LABRADOR: A whale of a history – Saltscapes Magazine


A whale of a history

Red Bay, Labrador: Canada’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site
story and photography by Keith and Heather Nicol

Red Bay, Labrador, the largest remaining example of 16th century Basque whaling operations.

Red Bay, Labrador joins the famous pyramids of Egypt and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Red Bay Basque Whaling Station became Canada’s 17th UNESCO site in June 2013, joining the historic Viking site at L’Anse aux Meadows and Gros Morne National Park and its geological wonders with this impressive designation. As Gros Morne and L’Anse aux Meadows are both on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula and Red Bay is in southern Labrador, it will be relatively easy for visitors to see all three of these UNESCO sites on the same journey.

The mandate of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites is to preserve and protect natural and cultural features that are considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. Red Bay received UNESCO World Heritage status as the largest remaining example of 16th century Basque whaling operations.

Cindy Gibbons is site supervisor at the Red Bay National Historic Site and says Red Bay was the largest and most important whaling station in the world through the 16th century. “This area had an abundance of bowhead and right whales at the time and the Basques knew the value of whale oil. In Red Bay, and other places along this coast, the whale blubber was rendered into oil and then shipped in barrels to light the cities of Europe.

Most of the archeological work was done on Saddle Island

Although the residents of Red Bay had long found pieces of red tile in their gardens and had seen whale bones along the shore, it took the dedicated work of geographer Selma Barkham, working in the Basque archives in Spain, to piece together the story of whaling in Red Bay.

Read the full story here: A whale of a history – Saltscapes Magazine

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