Snowy Range Pass

Snowy Range Pass

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Red Bay, Labrador

The town of Red Bay sits at the end of the paved road.  As you turn into Red Bay, there is a large yellow sign warning you not to enter the dirt road into the interior if its lights are flashing, as the road is not passable.  This stop is the most interesting to me because of the fascinating history of the Basque fishermen, who first came here starting in the early 1530's to establish seasonal whaling stations for hunting whales that were here in large numbers. It was a grueling operation under difficult conditions.  They chose Red Bay because of the natural protective  harbor with easy access to the sea.

There is a visitor center that explains the history and trials of these whalers.  When underwater shipwrecks were confirmed to exist, a massive excavation was undertaken to study them.  A number of vessels were discovered including a full size ocean going whaler along with the chase boats and other equipment. Several smaller boats were brought to shore and the larger vessels studied in great detail. In order to preserve these vessels, after the study was complete, they were reburied on the harbor floor to preserve them.

Across the harbor from Red Bay is Saddle Island, where the Basques set up their summer camps and performed most of the processing of the. whales.  The primary product that was shipped back to Europe was oil for use in lights.  Due to the importance of the site, it has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. The island has also been excavated to better learn about the activities of the whalers during their 70 years of whaling.  They only abandoned the site when the whales were depleted to the extent that it was no longer profitable.

We took a small boat to the island to walk where these whalers worked for so many decades and observe some of the evidence of what they left behind.  Like the harbor excavation, the unearthed materials on the island were either removed to shore or reburied to protect them.  You do not get to see much original material but it is a great , if chilly, walk around the island, reading  the various interpretive boards along the way.  The life of these whalers was very hard and many did not return home.  In 1576, a number of the whaling ships were trapped in the ice and the crews were forced to winter over on the island with little preparations.  During the excavations, sixty two graves were located which contained at least 140 men and boys.

The island has some wonderful views and lots of seagulls.  They seemed particularly fond of Anneke and made numerous dives at her ahead.  Perhaps they were only wanting her hair for their nests.


Randy Warner said...

Very interesting! Can't imagine the hardship and work it must have been to eek out a living and fight the whales back in the 1500's. And that would be if everything went well! Great write up -- very interesting. We've been to Red Bay I know of two but there must be even more Red Bays..

Paul and Marsha Weaver OCT. 17, 2009 said...

That iceberg photo is awesome.

There would be no way I could have survived doing that job! Would I get in those little way! Interesting story.

Paul and Marti Dahl said...

I was surprised there was no Tiffin Factory there. ;c)

One can just imagine the hardships those whalers went through, not a lifestyle for me!

Judith Bell said...

How interesting that they rebury the ships and artifacts.

Jim and Sandie said...

Fascinating history. Our friend from Newfoundland is here in AJ and I'm going to have to ask her if she's ever done that tour.

Gypsy said...

Your photography is so good, and it really makes me wish I could see Labrador for myself.

Sherry said...

Love your pictures of the little town and the island. Boy that was a long long way for the Basques to come. You have sure done a lot on Labrador. I love seeing the blue icebergs though it's so sad to think they are doomed to extinction.

Peter + Beatrix said...

Icebergs and boats rotting away. Labrador is fascinating and looks quite cold and inhospitable.

intrepid-decrepit-traveler said...

We really enjoyed Red Bay and its fascinating museum. Kinda nice to see icebergs this time of year. Did you guys get to Battle Harbour? That road to Red Bay was a humdinger!