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The Basques in Newfoundland and other finds from Fort Louis in Placentia

Steve Mills

An illustrated lecture.


Basque fishers and whalers were among the earliest Europeans to exploit the waters off Newfoundland, Labrador and eastern Canada. Their presence in the region began in the 1520s, or probably earlier. Being neither French nor Spanish the Basque had to contend with political woes in Europe while boldly expanding their fisheries beyond eastern Newfoundland, to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and up the St. Lawrence River. They were also among the first Europeans to trade with the Natives in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and beyond where their trade goods have been found as far west as the Great Lakes.
The Basque left an indelible mark in our province, both in the ground and in our place names. Over the past 10 or so years we are beginning to realize that evidence of their presence stretches well beyond southern Labrador, to Placentia where archaeologists have found hundreds of fragments of Basque red clay roof tiles in deposits associated with French planters from the mid-seventeenth century and the migratory fishery. Basque tombstones and sixteenth-century documents related to Placentia also speak of their association with Placentia.
This presentation will illustrate the history of the Basque presence in our province and eastern Canada and also some of the exciting finds from excavations at Jerseyside where archaeologists found over 40,000 artifacts related to the Basque, French and English/Irish presence going back to the seventeenth century.