Red Bay named the province’s third UNESCO World Heritage Site

4 Jul 2013

By Ed Kirby

The sixteenth-century Basque whaling complex at Red Bay in southeastern Labrador is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It joins the geological wonders of Gros Morne National Park and the 11th-century Viking village at L’Anse aux Meadows in being awarded this prestigious designation.

There are only 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada, and Newfoundland and Labrador has three of them. Gros Morne and L’Anse aux Meadows are only a few hours apart on Newfoundland’s west coast, while Red Bay is a two-hour ferry ride and an hour’s drive from Newfoundland northwest coast, so it’s easy to see all three on the same trip.

Red Bay had been declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1979. The remains of what was one of the first large industrial operations in Canada had lain hidden for centuries until researcher Selma Barkham combed the Basque archives in Spain in the 1960s and 1970s, putting together evidence from many sources that led to the discovery of Red Bay’s long-forgotten history.

Many years of archaeological work, both on land and in the harbor, followed Barkham’s discovery. Among the finds was the 1978 discovery of the wreck of a loaded galleon, probably the San Juan, which sank in the 1560s. A smaller boat, a chalupa, was also discovered and preserved, and is one of the prime artifacts on display at the site, which is managed by Parks Canada. On nearby Saddle Island lie the remains of scores of whalers who died far from their homeland between 1550 and 1620, the heyday of Basque whaling. Here, too, are found red clay roof tiles that speak of the southwestern European origins of the people who worked here.

The whales that drew the Basques across the ocean still ply these waters, but these days are ogled by fascinated travelers, not hunted for their blubber.

The harbor will see the name San Juan again in 2016 when a recreation of the vessel will visit Canada to help mark the Basque capital city of San Sebastian as the cultural capital of Europe for that year.

For more information on Red Bay, please click here: http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/nl/redbay/index.aspx