Linguistic Families, 17th Century
At the beginning of the 17th-century there were 12 linguistic families in native Canada . Within most of these linguistic families there were a number of languages and many dialects. Linguistic variety was greatest in the Cordillera (New Caledonia and Columbia, Vol I, pl 66), whereas Algonquian speakers occupied a vast territory from the foothills of the Rockies to Labrador and the Maritimes. Europeans observed that it was not uncommon for natives to speak more than one language as trade and diplomacy required.
Eastern Native Population, Early 17th Century
In the east, where the French compiled much ethnographic information before European diseases spread through the Great Lakes basin in the 1630s (The Great Lakes Basin, 1600-1653, Vol I, pl 35), the distribution of early 17th-century populations is approximately known. Most of the St Lawrence valley was uninhabited (The St. Lawrence Valley, 16th Century, Vol I, pl 33), population densities were low wherever the economy depended on hunting, fishing, and gathering, and sharply higher where agriculture was practiced. Non-agricultural peoples were highly mobile; although territories were extensive, contact between neighbouring groups was frequent.
Native Subsistence at European Contact, Ethnohistoric Data
This map, based entirely on early European accounts, depicts patterns of native subsistence just after European contact.
At the time of European contact farming was restricted to the lower Great Lakes and upper St Lawrence valley (Iroquoian Agricultural Settlement, Vol I, pl 12). The gathering of edible berries, roots, and other plants was usually. a peripheral activity, although wild rice between Lake Michigan and Lake Winnipeg and camass bulbs in southwestern British Columbia were important components of local diets. In most of Canada people depended on hunting and fishing Procurement strategies followed precisely planned seasonal rounds based on an intimate knowledge of the hunting territory, and of the habits of mammals, fish, and birds. Characteristically two or three species were relied upon, although secondary foods such as migratory water fowl and small game could be of critical seasonal importance.
Native Subsistence, 1000 CE to Contact, Archaeological Data
This map depicts patterns of native subsistence in Canada from about AD 1000 to European contact. The symbols representing structures used in hunting and fishing show generalized distributions rather than specific locations.
The analysis of discarded bones and shells from an archaeological site can indicate when the site was occupied, what animals were eaten, and the relative importance of different foods. Where soils are acidic, as in the Canadian Shield, such remains are rarely preserved, however, and very little prehistoric hunting and fishing equipment survives: stone, bone, and copper tips for spears and arrows are most common, whereas objects such as sinew or rope snares, nets, and traps usually have disappeared. Some stone structures used to channel caribou and trap fish, as well as portions of wooden fishing weirs buried under water in mud, have survived. Over all, Archaeological data permit only a partial picture of patterns of subsistence in late prehistoric Canada.
Printed Historical Atlas of Canada source:
Population and Subsistence (Volume I, Plate 18; Concise Plate 3)