rock pile “bird blinds” for hunters and stone circles previously marked by other researchers and investigators, chasing the answers to the mysteries of Southern Labrador history.
Archeological consultants with Gerald Penney Associates — hired by the Pennecon subsidiary Bay Bulls Properties Ltd. — identified the stone fox trap in 2012, in an area known as Crow Head.
There were bird bones inside the stone enclosure, along with “some garbage from the nearby municipal dump,” less than a kilometre away, according to the consultant’s report, filed with the province as part of the environmental assessment process.
“Some of the stone at the one end had collapsed, but otherwise, the feature was in great condition,” it stated.
The trap was discovered where an access road was to be built for the proposed new quarry, wharf and laydown area of Bay Bulls Properties.
The trap is exactly what it looks like: a pile of rocks. But, like an Inukshuk, the significance is in how and why the rocks were piled.
A cavern, roughly three metres by two metres in this case, hunters would place a piece of meat inside the trap to tempt prey inside, typically fox. The animal could scurry in, but not easily scurry out, before a stone had blocked the escape route.
It is believed to have been used before modern trapping gear was available, though no one has been able to peg down exactly when this particular trap was used, or by whom.
NunatuKavut Community Council president Todd Russell has celebrated the find regardless, believing it a precious item for the people of NunatuKavut — with the potential to help connect past to present. But he does not like how the discovery has been handled by the province.
In a statement issued Monday, he highlighted the fact Bay Bulls Properties were granted a permit to dismantle the stone trap and build their access road.
The company has since decided against it and “will continue to forge ahead with our operations according to a due diligence process that respects the historical significance of the site, which includes maintaining buffer zones around the fox trap,” according to a note sent to Russell.
Russell has been praised the company in return, while sending jeers towards the government as regulator.
“This is about an Inuit stone fox trap that our ancestors built many generations ago. The province of Newfoundland and Labrador, without any regard or real discussion with us whatsoever, released the permit to allow the destruction of our heritage - one shared with all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and all Canadians,” he stated. “They felt themselves empowered to simply destroy it. It was for what they apparently saw as convenience."
Provincial archaeologist Martha Drake said it is not at all the case that a company was given free reign, noting even the discovery of the trap was the result of environmental assessment work required by the province.
In addition, the handling of identified items of any archaeological significance is very specifically dictated in existing legislation, including the province’s Historic Resources Act.
The process of dismantling the stone fox trap under the approved permit, she said, would have required a complete mapping and documentation of how the stones were placed, allowing for the structure to be rebuilt in future elsewhere. “In other words, we would lose no information at all from the removal of the fox trap.”
As for other items, fifty-six test pits were excavated in the area of the quarry and wharf project, with nothing of historical significance reported found.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Pennecon said the company believes in working with the people of the area to minimize any distress that might be caused by the proposed project.
“We’re happy to work with the (people of) NunatuKavut ... but we’re also mandated to work with the (provincial archaeology office),” she said.
Once complete, the quarry, laydown area and wharf will be used to feed out material to cover the undersea power cable linking Labrador and the Island of Newfoundland, as part of the Lower Churchill Project.