Saturday, 6 June 2015

Red Bay: A World Heritage Site.

2013_NL_F19_206One of the earliest European settlements in the "New" World was a Basque whaling station in Red Bay, Labrador. It appears to have been used from about the mid-1500's to sometime in the 17th century. With the discovery of Basque whaling ships at the bottom of the harbour, a National Historic Site was created, which in 2013 became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It had been a while since I was in Labrador, and I decided it was high time for a return. I marked Red Bay as our first stop.

Editor's Note: all photos are "clickable" to see bigger versions.

Getting to Red Bay from St. Anthony was a bit of a chore; we had to drive back down the Great Northern Peninsula to St. Barbe, where we took the Apollo across to Blanc Sablon. The Apollo is ancient, showing her age, and past due to be retired.


The crossing was done in typical Newfoundland weather - fog, fog, and more fog.


There is not much to do on board, except watch the scenery. What there is of it.


When we finally arrived in Blanc Sablon, I found that the terrain was much like what it is on the island. That is to say, rather sparse. The high points of the terrain are bare, with thick patches of scrawny trees tucked into the valleys.


The accommodations in Red Bay were disappointing - the cabin we had rented stank to high heavens of humidity and neglect. Fortunately, the owners were away and we were offered their personal home to stay in while in Red Bay - a great way to turn a terrible service encounter into a save!

First thing in the morning, we headed down to the National Historic Site buildings. I was very disappointed to see that while the Canadian flag was flying (as is proper for a federally funded site), and while both the Basque and Labrador flags were flying (as is proper given the location and the history of the site), the flag of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador was NOT flying. A reminder, I think, of how clannish we humans can still be.


We stepped inside the museum anyway, and learned that there was a shuttle boat that would take us out to Saddle Island, the site of much of the Basque activity. Tickets in hand, we stepped out to wait for the boat over. The weather did not look particularly co-operative.


Indeed, looking out at the island, I thought it would certainly rain at some point during our excursion.


The boat was not long in coming, so there was no chance to change our minds, and off we went.


As we approached Saddle Island, the sun peaked through for just an instant to light up just the island. I immediately thought of the custom of turning a light over a door to welcome visitors in. My spirits rose.


As the boat pulled away to return to port, I thought about how there was no cellphone coverage in this area, and how the boat would not return for an hour, so one would do well to keep in mind that if we were to turn over an ankle, it would be a bit of a painful wait until help arrived.


So with a touch of caution, we went up to see the main structures on the island, which I was surprised to see were in hard shape.


Which I found quite surprising, since they are still part of an official lightstation.


Saddle Island is barren and hiking is quite easy. We toured around, noticing little things like the sea urchin shells dropped by gulls...


... the motor boat pulled up out of the water...


... which was actually in decent, although somewhat weathered, shape...


... the bits of machinery still lying where they had been abandoned...


... including the wreck of the Bernier, which ran aground in 1966 and ironically is not far from where the San Juan sank in 1565...


... which made for a pretty interesting composition during a momentary outbreak of sunshine.


After a pleasant, albeit short, hike around the island, we returned to the mainland and decided to hike along the shore where some whale bones were said to lie. The spot in question was across the harbour from both the town and Saddle Island.


Arriving at the beach, it did not take us long to find the old whale bones. Careful not to disturb them from their centuries-long rest, I made a few snaps.



Turning away from the beach to hike up a path along the hill, I discovered another, larger set of bones. Maybe I got caught up in the whole "cycle of life" thing, but there was something soothing about the hardness of the bones against the softness of the plants.


Not far from the natural bones, were bones of another sort.


On the way up to the pond on the hill, where the infamous Captain Kidd is supposed to have buried a treasure, I noticed how life was struggling to succeed, and how powerful "one" can be. It could be a lone tree...


... a lone squirrel...


... a lone bakeapple...


... or a lone flower. I found their struggle, and apparent success, inspiring!


The hike up was quite steep and much more strenuous than the walk around Saddle Island.


With the weather still not all that accommodating, and not finding any hint of where Captain Kidd hid his stash, it was back down the hill.


On the way down, I noticed another small island in the harbour.


The abandoned buildings were in stark contrast to the wharf at the shore.


When we got back to the town, I found out the island is called Penney Island, after the Penney's from Carbonear (the Penney's being family since my sister married Captain Roy Penney). I was even more surprised to learn that the first permanent settlers came to Red Bay from Carbonear. In the case of this island, one William Hudson Penney set up a merchant establishment there sometime in the 1840's. The buildings on the north end of the island date to the 1850's. Not surprisingly, 163 years of harsh weather has taken its toll on these structures.


The on-again, off-again sunshine made it quite difficult to snap souvenir photos for Bonnie and Roy.


I quite liked how one of the fallen roofs resembled a wave. I thought it was quite fitting.


Our hike done, we went back to the town restaurant for a feed of fish and chips (which I have to say was the best I have ever had, anywhere, bar none). On the wharf next to the restaurant were two of Parks Canada's famous red chairs.


They were so inviting, we had to do a selfie in them to close out our visit to Red Bay.


Here is a list of links to all of the blog posts from my 2013 tour around Newfoundland:

Cuckolds Cove to Carbonear
Signal Hill
Boat Tour!
Bird Watching!
Whale Watching!
Fogo Part 1: Getting There
Fogo Part 2: Walking Around
Fogo Part 3: The Fishery
Fogo Part 4: The Fogo Island Inn
Twillingate Part 1: Getting There
Twillingate Part 2: Wine, Music, and Whine
Twillingate Part 3: An Iceberg and a Lighthouse
Twillingate Part 4: Down to the Sea in Boats
Trout River and Gros Morne National Park
St. Anthony: Grenfell House and Big Boats
St. Anthony: A Whale of a Tale!
St. Anthony: Ice, Ice, Baby!
Red Bay: A World Heritage Site
Mary's Harbour
Battle Harbour
Point Armour and Gros Morne