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The Basques

The Basques, one of Europe's most ancient peoples, are from seven provinces grouped around the border between France and Spain near the Bay of Biscay. They define their nation through culture rather than geography. Their language, Eskara, appears to bear no resemblance to any other of the Indo-European family. Despite the lack of a separate nation, the Basques have managed to remain culturally distinct.

Expert sailors, the Basques were among the earliest regular visitors to the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. There is speculation that they arrived there even before the Vikings, although there is no documented evidence to prove this claim. However, there is evidence that they were making yearly fishing and whaling voyages by around 1525, and possibly as many as ten years earlier. Their ships usually arrived in the spring, returning home in early winter. They concentrated their operations along both sides of the Strait of Belle Isle in the northwestern part of the island, and along the northeast coast. With the Portuguese, the Basques were also among the first to come to the Grand Banks.

With the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the Basques' access to the waters around Newfoundland was greatly reduced. However, the Basque influence is still evident in place names such as Port aux Basques, or Port au Choix (the French version of portuchoa, Eskara for "small port"). There is also a National Historic Site at Red Bay, Labrador, where people can view the remains of a fifteenth-century Basque whaling station, including many artifacts.


Barkham, Selma H.  --  The Basque coast of Newfoundland.  --  [Plum Point, Nfld.] : The Corporation, 1989.  --  24 p.

Belanger, Rene.  --  "Basques".  --  The Canadian encyclopedia : year 2000 edition.  --  Ed. James H. Marsh.  --  3rd print ed.  --  Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999.  --  P. 201-202.

Janes, Diane P.  --  "Basques".  --  Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador.  --  Ed. Joseph R. Smallwood.  --  St. John's, Nfld. : Newfoundland Book Publishers Ltd., 1967.  --  Vol. 1, p. 142-143.

Kurlansky, Mark.  --  The Basque history of the world.  --  Toronto : Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 1999.  --  387 p.