Backgrounder: Red Bay Basque Whaling Station, Labrador
Canada’s 37th UNESCO World Heritage Site
Located on the Strait of Belle Isle, Red Bay comprises the largest known 16th century Basque whaling station in North America. The assemblage of submerged and terrestrial archaeological sites represents a thoroughly documented early example of economic exploitation of rich North A merican natural resources by European commercial interests. The site contains archaeological evidence of all the major elements of Basque whaling and associated activities. The remains of a network of more than a dozen shore stations represent the industrial processes of whaling to produce whale oil prized by the European market. Typically, the stations were comprised of rendering ovens, cooperages, workshops, temporary dwellings, and wharves. A cemetery and lookout sites are also present. Period artefacts and a massive assemblage of bowhead and right whale bones comprise the collections.
Submerged cultural resources include the well-preserved remains of a number of vessels that illustrate 16th century Iberian shipbuilding technology, including four whaling ships and a number of smaller boats used in the whale hunt. No known Dutch, English, or Basque whaling station equals Red Bay in the number and completeness of cultural resources illustrating the whaling industry technology of this period.
Justification of “Outstanding Universal Value”
Red Bay is the most complete and most extensive example of 16th century Basque whaling stations. It bears exceptional testimony to the Basque whaling tradition overseas.
Red Bay is an outstanding example of a technological ensemble—all the significant components of the industrial process, including exceptionally well-preserved vessels—illustrating early European commercial exploitation of the rich North American natural resources are present.
The World Heritage Property Boundary
The property of the Red Bay Basque Whaling Station World Heritage site comprises nearly 313 hectares of land and submerged land located within the Town of Red Bay on the south coast of Labrador. The boundary encompasses Red Bay National Historic Site, Red Bay Harbour, and the islands and shoreline that surround it. It extends from the eastern side of Steamer Cove westward as far as the summit of Tracey Hill and from the entrance to the Basin southward to include Saddle Island and Twin Islands. The boundary was assigned to include all of the areas at Red Bay that are known to or could potentially contain archaeological features and other cultural material related to 16th century Basque whaling in that port. Additionally, a buffer zone comprising some 285 hectares of land surrounds the whole property to ensure that the integrity of the site is maintained.
Parks Canada’s Role in the Red Bay Basque Whaling Station World Heritage Site
Red Bay’s story as a place that comprises the most significant and largest known 16th century Basque whaling station in North America is already commemorated as a national historic site and is operated by Parks Canada. However, the area that is being recognized as the Red Bay Basque Whaling Station goes beyond the Parks Canada administered place. The World Heritage site includes a large portion of the community of Red Bay itself as well as cultural resources that are located both on land and under water. Parks Canada is therefore one of a group of partners that now sits on the World Heritage site’s management committee. Others are: the Town of Red Bay (chair), Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador through the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.
In addition to the organizational representatives who will sit on the management committee, many other key players have been involved with Red Bay’s nomination process—the private sector, volunteer groups, individuals as well as cultural groups and citizens of the Spanish Basque Country.