The McDonald site is an ancient Iroquoian village located in the backcountry of Saint-Anicet, a small town situated in southwest Québec about 70 km upstream from Montreal. The archaeological site is located on a small terrace on a low hill of glacial origin, about 4 km from the St Lawrence River. A tributary of the La Guerre River runs along the site, about 100 meters away. The site was discovered in 1992 by the team of archaeologist Michel Gagné, during an archaeological survey conducted for the museum of Pointe-du-Buisson, with the financial participation of the Québec Ministry of Culture, Communications and the Status of Women. Subsequent excavations were conducted intermittently over a period of 7 years, between 1992 and 2007. The MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent has been sponsoring the project since 1994.
The McDonald site dates from about 1320 AD and is the oldest Iroquoian prehistoric settlement so far discovered in Québec. Like the Droulers-Tsiionhiakwatha and Mailhot-Curran sites, also located in the area of Saint-Anicet, the McDonald site is linked to the occupation of the territory by the St Lawrence Iroquoians (see Aboriginal People: Eastern Woodlands), a group of sedentary farmers the French explorer Jacques Cartier encountered during his travels on the St Lawrence River, including at Hochelaga and Stadacona.
The St Lawrence Iroquoians are part of the Iroquoian linguistic and cultural family, composed of about 10 different nations who occupied the State of New York and Pennsylvania regions as well as southern Ontario and Québec. These include the Huron Wendat or Neutral, Petun, Erie, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Seneca. The last five tribes formed the League of Five Nations, commonly referred to as "the Iroquois." These peoples share similar lifestyles and cultural traits. Among other things, they are all sedentary farmers and live year round in villages consisting of longhouses shared by several families of the same maternal clan (except for the husbands who integrated their wife's clan).
The McDonald archaeological site is exceptionally well-preserved and is the only entirely intact village ever found throughout the province of Quebec. To date, the site has yielded the remains of 3 longhouses, each accommodating 100 individuals at the most. These houses were rectangular in shape and measured15 to 30 m (50 to 100 feet) in length and about 6 m (20 feet) in width and height. They were made of wooden poles that were bent and curved, tied together with ropes, and driven into the ground. The roof arch was covered with large slabs of cedar bark or, sometimes, elm bark. Several hearths lined up along the central corridor and there were sleeping benches on each side. The house was generally accessed through doors located at the ends. The small size of the McDonald site, which only covered one acre, must have been typical of the villages from this period.
To date, 60 000 objects consisting mostly of pottery vase parts, pipe fragments and animal bones have been discovered during the excavations. There are also stone tools including axes for splitting wood, mullers to process plants, and bone tools that were used, among other things, to work with leather and bark. Evidence of cultivated plants is extremely scarce, however, and only corn seems to have been part of the daily diet of these first Québec's farmers. In fact, the remains of corn recovered during the excavations are now considered as the oldest ever found in a village of this province.
It is probable that the occupation of the McDonald site unfolded in 2 or 3 distinct episodes. First, the site may have been used as a base camp, or was more likely a seasonal settlement that preceded the establishment of the village. A second sequence of occupation followed with the construction of longhouses that were much larger and sedentary in nature. Some years later, around the mid-15th century, the descendants of these communities could be found in much larger villages, such as the Droulers-Tsiionhiakwatha located a few miles further inland.