Food, music, and history take precedent in the Labrador Straits
Red Bay is celebrating its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From August 2 to 4, Red Bay partook in the first Basque Festival – an event Parks Canada hopes to throw every year in the region – and, on August 2, kicked off their own little celebration.
© Stephen Roberts
All of the guest speakers for the Red Bay Basque Festival on August 2 pose for a photo at the Selma Barkham Town Centre. L to R: Minister of Labrador Affairs Nick McGrath, Nunatukavut President Todd Russell, Cartwright-L’Anse-au-Clair MHA Lisa Dempster, Red Bay Mayor Wanita Stone, Labrador MP Yvonne Jones, the head of Parks Canada’s underwater archaeology unit Robert Grenier, and chair of steering committee Doug Robbins.
The proceedings started at the Selma Barkham Town Centre where Jamie Pye emceed a gathering that featured a number of guest speakers that included, amongst others, Red Bay mayor Wanita Stone, chair of steering committee Doug Robbins, and Robert Grenier, who led the underwater archaeological work as the head of Parks Canada’s underwater archaeology unit.
After the guest speakers finished, locals hung around for trays of food and a chat and many would later proceed to Whaler’s Restaurant for some music and traditional Basque food.
“We, as a Town Council, wanted to have a celebration for the whole town and everyone that helped with the nomination process, so that we could all celebrate together and thank the people for their help,” explains Mayor Stone.
Red Bay also continued to partake in the Basque Festival on August 3 and 4. On Saturday, the community saw various traditional games take place and the UCW cooked up Labrador baked beans and Basque style beans and toutons at the town centre. Later that day, there was a barbecue organized by the Come Home Year Committee at the town centre and, later that night, music by the Flummies and Daniel Payne, a square dance demonstration, and other local entertainment.
On Sunday, there was a Memorial Service for Lost Whalers at the Whaler’s cemetery on Saddle Island.
Meanwhile, Mayor Stone was just happy to be home to celebrate with her community.
“It was exciting for me to be at the UNESCO World Heritage congress meetings in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in June when the Red Bay Basque Station was inscribed as a World Heritage Site,” says Mayor Stone. “But it meant so much more to be in Red Bay this past weekend and celebrate with the people that put so much hard work into making this nomination a success.”
The town event was a partnership between the town and Parks Canada.
Cookin’ up Basque food
On Friday evening, after proceedings at the Selma Barkham Town Centre, locals got together at Bim and Marilyn Bridle’s Whaler’s Restaurant for something unique as they were served up traditional Basque cuisine.
With the help of some friends, who had visited the Basque Country, and a Basque cookbook, Marilyn had special Basque recipes for soup, chicken, and cake to present customers Friday night.
The meal, however, opened with Red Bay National Historic Site supervisor Cindy Gibbons introducing sausage and olives, which is what the Basque people started their meals with.
Marilyn explains the appetizer was soup, which had chicken, sausage, beans, cabbage, and potatoes while the main meal was braised chicken with almonds and garlic sauce.
“We fried out the chicken first – we just coated it in the flour, and browned it up on the grill,” she explains. “We used lots of onions and it’s cooked in wine with different spices and almond and garlic.”
The meal concluded with apple crisp with mint, a banana almond cake, and most specially, a Basque cake.
“In the middle of the cake you make up a custard and then you put it in the middle of the cake and cover it again with pastry and you bake it and we serve it with either bakeapples or partridgeberries.”
Marilyn says they served approximately 30 meals up until 12:00, as people started showing up around 6:00 pm.
More than Basque food, however, Whaler’s Restaurant was a gathering place for great entertainment over the weekend, as the restaurant featured musicians The Flummies, Daniel Payne, and Winston White.
Altogether, she guesses approximately 70 people came out to take in all of the fun.
Considering how well the day went, Marilyn is also leaving open the possibility of serving the Basque food again down the line.
“What I might do is do it up for a special every couple of weeks.”
The first annual Basque Festival
Southern Labrador had its first ever Basque Festival from August 2 to 4 and Parks Canada is hoping to make it an annual event.
With Red Bay’s new status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the attention that will receive worldwide, Parks Canada hopes to use the Basque Festival to promote other attractions in the region as well.
This year, along with the festivities in Red Bay, they held a guided interpretive walk along the Labrador Pioneer Foothpath from Schooner’s Cove and to Point Amour Lighthouse, where a variety of Basque foods were served.
The foothpath follows the road that was used to move material from Schooner Cove to the lighthouse for construction. It was one of the oldest roads in Labrador.
“When we had that event with Point Amour Lighthouse on Sunday: that was the beginning of spreading it out to a broader region so we can work as a region to bring tourists in,” explains Manager of National Historic Sites and Visitor Experience Trudy Taylor-Walsh.
The walk was organized by Tour Labrador with Lawrence Normore and Cindy Gibbons acting as guides and explaining the connection that Schooner’s Cove had with the whaling industry. Basque whalers had established a shore station there in the 1500s and the Newfoundland company Job Brothers established a short-lived whaling factory there in the early 1900s.
The walk was sponsored by Point Amour Lighthouse Provincial Historic Site and Parks Canada.
Drawing off some of the things they have done at L’Anse-aux-Meadows, Parks Canada hopes to reach out to different pockets of Basque culture throughout North America and to bring people of Basque descent to the area. Basque food and music are some of the things they hope to bring here to build hype not just for Red Bay but for the entire region.
“Hopefully we’re going to build it into a regional event that will use the UNESCO site as the draw,” says Taylor-Walsh. “But then, hopefully, spread it out so that visitors get to take in the other offers that other businesses are providing to make it a more sustainable tourism offer for the entire region and an even better experience for the visitors coming in.”