Red Bay Heritage Group
 
Community History
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In the early 16th century, the waters of the Strait of Belle Isle were home to an abundance of right and bowhead whales. Each year whalers from the Basque provinces of France and Spain would come to hunt them. Based on the large number of whales that were caught in the area, it is evident that a thriving industry was developed here for the production of whale oil. Red Bay was one of the largest and most utilized of the 16th century ports.

In the early 1700s Red Bay was known as Baie Rouge and was part of the colony of New France. In 1713, Pierre Constantin from Quebec built a fort at Red Bay to trade with the Inuit. Sealing crews were hired and the men would spend the winter in Red Bay, catching and processing seals for oil to export. Constantin's trading practices continued in the area until the 1740s.

In 1763, the treaty that ended the Seven Years War between England and France awarded the Labrador Coast to the English. Migratory fishermen from England started coming to Red Bay during this time. They would fish, salt and dry cod in the summer months and then return to England for the winters. This type of seasonal migration and work pattern continued for many decades.
 
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The first permanent settlers came to Red Bay from Carbonear, Newfoundland during the 1840s. They originally came as part of the seasonal Labrador Fishery. Many of them decided to stay and formed the basis of the present community.

In 1892 Dr. Wilfred Grenfell came to Labrador as a medical missionary. Among many other accomplishments, he helped form the first Co-operative in Newfoundland and Labrador at Red Bay. Through this, fishermen were able to control the buying and selling of cod fish for themselves. A few years later, Dr. Grenfell developed a craft industry whereby local women were given supplies to create handicrafts. In exchange they would receive used clothing from the Grenfell Mission that had been donated by people in Canada, the United States and Great Britain. The crafts were also sold in those areas to raise funds for the mission's work. In Red Bay these activities centred around what came to be known as the "Industrial," the former Methodist parsonage.
 
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The 1900s saw a lot of changes in Red Bay: from a dependence on the cod-fishery during the first ninety years to a complete moratorium in the last decade. The last quarter of the century, however, carried with it an opportunity for the development of a new industry - tourism.

Archaeological research begun in 1977 has provided a wealth of knowledge of 16th century Red Bay. The remains of more than a dozen shore stations for processing whale oil were found, as well as three Basque galleons and several smaller boats at the bottom of the harbour. Red Bay has been designated a National Historic Site because of its significance to the history of Canada. Interpretation facilities operated by Parks Canada tell the story of the 16th century Basque whalers. The site has provided an opportunity for the community to diversify its economy while keeping the roots of local heritage alive and well.

Throughout the past 500 years, Red Bay has made its mark in history books around the world and in the hearts of those who have had the privilege to visit or call it home. It is a community filled with renowned historical significance, an abundance of breathtaking scenery and a people second to none. For thousands of years, people have relied on the sea and the land for their very survival. From this has evolved an appreciation for the many resources of the area, and a respect for the history that has made the community of Red Bay what it is today.
 

Red Bay Heritage Group

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