Cree School Board Rupert River Fort Saint Jacques

ᐙᔅᑳᐦᐄᑲᓂᔥ (Cree)
Cree community
Waskaganish Airport
Etymology: Little House
Waskaganish is located in Quebec
Coordinates: 51°28′48″N 078°45′00″W / 51.48000°N 78.75000°W / 51.48000; -78.75000Coordinates: 51°28′48″N 078°45′00″W / 51.48000°N 78.75000°W / 51.48000; -78.75000
RegionNorthern Quebec
TEEeyou Istchee
 • TypeCree reserved land
 • ChiefClark Shecapio
 • Land502.26 km2 (193.92 sq mi)
 (2016 Census)[1]
 • Total2,196
 • Density4.4/km2 (11/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC−5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
Postal Code
Area code(s)819

Waskaganish (Cree: ᐙᔅᑳᐦᐄᑲᓂᔥ/Wâskâhîkaniš, Little House; French pronunciation: ​[waskaɡaniʃ]) is a Cree community of over 2,200 people at the mouth of the Rupert River on the south-east shore of James Bay in Northern Quebec, Canada. Waskaganish is part of the territory referred to as "Eeyou Istchee" ("The Land of the People" in Cree) encompassing the traditional territories of Cree people in the James Bay regions of what is now Northern Quebec and Ontario.

The community of Waskaganish celebrated its 350-year anniversary in 2018. The village is located at the site of the former Fort Rupert, the first Hudson's Bay Company trading post on Hudson Bay.



Human presence in the James Bay area is believed to have begun some 7000 years ago, although the earliest artefacts recently found in the region of Waskaganish date to some 3000-3500 years old. Aboriginal hunting groups migrated from the south and west, first as seasonal hunting parties and later permanently establishing themselves in what is known as Eeyou Istchee (the Cree traditional territory in eastern James Bay). Although populations fluctuated over the centuries, the pre-contact period is characterized by a subsistence economy based on hunting and trapping of small and large game, fishing and seasonal gathering.[2]

According to a study on aboriginal fur trade,[3] Cree hunting groups of three or four families moved from traditional seasonal fishing and hunting camps. They often stayed close to watersheds.[2][3][4]

In 2012, a local resident of Waskaganish found rough-looking stone blades and arrowheads at the Saunders Goose Pond on Waskaganish territory that could be between 4,000 and 7,000 years old.[5] In 2012 archaeological teams were digging near the Smokey Hill rapids about 20 kilometres from Waskaganish, a traditional weir fishing site where families have gathered annually in late summer for generations. Prior to construction of the hydroelectric project and the partial diversion of the Rupert River which exposed the shoreline, the natural current forced fish into the weir.[6] After the diversion, scoop-net fishing pools were unusable. By 2011 there were larger concentrations of cisco at Gravel Pit, they were smaller than previous years.[7]

Pre-contact trade relations between Cree and other aboriginal groups were "mostly centered on trading moose hides for ‘cereals’, ‘indian corn’, and tobacco."[8] There was a pre-contact intertribal Cree-Montagnais trade route from Waskaganish to the Saint Lawrence River via Rupert River and the Saguenay River.[9]


It was hypothesized [10] that Henry Hudson's fateful over-wintering in 1610-1611 was in Waskaganish territory.[10] In 1610 Hudson had reached what is now the Hudson Strait but by November his new ship, Discovery, had become icebound in James Bay and they were forced to move ashore.

A map of Hudson's fourth voyage

On 29 September 1668, Nonsuch, under the command of Zachariah Gillam and guided by Médard des Groseilliers, anchored at the mouth of the Rupert River. In 1668, Rupert House or Charles Fort at Waskaganish on the south bank of Rupert River, was established as the first trading post, two years before the Hudson's Bay Company was formed. In October 1669 they returned to England with a load of beaver pelts they had acquired from the Cree people in exchange for good such as knives, kettles, beads, needles and blankets. The post was occupied sporadically thereafter and new buildings were added. By the 1680s there were a string of trading posts on James Bay Cree traditional land and the Cree had an extensive trade alliance with the HBC. As middlemen, the Cree hunters, trappers and traders collected furs from other First Nations in the interior.[11] As the first trappers with the HBC, the Cree became the homeguard for the HBC, helping with the supply and maintenance of the trading posts in winter.[9]

In 1670-1679 Charles Bayly was governor. In 1672 Charles Albanel reached Charles Fort from the Saint Lawrence. Finding all the English out hunting, he waited a week, left a letter, and returned to Quebec. In 1674 Albanel reached the fort again and was sent to England. In 1681, fearing French attack, a new Charles Fort was built downstream on a hill top. In 1686 the French captured the fort and burned it. In 1688 the English tried to re-establish the fort, but D'Iberville captured it again, this time from the sea. For the next century the east coast of James Bay was visited by HBC ships from Fort Albany, Ontario.

In 1776 the site was re-occupied and named Rupert House or Rupert Fort or Fort Rupert. From then until the early 1900s, Fort Rupert was an important trading location, supplying inland communities and other posts via the Rupert River with regular canoe brigades. In 1991 the archaeologist J. V. Chism[12] found the sites of the two Charles Forts. The first was at the site of the new tourist lodge (Auberge Kanio Kashee Lodge) and the second at the Anglican church.[13][14]

Manager's house and other buildings, Rupert House, circa 1921

Modern history

The James Bay Project and the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA)

Life for the Cree people of Waskaganish and Eeyou Istchee was greatly impacted by The James Bay Project. Although the project was celebrated by mainstream media as "The Project of the Century", Cree people had not agreed to its construction. In fact, they had not been consulted at all, nor were they made aware of the project's existence until construction had already begun. One major point of contention had to do with land use rights. The land surrounding James Bay had been the traditional territory of Cree and Inuit people for thousands of years. Compared to other areas of Canada, where treaties had been established that (at least in theory) clarified indigenous peoples' and European settlers' rights to land, no such agreements had ever been established in Eeyou Istchee. As such, the stakeholders in the James Bay Project (Hydro Quebec and the Government of Quebec) had no established legal right to the land on which they had already begun constructing the largest hydro-electric project ever built.

