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Basque whaling site uncovered in Red Bay, Labrador

The Story


In 1972, Selma Barkham began to open the book on a largely unknown chapter in Canada's early history. On her own initiative, the widowed mother of four moved to Spain, taught herself to read centuries-old Spanish script, and pored over insurance records and lawsuits for evidence that whalers from the Basque region spent time in Red Bay, Labrador. By 1985 archaeologists and dive teams have confirmed her research many times over, as this documentary from CBC-TV's The Journal demonstrates. 

Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Nov. 4, 1985
Hosts: Barbara Frum, Bill Cameron
Reporter: Sally Southey
Guests: Selma Barkham, Jim Tuck, Robert Grenier
Duration: 13:54

Did You know?


• In 1973 Selma Barkham began researching in Spain under contract to the Public Archives of Canada (now Library and Archives 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 (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.

• In 1978, a Spanish whaling galleon named the San Juan, which sank in 1565, was discovered under the waters of Red Bay.

• Barkham, who was born in England and grew up there before marrying an Ottawa architect, 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.

• Parks Canada named Red Bay a National Historic Site 1979. In 2013, Red Bay was named a potential UNESCO world heritage site.


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