Every spring until about 1626 they sailed to their North American whaling stations, where they set up scaffolding to dry codfish and built stone ovens to prepare whale oil, a commodity that was highly prized in Europe. Their encounters with natives, particularly MICMAC, were friendly. In December or January, when ice conditions began to worsen, the Basques returned home.
Basque activities in the St Lawrence estuary reached a peak in the period 1550-80. In the early 17th century a combination of factors eventually ended their voyages. These included a decrease in the whale population, a weakening of Spain's influence during its war with France, English-Dutch competition in northern waters, increased Inuit hostility and the growing strength of NEW FRANCE.
Samuel de CHAMPLAIN encountered Basque fishermen during his early voyages and he benefited from their knowledge of the north shore of the St Lawrence. He had close ties with those who came from France, in spite of their protests over the founding of Québec. With Marc LESCARBOT, Champlain described the major Basque settlement at Lesquemin (Les Escoumins, Qué); at Tor Bay (NS) he met an experienced Basque fisherman who had come there every year since 1565. He described the Strait of Belle Isle as an area frequented by Spanish Basques.
The Basques left many traces of their presence on our shores, including place-names such as Mingan (Québec) and Ingornachoix, Port au Choix and Port au Port (Newfoundland). French Canadians adopted the Basque word orignal for the Canadian MOOSE. Archaeological work at RED BAY, Nfld, has uncovered important evidence of Basque habitation, including an abundance of red roof tiles (used for ballast), pottery, glassware and skeletons. Five Basque shipwrecks have been located in the area; the earliest, the San Juan, dates from 1565.
Author RENÉ BÉLANGER
Links to Other Sites
Placentia: The Early Years
Excellent site devoted to the early settlement of Placentia, Newfoundland. From Library and Archives Canada.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Francophones of Newfoundland and Labrador
Search for or browse topics and locations at this extensively illustrated online exhibit that explores the enduring legacy of early French settlers and fishers in Newfoundland and Labrador. Features many historic images of the Placentia region. From the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Whaleships and Whaleboats
View images of Basque whaleboats called "chalupas." From the website "Lifelines - Swales and Whales: Atlantic Canada's Sea Mammal Harvest," Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...