THEIR LOVE FOR EACH OTHER; HIS LOVE FOR THE BASQUE COUNTRY; HER LOVE OF RESEARCH. IT ALL LED TO THE DISCOVERY OF A LITTLE KNOWN SLICE OF TIME WHEN 16TH CENTURY BASQUE WHALERS PLIED THE WATERS OFF LABRADOR. IN 1954, A YOUNG ARCHITECT MET A LIBRARIAN. IN 2013, THE UNITED NATIONS EDUCATIONAL SCIENTIFIC AND CULTURAL ORGANIZATION (UNESCO) INSCRIBED THE RED BAY BASQUE WHALING STATION ON ITS WORLD HERITAGE LIST.
Notes from Michael Barkham
The story begins with Brian Barkham back in London when he was an architecture student after the war.
Brian was travelling by motorcycle through France and Spain. He had an accident going through the Basque country, his friend took ill and they were taken in by a priest. Barkham decided to do his thesis on Basque rural architecture.
Brian ended up at McGill doing some post-graduate studies in 53, 54. That's where he met Selma Huxley who was working as a librarian in the Arctic Institute.
Pieces of whale bone believed to be from the Basque era on the shores of Red Bay.
Recently married, Brian and Selma came to the Basque country because he wanted her to meet his friends. The priest said to them, 'You know, I've seen in the archives, references to Terra Nova in old documents - voyages from the Basque Country to Terra Nova in previous centuries, why don't you come back to study this?" The seed lodged with them.
Brian then died at 34. Selma was widowed with four children in Ottawa and little money.
"Well, I think most widows would tell you, you just have to go on. You can't just stop, you can't just sit down. The children have to be brought up and the children have to go to school. And you have to go on doing things as near to normal as possible." - Selma Barkham
Selma started doing contract work. She worked for National Historic Sites and then worked on the Louisbourg project, which was just taking off. The Basque connection came up again because a lot of settlers were fishermen at Louisbourg who from Placentia, and others who came from the Basque Country in France. Selma became interested in coming back to Spain and looking at earlier voyages in the 16th century. It was known that there were voyages, but nobody knew much about them.
Selma and the children came to Spain on a shoestring budget with no funding after spending three years in Mexico learning Spanish because Selma needed Spanish to understand the documentation. Selma got a job fairly quickly teaching English. She then started going through the archives in the Basque Country and this is where she made her big discovery because nobody had been into these archives often in small towns, which were often off the beaten track. All the little churches had documents hidden away that spelled out who owned what and how important they were from an insurance point of view. There were a lot of insurance policies.
The oldest known example of a Basque chalupa. This one was found in the waters off Red Bay.
What kind of people were 16th century Basques?They were interested in making money. Women were extraordinarily brave while men were away; women who looked after agriculture and other forms of work. Men were away on their boats.
"Going back to the Basque Country in 1972 to try to find archival documentation on the Basques in Canada was definitely a link to my father's interest and my father's work and one way of reconnecting with that relationship that my mother and father had had." - Michael Barkham
Selma gradually found documents talking about Basque whaling and cod-fishing voyages to Terra Nova. Gradually over the years in different archives she made this major discovery [in the Basque town of Onate, Spain], which was all this documentation with an incredible amount of detail about these voyages.
She found charter parties, which were rental agreements for ships going off to the fisheries in N.L, crew-hiring agreements; purchases of barrels for putting on the ships which the whale oil was brought back. [She uncovered hundreds of documents, including insurance policies, crew agreements, provisioning lists and the oldest original will written in the New World.] Just about everything you could imagine was documented there, but the problem was to piece it all together in a huge jigsaw puzzle. Fascinating things like documents talking about the wreck of five main ships in specific harbours on the Labrador coast.
It was an arduous task to analyze all the data because the documents are very hard tor read with old Spanish handwriting. She pieced together on paper the existence of, not only a big cod fishery mostly on the south Avalon peninsula, but also a big whaling industry in a place call Grand Baie - the Grand Bay.
She managed to pinpoint the Grand Bay as being the Strait of Belle Isle, but on the Labrador coast. The names she managed to pinpoint using documents in London and the British Library and Paris with old maps. The whaling industry had been located in about 10 ports on the south coast of Labrador. This was the reconstruction on paper.
Wanted to get to Labrador to see if she could find any physical evidence of of what she had seen on paper.Got a grant from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society of Canada.
Headed off to Labrador in 1977. The road was still a dirt road. There was a great sense of excitement because there should be evidence of what Selma had found in the documents. The family slept on people's floor, and in old tents in the Pinware park.
That summer went to four locations, including Red Bay; at all four found evidence of Basque occupation. Found tiles and, in one location, a harpoon. The stuff was 450 years old.
Source: two interviews with CBC Radio's Labrador Morning, October 2011
Red Bay Discovery notes
Selma Huxley Barkam visits Red Bay in 1977 with her children and Memorial University archaeologist Jim Tuck.
Selma had spent the previous five years studying and transcribing Labrador documents in the archives of the Basque country. She began researching in Spain under contract to the Public Archives of Canada.
