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Red Bay National Historic Site of Canada


Experiences to discover :

Echos from the past

Echos from the past
Echos from the past
© Parks Canada

Between 1530 and 1600, at least 15 Basque whaling ships and as many as 2000 men voyaged across the turbulent Atlantic each season to capture right and bowhead whales in the Strait of Belle Isle. Whales were plentiful in the coastal waters between the island of Newfoundland and the Labrador coast then. Many whales were hunted and transformed into oil for the lucrative European market. After a five minute boat ride, 16th-century Basque whalers welcome you to Saddle Island. They’ll share tales of hardship and survival, of terrible shipwrecks and great fortunes, most based on actual historic events and people. You’ll visit the location where rendering ovens once reduced blubber into oil along with cooperages where barrels were made to ship the prized oil to Europe. See the site of former workshops, temporary dwellings, and wharves and feel moved by the Basque burial ground, containing over 60 graves. Don’t miss this remarkable journey into Basque whaling life.

Available by reservation during operating season, June – September (2016 schedule TBD)

Away in the Grand Bay

Feel the real life sacrifices of Basque whalers from those who made the long voyage to Labrador, and from the loved ones they left behind. You might encounter Ana, wife of Juan Martinez de Larrume, a whaler from the Basque port of Orio. She’ll share her poignant story of searching for her husband, who sailed away to Grand Bay, never to return. Most ships landed on the coast as soon as the ice melted, and left when winter returned. Juan's ship remained in Labrador late into the fall in order to extend the poor whaling season. Trapped all winter by ice in Red Bay, rescue crews were unable to reach him with provisions in time, and he perished in 1577. As you listen to these poignant stories, and see personal possessions recovered from storm-battered ships, you’ll understand the human side of Basque whaling life.

Available during operating season, June – September

Red Bay’s Weird and Wonderful

Join us in the Interpretation Centre to uncover the stories behind some of our one-of-a-kind objects, including both bizarre and beautiful artifacts of Basque life. Hand-picked by staff from our collection is a ship’s binnacle: the box that once housed delicate navigational instruments on the ship’s deck that were sealed like the hull of the ship. It was found along with an hour glass, compass and log chip and reel. You can see the scorch marks on the interior where a candle or lamp was used to read the compass at night. It is the most complete binnacle known and the only example in Canada. You’ll also see rat bones from the Norwegian black rat that lived aboard the San Juan. It was the only loss of life when the ship ran aground. Staff will also unveil the story behind very delicate glass (possibly Catalonian) restored by conservators, and more artifacts recalling 80 years of Basque whaling life.

Available during operating season, June – September

Digging through Time

Archaeology has been a passion at Red Bay for more than 30 years. In mid-1970s, the research of historian Dr. Selma Barkham uncovered a forgotten chapter in Canadian history and creating a vivid picture of an extensive 16th-century Basque whaling network on the north shore of the Strait of Belle Isle. Underwater archaeological excavation at Red Bay began in 1978. Four well preserved 16th century Basque whaling galleons and four small whaling craft have been found, making it one of the most significant marine archaeological finds in North America. Here’s your chance to explore whaling life and work on Saddle Island, alongside a Parks Canada interpreter who worked with the land and underwater archaeology teams. It’s a rare, inside look at Red Bay’s most precious sites and artifacts. See where the whalers lived and worked, rendering blubber into oil, along with a Basque gravesite, and cooperages.

Available by reservation during operating season, June – September (schedule for 2016 to come)

Special Commercial Group Tour Requests

Searching for new destinations and experiences? Let us guide you in discovering what Parks Canada in Western Newfoundland and Labrador has to offer. Explore Gros Morne National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site, Port au Choix National Historic Site, L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site UNESCO World Heritage Site, Red Bay National Historic Site UNESCO World Heritage Site and Torngat Mountains National Park as we assist you in creating memorable outings for your clients.

Click here for our full list of commercial group tour experiences including information on the NEW Parks Canada Western Newfoundland and Labrador Commercial Entry Pass.

Other activities in Red Bay National Historic Site 

Atlantic Canada Visitor's Guide

All Parks Canada's Visitor's Guide