Parks Canada

Parks Canada

June 05, 2006 11:00 ET

Basques Follow in Their Ancestors' Footsteps: 3500 km by Oar and Sail on the St. Lawrence

QUEBEC, QUEBEC--(CCNMatthews - June 5, 2006) - Seven navigators - six Basques from northern Spain and a Micmac from Newfoundland - are setting out from Quebec City today for a 3500 km voyage aboard a 28-foot Basque chalupa, an exact replica of the 16th century craft. They thus are following in the footsteps of their ancestors, whalers and cod fishermen in the waters of the St. Lawrence and its Gulf. Their journey will take them to Red Bay, Labrador, original site of the chalupa and many vestiges of 16th century galleons and whaling vessels, which has since become a National Historic Site of Canada.

For six weeks, the Beothuk's crew will navigate exclusively by oar and sail. Basques and Micmac will wear period clothing and live their ancestors' lifestyle. They will visit a dozen sites in four provinces, including 16th century Basque whaling sites studied by Canadian archeologists. They will be escorted by a zodiac carrying three people, including a filmmaker and a photographer. The purpose of the voyage is to make contact with the people responsible for Basque heritage management and conservation in Canada; consolidate relations with Parks Canada scientists; restore contact between the Basque and Micmac languages; and spread the story of their adventure through the book and the documentary film that will be derived from it.

The building of the Beothuk is the result of 25 years of joint research by Parks Canada and the government of the province of Gipuzkoa, in the Spanish Basque country. It results from the discoveries of the Parks Canada team of underwater archeologists, which supplied the plans and drawings of the chalupa, and the technical expertise for construction of the replica. "I am proud that Parks Canada's research has shed light on Canada's maritime past and, at the same time, that of the Basque community of Gipuzkoa", declared Rona Ambrose, Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for Parks Canada. "I commend Parks Canada for their dedication to this project and I encourage Canadians to take this once in a lifetime opportunity to step back in time and witness this journey."

The chalupa was built by hand in Pasaia, under the direction of expedition leader Xabier Agote, in the same port where the original whaling vessel had been built and launched in the 16th century. For over six centuries, the Basque whaling vessel, or chalupa, was a preferred instrument in whale hunting, cod fishing and ocean salvage. When Champlain arrived in 1608, the chalupa was already part of the seascape of the future New France and he would use it himself for his explorations. Champlain's first maps in that period confirm that the Quebec-Saguenay region was already known as "New Biscay", or "New Basque Country".

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Contact Information

  • Office of the Minister of the Environment
    Ryan Sparrow
    Associate Director and Press Secretary
    (819) 997-1441
    Parks Canada - Quebec
    Lise Rochette
    Communications Service
    (418) 648-4539