Okak, Newfoundland and Labrador
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Moravian Mission (1776-1919)
In 1771 King George III of England gave a land grant to the Moravian Church to establish missions for the local Inuit in northern Labrador. In the 18th century, Jens Haven and his followers built missions at Nain (1771), Okak (1776) and Hopedale (1782). These missions also served as trading posts. Later on, other Moravian settlements were established at Hebron (1830), Zoar (1865), Ramah (1871), Makkovik (1896) and Killinek (1904).
Money and personnel to run the infrastructure was provided by the Unity Mission Board in Saxony and the Niesky Mission Training School. However, this assistance was hampered by the effects of World War I and the devastation of the German economy. In 1918, an outbreak of Spanish influenza struck Okak, killing 161 out of a population of 220.
Shortly thereafter, the Moravians sold their trading post at Okak to the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1956 the settlement was abandoned when the remaining inhabitants were compelled by the Canadian government to relocate to other communities in Labrador. Today, all that remains of Okak are a graveyard and ruins of the former mission.
Okak was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1978, due to the former Moravian mission and the existence of sixty archaeological sites in the area, dating from 5550 BCE and representing of habitation from Maritime Archaic to Labrador Inuit.
Okak National Historic Site
The Okak National Historic Site of Canada contains over 60 archaeological sites dating from 5550 B.C.E to the present. These sites are located on Okak Bay off the northern coast of Labrador. Okak was designated as a national historic site of Canada in 1978 because it features a series of archaeological sites that represent a long record of habitation from Maritime Archaic (beginning about 6000 years ago) to recent Labrador Inuit. It is the location of the second oldest Moravian mission in Labrador, founded in 1776 and abandoned in 1919 after most of the people died due to the 1918 flu pandemic.
The archaeological remains found at Okak span more than 6000 years, including its occupation by Maritime Archaic (5550 B.C.E.- 1550 B.C.E.), Pre-Dorset (1850 B.C.E. – 250 B.C.E.), Intermediate Indian (1550 B.C.E. – 250 B.C.E.), Dorset (550 B.C.E. – 1450 C.E.) and Labrador Inuit (1200 C.E. – Present) cultures.
The cultural material consists primarily of stone tools and flakes documenting changes in tool form, manufacturing techniques, and raw material sources among the various cultural periods. The oldest archaeological finds date from the Maritime Archaic period on Cut Throat Island.
In 1776, Moravian Missionaries established a mission site on Okak Island, just off Okak Harbour. It was the second successful mission to be established by the Moravian Missionaries on the Labrador Coast, the first being founded at Nain, 400 kilometres to the south in 1771. The Okak Mission was prefabricated at Nain, and then transported north to Okak, along with a provisions house and bake house. Inuit houses were also constructed here as families gradually relocated to be closer to the mission. Changing hunting patterns and the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 caused the mission to be abandoned in 1919. Foundations of buildings, walkways and a wharf remain from the mission era.
- Shantz, Douglas H. (2013). An Introduction to German Pietism: Protestant Renewal at the Dawn of Modern Europe. Young Center books in Anabaptist and Pietist studies. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-1-4214-0830-9.
- Okak. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
- "Okak National Historic Site of Canada". Canada's Historic Places. Parks Canada. Retrieved 2013-09-18.