Within two years she had uncovered evidence of an unpaid debt owed by one Basque fisherman to another for the 1572 purchase of four shallops or chaloupa (small fishing boats with sails) in Chateau Bay, Labrador. She also found a 1577 will written by another fisherman in Butus (now known as Red Bay), Labrador.
The Basques had been hunting whales since the 11th century but were only drawn to the Labrador coast during the early 1500s by the reports of the cod fishermen on the large number of right and bowhead whales.
In the Basque archives Selma had pieced together the history of a large-scale undertaking that included agreements between ship owners and outfitters, insurance policies, crew hiring agreements and provisioning lists. She also made use of maps and sailing directions to determine the present day location of the 16th century whaling ports.
These structures consisted of a number of stone fireboxes, each of which supported a copper cauldron that held about 45 gallons of blubber and oil. Fires kindled with scrap wood were replenished with skin and fat from the cauldrons during the rendering process. The tryworks formed part of shore stations that consisted of a number of tile-roofed cooperages and a wharf or "cutting-in" stage extended into the water. Piles of the red roof tiles can still be seen today.
Parks Canada's Cindy Gibbons shows pieces of Basque clay roof tiles that still pepper the town of Red Bay.
Several documents discovered told of the loss of at least two important ships: one in 1565, San Juan; and another in 1574, Madalena.
San Juan was a 300-ton galleon, laden with whale oil and about to sail for home when driven aground on Saddle Island in Red Bay and in 1978 the wreck of the ship was found, excavated, recorded and reburied.
In 1978, a Spanish whaling galleon named the San Juan, which sank in 1565, was discovered under the waters of Red Bay by a team of underwater archaeologists from Parks Canada, led by Robert Grenier.
The subsequent study of the vessel has revealed much of the technology involved in building ships in the 16th century which were required to sail the Atlantic Ocean and in the construction of the strong and agile chalupa (shallops) used in the whale hunt. One eight-metre whaling chalupa was found pinned beneath the collapsed starboard side of the large whaling vessel.
The chalupa was excavated and meticulously recorded prior to its complete disassembly, recovery, conservation and re-assembly and is now on display at Red Bay.
Selma won the Canadian Geographical Society's gold medal in 1980. She was invested into the Order of Canada in 1982 for her research into Canada's Basque connection.
She is a member of the Captain Cook Society, and author of a number of articles and books including "The Basque Coast of Newfoundland."
Parks Canada named Red Bay a National Historic Site in1979. In 2013, Red Bay is named a potential UNESCO world heritage site.
A full scale replica of the San Juan is now under construction in the Basque Country and will sail across the Atlantic in 2017, in time for Canada's 150th birthday.
World Heritage Site notes
Parks Canada submitted the nomination in 2004.
Red Bay is described as "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 American natural resources by European commercial interests. Red Bay harbour is an outstanding natural shelter lying on a traditionally rich food resource funnel."
A view of Saddle Island from the Red Bay historic site visitors centre.
The World Heritage Committee meets every two years with this year's meeting being in in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The committee gets a report from independent groups who review the application of potential world heritage sites.
The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) has provided research, which then goes to the World Heritage Committee.
The World Heritage Committee is Inscribing the Red Bay Basque Whaling Station, Canada, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (iii) and (iv);
Criterion (iii): Red Bay Basque Whaling Station is an outstanding example of the tradition of whale hunting established by the Basques in the 16th century for the production of oil which was transported for sale in Europe. In terms of the diversity of its archaeological remains, this is the most extensive, best preserved and most comprehensive whaling station of this type.
Criterion (iv): Red Bay Basque Whaling Station constitutes a fully intelligible ensemble of archaeological elements illustrating the establishment of a proto-industrial process of large-scale production of whale oil, during the 16th century.
The site's authenticity is described this way: The various attributes of the property are of unquestionable authenticity, as is the general landscape around the present-day village of Red Bay. However, the authenticity perceived by the visitor remains limited to an impression of the landscape, as the tangible attributes have been reburied, which is however justified in view of the need for conservation. The Visitor Interpretation Centre is essential to enable an understanding of the site and its authenticity.
The designation means international recognition that Red Bay played an important role in human history.
It lays out criteria to maintain the status. Recommends that the State Party give consideration to the following: a) Notifying the World Heritage Committee of any agricultural or mining project which could possibly arise in the surroundings of the property and which could potentially have a negative impact on it, in accordance with paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines; b) Improving and deepening the interpretation of the site for visitors, in view of the inexplicit nature of the remains preserved on land and in the bay.
Paragraph 172 says the World Heritage Committee invites the States Parties to the Convention to inform the Committee, through the Secretariat, of their intention to undertake or to authorize in an area protected under the Convention major restorations or new constructions which may affect the outstanding universal value of the property. Notice should be given as soon as possible (for instance, before drafting basic documents for specific projects) and before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse, so that the Committee may assist in seeking appropriate solutions to ensure that the outstanding universal value of the property is fully preserved.
Red Bay is the province's third World Heritage Site designation, but a first for Labrador.