Nfld. & Labrador

Twin towns in Labrador and Spain explore their Basque connections

A delegation from Red Bay, Labrador, has signed a deal with the Basques town of Pasaia to become twin towns.

Red Bay and Pasaia became twins in a ceremony May 8

Red Bay Mayor Wanita Stone, right, and Pasaia Mayor Izaskun Gomez sign the twinning agreement aboard the replica of the Basque whaling boat San Juan. (Twitter/@LabradorStraits)

A community in southern Labrador is joining forces with a town in northern Spain to celebrate their shared heritage.

For more than 400 years, there's been a close connection between Red Bay and Europe's Basque country, as Spanish whalers sailed across the Atlantic to fish for whales.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site in Labrador boasts the oldest and best preserved examples of a Basque whaling station from the 16th century. 

Red Bay Mayor Wanita Stone hammers a nail into a replica of the Basque whaling ship San Juan. (Twitter/@LabradorStraits)

On Monday, a delegation from Red Bay was in Pasaia, Spain, for ceremonies to twin the towns.

I am looking out my window right now and can see statues on the hill that have been there for centuries.- Wanita Stone, mayor of Red Bay

"It's like you go back in time," Red Bay Mayor Wanita Stones said about seeing Pasaia for the first time.

"You look around, you see a centuries–old building. Churches that are just magnificent. I am looking out my window right now and can see statues on the hill that have been there for centuries."

As twin towns, Stone said Red Bay and Pasaia can work together on tourism and business opportunities. It's also a chance to use their cultural connection from centuries ago to build a new relationship for the future.

'Very emotional'

In the spirit of that, the official twinning ceremony took place May 8 on the stern of the new San Juan — a replica of the wooden boat built in Pasaia that Basque whalers used to cross the Atlantic. 
Red Bay Mayor, Wanita Stone, left, and Pasaia Mayor Izaskun Gomez say the shared history can lead to shared tourism opportunities. (Twitter/@LabradorStraits)

Stone said it was a moving experience. 

"To know that four centuries ago there were men that left here and went to Red Bay on a ship like what's being built right now," she said. "Some of them died over there so it was very emotional."

Stone hopes to return the hospitality later this year when a Basque delegation visits Red Bay. Sure to be on the itinerary is Saddle Island, where the original San Juan ran aground and sank in 1565. 

About the Author

Cherie Wheeler is a Corner Brook radio producer working with CBC Newfoundland Morning.

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