Waskaganish (Cree: ᐙᔅᑳᐦᐄᑲᓂᔥ/Wâskâhîkaniš, Little House) 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 the Eeyou Istchee territory in Northern Quebec, Canada. Formerly called Fort Rupert, the location is one of three original Hudson’s Bay Company posts on James Bay, the other two being Fort Albany on the west shore, and Moose Factory on the south.
Waskaganish has had road access to the James Bay Road since 2001.
According to the Waskaganish First Nation official website,
“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. — WFN, 2013
According to a study on aboriginal fur trade, Cree hunting groups of three or four families moved from traditional seasonal fishing and hunting camps. They often stayed close to watersheds.
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. In 2012 archaeological teams were digging near the Smokey Hill rapids about 20 kilometres from Waskaganish, a traditional fishing site where families have gathered annually in late summer for generations.
It was hypothesized that Henry Hudson’s fateful over-wintering in 1610-1611 was in Waskaganish territory. 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.
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. 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.