Newfoundland and Labrador

Date d’inscription: 2013

Every year from the 1540s to the early 1600s, as many as two thousand Basque men and boys left their home in southern France and northern Spain and sailed across the North Atlantic Ocean. Their lucrative destination was some four thousand kilometres away in eastern Canada, along Labrador’s Strait of Belle Isle and Quebec’s Lower North Shore. Backed by ship owners and outfitters, the aim of their voyages was to hunt for North Atlantic and Greenland Right whales, render the blubber into oil on site, package it for transport, and bring it back home for market. Whale oil was a commodity highly prized in Europe as a brighter burning lamp oil and as a serviceable lubricant for leather products and an additive for paints, varnishes, and soap. The story of this industrial-scale whaling activity is thoroughly documented as an early example of economic exploitation of rich North American natural resources by European commercial interests.

Justification de la valeur universelle exceptionnelle

La station de baleiniers basques de Red Bay, au Labrador, a été inscrite sur la liste des sites du patrimoine mondial par le Comité du patrimoine mondial, pour les raisons ci-dessous :

Critère (iii) : La Station baleinière basque de Red Bay offre un exemple exceptionnel de la tradition de la chasse à la baleine établie par les Basques au XVIe siècle pour la production d’huile et son commerce en Europe. Par la diversité de ses vestiges archéologiques, c’est la station baleinière de ce type la plus étendue, la mieux conservée et la plus complète.

Critère (iv) : La Station baleinière basque de Red Bay offre un ensemble pleinement intelligible d’éléments archéologiques illustrant la mise en place d’un processus proto-industriel de production quantitative d’huile de baleine, durant le XVIe siècle.

Description complète

Archaeological excavations carried out on land and underwater show that during the peak whaling periods of the 1580s upwards of a thousand men were working out of the whaling station at Red Bay, Labrador alone. This port, known to the Basques as Butus or Grand Bay, would have been the largest in the world at that time. The extensively used site contains all of the major elements associated with Basque whaling activity overseas; its traditions and techniques. (It is an industry the Basque would thrive in globally for three centuries). Uncovered remains include a network of more than a dozen shore stations which typically were comprised of rendering ovens, where whale fat was rendered into oil in copper cauldrons over fire pits, 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 complete the collections. Also discovered in the Red Bay harbour itself, were the well-preserved remains of a number of vessels that provide an unparalleled illustration of 16th century Iberian shipbuilding technology, including four whaling ships (galleons) and a number of smaller boats used in the whale hunt.

After several decades of prosperity, Basque whaling in Canada began to decline in the final years of the 16th century. Many factors led to this decline, among them, overhunting, discovery of new whaling grounds elsewhere, climatic change, and changing political circumstances. The collective body of knowledge gained from years of terrestrial and underwater research at Red Bay has dramatically changed the understanding of the beginning of large-scale and overseas whaling, as well as the knowledge of the early European history of North America, particularly the role that the Basque played in it.


Plus d'information

Parcs Canada :

Lieu historique national du Canada Red Bay

Commission des lieux et monuments historiques du Canada

Centre du patrimoine mondial :

Patrimoine mondial - La Station baleinière basque de Red Bay