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Labrador’s Red Bay Given UNESCO World Heritage Status

July 26, 2013 DESTINATION No Comments Email Email

The United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) honoured the Basque Whaling Station of Red Bay in the Atlantic Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, naming it Canada’s 17th World Heritage Site at the UNESCO annual meeting, held in Cambodia.

The little-known chapter in Canada’s history began 450 years ago, with the pioneering whaling station being the largest and most important port associated with the beginning of the global whaling industry. 

Gran Baya, as it was called by the Basque fishermen who established the operation, holds the most complete archaeological record of the industry’s beginnings, including 15 whale oil rendering ovens, cooperages where the barrels were made and a cemetery with the remains of 140 Basque whalers.

The station, used for more than 70 years as a base for coastal hunting, fuelled a thriving industry for whale oil, a commodity considered as valuable as gold in Europe, used as fuel for lamps, for paints, varnishes and soaps.

Artifacts from the work stations, including the whalers’ personal items, form a collection of 16th century Basque material culture unequalled even in the Basque Country.

The shallow waters off Red Bay also harbour precious archaeological remains, being home to the oldest shipwreck found in Canada, the 450 year-old San Juan, a 250-ton galleon sunk in a storm in the Strait of Belle Isle in the autumn of 1565.

A perfect reflection of the arrival of Europeans to the New World, the wreck reveals the most complete vessel excavated to date and represents the evolution of ship design and construction for that period.

The city of San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque Country will unveil a full-scale, seaworthy replica of the three-masted, 52-foot vessel in 2016.

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