In response to the project, the Cree people formed the Grand Council of the Crees and elected Billy Diamond as Grand Chief to represent the people of Eeyou Istchee in dealings with the Quebec Government. In addition to land use rights, the Cree expressed concerns about irreparable damage to the environment, destruction of traditional hunting and fishing areas, and impacts on the traditional Cree way of life.

Ultimately the Cree people of Eeyou Istchee and the Grand Council were unable to prevent the construction of the dam. However, through negotiations, they established the historic James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) which contained provisions about land use, economic development, self-governance of indigenous peoples, and funding for cultural, social, and health services for beneficiaries. Although there was initial difficulties in getting the treaty obligations ratified, funding related to the JBNQA allowed for significant improvements in living conditions for Cree communities, such as creation of water and sewer systems. It also led to the creation of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) and the Cree School Board (CSB).[15]

Road access

Waskaganish became accessible by road in 2001, when a gravel access road connected the community to the James Bay Road. Prior to 2001, the community was only accessible by airplane or boat.

Notable people from Waskaganish

Billy Diamond was both the chief of the Waskaganish Cree starting in 1970 and the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of Eeyou Istchee.[16]

Filmmaker Neil Diamond was born and raised in Waskaganish. His experiences as a child there, watching Westerns with other local children in the church basement, inspired him to make Reel Injun.[17][18]


The Cree School Board operates two schools in Waskaganish: Annie Whiskeychan Memorial Elementary School (primary) (ᐋᓃ ᐧᐄᔥᑲᒑᓐ ᒋᔅᑯᑕᒫᒉᐅᑲᒥᒄ) and Wiinibekuu School (secondary) (ᐧᐄᓂᐯᑰ ᒋᔅᑯᑕᒫᒉᐅᑲᒥᒄ).[19][20]


  1. ^ a b "(Code 2499806) Census Profile". 2016 census. Statistics Canada. 2017. for Waskaganish, Terres réservées aux Cris
  2. ^ a b "Ancient Territorial Occupation". The Crees of Waskaganish First Nation. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  3. ^ a b Morantz, Toby (1984). "Economic and Social Accommodations of the James Bay Inlanders to the Fur Trade". In Shepard Kretch (ed.). The Subarctic Fur Trade: Native Social and Economic Adaptations. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. pp. 55–80. ISBN 978-0-7748-0374-8 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Lévesque, C.; Bernard, N. (2001). "Histoire et changement social chez les Cris de la Baie James" [History and social change of James Bay Cree] (PDF). In G. Duhaime (ed.). Atlas Historique du Québec [Historical Atlas of Quebec] (in French). V: Le Nord: Habitants et mutations (The North: inhabitants and transitions). Québec: University of Laval Press. pp. 54–68. ISBN 2-7637-7804-6.
  5. ^ "Artifacts in northern Quebec could be 7,000 years old: Archaeologists start digging after finding rare arrowheads on Waskaganish territory". Montreal: CBC News. 25 August 2013.
  6. ^ "Waskaganish". Cree Culture. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  7. ^ "Rupert Bay cisco migrate up the river for the first time since diversion" (PDF). Hydro Quebec. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  8. ^ Hunt, George T. (1940). Wars of the Iroquois: A Study in Intertribal Trade Relations. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0-299-00163-6.
  9. ^ a b Inuit Heritage Trust IHT (2008). "Inuit-First Nations". Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Heritage. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  10. ^ a b 2000-2013 Brian Back (2013). "Waskaganish". Cree communities of Quebec. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  11. ^ "First Nations in Canada". AADNC. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  12. ^ Chism, J. (1988). 17th Century Events at Waskaganish : A Preliminary Historical Report within an Archeological Perspective (PDF).
  13. ^ Elizabeth Browne Losey (1999). "Let Then Be Remembered: The Story of the Fur Trade Forts".
  14. ^ Arthur S Morton (c. 1950). "A History of the Canadian West to 1870-7". Missing or empty |url= (help)
  15. ^ "Resource Category: The Eeyouch of Eeyou Istchee". The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee). Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  16. ^ "Billy Diamond". Power To Change. Archived from the original on 2008-01-27. Retrieved 2008-02-03. I became chief of our Cree community when I was 21. ... Four years later I became the first Grand Chief of the Cree Grand Council. I used this position to help my people develop. We modernized the villages, built housing and schools and encouraged health and economic development. I was very successful in this position. But like all successes, it had its drawbacks, especially in my personal life.
  17. ^ Skenderis, Stephanie (18 February 2010). "A reel shame". CBC News. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  18. ^ Koepke, Melora (18 March 2010). "The real Neil Diamond". Hour magazine. Archived from the original on 14 April 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  19. ^ "Annie Whiskeychan Memorial School." Cree School Board. Retrieved on September 23, 2017.
  20. ^ "École Wiinibekuu School and École Annie Whiskeychan Memorial Elementary School ." Cree School Board. Retrieved on September 23, 2017.