Spain also in Newfoundland (Canada)
The specific dates on which the Basque fishermen began to visit Newfoundland are unknown, but in 1534 they were already there, Cartier saw them.
Most likely, they discovered the territory on one of their whale chases across the Atlantic Ocean. The discovery of these lands was so important to them that they kept them secret, to avoid competition from other fishermen.
The Crown of Spain knew of the existence of Terra Nova, but did not decide to settle permanently in the area. All territories beyond Delaware were considered inhospitable and uninteresting. However, the Basques knew how to get some commercial benefits from the cod and whale fishing. But with the exception of some cases of necessity, or by force majeure, they did not usually stay in those lands all year round.
Cod fishing grounds
The waters of these lands were great for cod fishing. Numerous and rich fishing grounds made fishing for this rich and valued marine species easy and abundant.
Whale Capture: A marine species of much more value, but of very dangerous capture, the whale
The glacial right whale or whale of the Basques
The Basques specialized for centuries in the capture of specimens of this species that arrived crossing the Cantabrian Sea in the north of Spain, to the Bay of Biscay, saw their catches decrease. Less and less specimens arrived and they began to chase them, first throughout the Cantabrian Sea and then through the Atlantic Ocean. Thus looking for their breeding places, their resting places and where they would gather, they continued after the whales. This and continuous pursuit of the whales, made them reach Newfoundland. Labrador Peninsula in Canada.
Some believe that it was around the year 1370, but there is no conclusive evidence, although more and more remains of Basque ships, utensils and ovens are being discovered in the area. If this were proven, the Basques would have reached America before Christopher Columbus. A theory that marine archeology will clarify over time. Although they have also been discovered on land, remains of Basque kilns and warehouses, their factories.
Once these fishing grounds were located, each year they made an expedition of many months, to hunt and manufacture the catch, creating huge deposits of whale oil. This whale oil was a true Liquid Gold. It was used among other uses in lighting lamps throughout Europe. Whale oil was the best for this use, since it was consumed slowly and did not produce a bad smell when burned. Being highly valued despite its high price among nobles and wealthier classes, for the convenience of being used inside palaces and homes.
France goes exploring to America
France longs for riches
Looking for the way to the East
France envying and longing for the riches that came from America to Spain, she tried to get some part of them. But she had the problem of being able to face Spain directly if she acceded to the Spanish territories of America. She chose to go somewhere in America, far from Mexico. Some places with harsh living conditions due to its harsh climate. She, at the same time, was trying to find an access route to the East, the so-called Northwest Passage that was believed to exist, and whose access was through the northern part of America.
Explorer Jacques Cartier
Expedition to Newfoundland
At the head of a small expedition of 2 ships and about 60 people, he is heading towards America. Cartier takes possession for France of Newfoundland on July 24, 1534, raising a 10-meter cross on the new lands, as a sign of French sovereignty.
The priests better!
In contacts with the Native Americans especially on the coast, they soon learned the greeting from him. They were surprised that many of them responded to them in the same way. Before the greeting of the French, the natives always answered “Apezak hobeto”. They say that, intrigued by the meaning of the native Cartier salute, he asked and questioned his crew until he discovered what it meant.
This was the traditional greeting of the Basque sailors, when someone asked them how they were. A greeting half joke, half vindictive.
- Before the greeting and ask Hello! How’s it going?
- The answer: “Apezak hobeto“
they answered “The priests better”
The Basque language is one of the languages spoken in Spain. It is the oldest language in Europe. There are many theories about its origin, but it is currently considered of unknown origin. It is not a language of Latin origin as are the languages Castilian (Spanish), Galician, Catalan, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian etc.
The surprise of the French Cartier
Meet 1,000 Basques in Newfoundland
The surprise was so great that he commented on it in one of his letters, where he recounted his experience in exploring Newfoundland. For the French Newfoundland was a very remote place and Cartier considered himself an explorer.
“In those remote waters I found a thousand Basques fishing for cod”
How difficult and strange it would be to claim the French explorer, a territory for the Sovereignty of France, when you find 1,000 Spaniards occupying and working in that territory. His job was not only to fish, but to work in an entire industrial plant for the time, consisting of a port, several furnaces, cutting areas, warehouses and cargo.
The Spanish were already in Newfoundland
Nothing strange as normal in the so-called Epoch of Discoveries and later. Someone who was not Spanish, or in any case Portuguese, never arrived first in unknown places. And this also happened to the French in Canada. When they arrived in Newfoundland, trying to discover new lands, these were not only discovered, but there were already Spaniards in them. In this case, the surprise came from the Basques, with their campaigns and their fishing factories.
Cartier and his 60 Frenchmen had to leave a mark on the territory and raised a 10-meter cross, before the curious gaze of the Basques.
A symbolic gesture of Sovereignty for France, because it was really the 1000 Basques who were already cutting the Cod in those lands.
With no desire to conquer and with the collaboration of the natives of those lands, the Basques set up their fishing factories. There were times when up to 9,000 Basques came each year to the whale catching season, or to the cod fishing in Newfoundland.
To get an idea of what it represented to find 1,000 Spanish Basques in Canada, we must think of the efforts of Hernán Cortés to have a few more Spaniards, in the conquest of Mexico. There were times when Cortés did not have more than 300 to 800 Spaniards. And the number of ships necessary and capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean and returning loaded with oil or cod.
Mikmaq and Beothuk natives
The Basques needed help both for information about the area and for their factories. These natives agreed to collaborate, in exchange for bread and cider (a typical drink of the North of Spain), some exotic and valuable products for them. This relationship produced a cultural exchange for centuries. A language half native language, half Basque language (Euskera) was created to be able to understand each other. This language was used every time a Basque expedition arrived in the area. Every year, new Basque reinforcements flocked to those lands.
The natives of Newfoundland thought that Cartier’s French understood the language that other whites (Basques) had taught them.
The need to understand each other in contacts with the Basques, and to facilitate communication between the two peoples, a pidgin (Basque-Algonquin or Algonquin-Basque) was created little by little. It was used by these tribes and probably by some other tribe, to be able to understand better with the Basque whalers.
The scientific importance of the discovery of this sinking of a Basque galleon is being used as the UNESCO logo for its Underwater Cultural Heritage program.
Galleon San Juan
An example that demonstrates Spanish activity in the area, currently renamed Red Bay, is the discovery of the remains of a Basque Whaler, sunk in 1565 and built in Pasajes (Guipúzcoa). After a successful campaign by the Basques and their wineries filled with whale oil, they were preparing to return to the Basque Country, in northern Spain. Unfortunately it sank in this area of America.
An oak plank discovered by marine archaeologists in 1978, gave the clue and led to the discovery of the marine remains of the galleon sunk more than 400 years earlier.
Currently a replica of this 16th century San Juan Galleon is being built, so that it can once again make the route to the Labrador Peninsula in Canada, and re-strengthen the ties between the two peoples.