The Basque influence in Canada and Quebec shores

Île aux Basques – Geo Plein Air

The Basques in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Adjacent Shores

16th-18th c. : The Basques hunt for whales along the Atlantic shore and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They are likely the first to engage in trade with the Aboriginal people.

Every spring, until about 1626, the Basques returned to their fishing stations in the New World. They built drying racks called flakes to dry cod and used huge stone hearths known as tryworks to render blubber into whale oil, a product that was much sought-after in Europe as a lamp fuel and an ingredient for soaps and cosmetics.

The Basques left numerous traces of their presence on Québec’s shores. The archaeological site of Basques-de-l’Anse-à-la-Cave on the Upper North Shore has revealed the remains of two tryworks and a temporary shelter once used to extract whale oil; this place has been designated as a heritage site by the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications.

More than 100 place names in Québec reflect the passage of the Basques; for example, Mingan, on the North Shore and Île-aux-Basques, near Trois-Pistoles, in the Lower St. Lawrence.

Red Bay National Historic Site, in Labrador, testifies to the existence of large Basque installations in the 16th century. Archaeological research conducted by Parks Canada for over 15 years brought to light some 20 whaling stations. Underwater archaeology at the site led to the discovery of the wrecks of several Basque vessels and three galleons, the oldest of which, the San Juan, dates to 1565.


Île aux Basques is a Canadian island located in the lower estuary of the St. Lawrence River, about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) north of Trois-Pistoles, in Les Basques Regional County Municipality of the Bas-Saint-Laurent region of Quebec. The island is part of the municipality of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges.

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