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Tourists flocked to Red Bay in 2017

The Red Bay National Historic Site’s World Heritage plaques overlook Saddle Island and the harbour of Red Bay.
The Red Bay National Historic Site’s World Heritage plaques overlook Saddle Island and the harbour of Red Bay. - Submitted photo

Visitation at national historic site over 12,000 this past summer

RED BAY, NL – The Red Bay National Historic Site is celebrating its best year ever for tourist visitation.

And there’s reason to be optimistic about the future of the site as well.

Per a Parks Canada press release, visitors from all over the world came to Red Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to learn about Basque whaling operations, which took place in Red Bay in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The site drew more than 12,000 visitors from June to September 2017 for the very first time – 18 per cent increase from the previous year.

“It’s been a great year, and it was really exciting to surpass that 12,000-mark,” said Cindy Gibbons, visitor experience team leader at the site. “There was a lot of anticipation when we got down to the final few weeks and we realized we were close. Everyone was excited that finally, ‘we’ve got 12,000 people here.’”

She says there are a few reasons for the increase.

Firstly, government offered free admission to national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas this year as part of the Canada 150 promotion.

Gibbons says it was a cause for celebration and they hosted a few events that drew people.

“Just the air of celebration, overall I think, across the country was important,” she said.

Their events included National Aboriginal Day, which Gibbons calls an opportunity to showcase Labrador’s unique culture; Canada Day, which she says attracts a lot of local people and gives them a chance to mingle with visitors coming from away; and Parks Day, which marks the significance of Canada’s parks.

These are annual events.

Secondly, she says the Red Bay National Historic Site has attracted more visitors since it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

Lastly, 2017 was the centenary of national historic sites in Canada. The first national historic site was established 100 years, and celebrations commemorating that event took place in Red Bay this summer.

Gibbons said Red Bay’s increased visitation was a part of a trend across the entire country.

“More Canadians and international visitors are coming to our parks and sites than ever before,” she said.

Based on its trajectory in recent years, Gibbons believes the site will attract more visitors in the future.

“We’re planning for that,” she said.

Plans include an infrastructure project that will consolidate site operations. The federal government has invested funds to combine the interpretative facilities.

“We have two interpretative facilities here – we have our welcome center and a separate interpretation center – so (we’re) consolidating and expanding our welcome center to increase our exhibit areas,” Gibbons explained.

“That will help us better present the story of Red Bay and the world heritage site.”

She adds the project will also decrease the site’s environmental footprint, and she’s hopeful the changes will draw more people in.

“Hopefully that’ll make our story better and more appealing to people, and that will draw people here as well in the future,” she said.

This project is in the planning phase.

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