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buber.net > Basque > Diaspora > Basques in Newfoundland and St. Pierre et Miquelon
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Basques in Newfoundland and St. Pierre et Miquelon

This article appeared in EUSKA KVERKO, a Socio-cultural Review about Euskara written in Esperanto, Number 1/94 (Jan-April) and was translated by Jean E. Smythe, Nanaimo, B.C.

During the 17th century ... there was a very prosperous and vigorous fishing industry in Saint Jean de Luz, a coastal village in the province Lapurdo [this may be the Esperanto form, which might be a little different in Euskio language)]. In that period thousands of Basque fishermen and sailors both from the peninsula and the continent - that is, southern and northern - carried their language to other seas and harbours.

Baldur Ragnarsson [an Icelandic Esperantist and author] fittingly reports on the early contacts between Icelanders and Basques, the clearest witness of which is the small basic Basque-Icelandic dictionary. But perhaps it is in North America that the traces of ancient Basques are best conserved even today. These fishermen reached Canada to catch whales in Labrador and cod in Newfoundland. Their presence seems to have been both numerous and constant, as they left behind Basque place-names so entrenched that they still continue today. It has been calculated that about a thousand people fished every year, from springtime till December, just in Red Bay (in Labrador, across from Newfoundland).

As for the commercial aspect, they felt the need for communication between their languages very early, and the Basques even encouraged one of their young men to stay ashore, so as to learn the language of some Canadian Indians. On the other hand, it is known that the latter practiced the language of the newcomers, the Basques, to the point that in their first contacts with the French (1540-1640), the Indians spoke to them in a kind of Basque jargon or pidgin.

In addition, as one can see in the Repertoire Toponymique du Quebec (Quebec, 1978), among prsent-day official place-names are several in French which allud directly to the activity of Basque fishermen: Anse au Basque, Cap du Basque, Collines du Basque, etc.

In the article is also a map; beside it is the following:
Basque sailors, having gained a lot of experience in the previous centuries, went into the seas of the West Indies and the East Indies in the 16th century. With them went the Basque language, leaving behind place-names in many places, which are retained even today. On the right [the map] can be seen those in Newfoundland. Can one conclude from that that Basque still lives in Canada?

Names on the map: Miariz - Barbocilho - Anton Portu - Portuchoa - Baya Ederra - Barachoa - Ophor-Portu - Ulizilo - Port aux Basques - Ourougnouss - Perrucan Bacallau - and Balea Baya across the water in Labrador.

The following article, "Europe is near", appeared in the August 1994 issue of CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons) that stands for) and was by Tom Weissman. It was about St. Pierre & Miquelon, and included just a paragraph mentioning the Basques:

... it was in the 16th century that fishermen and settlers from Brittany, Normany and the Basque regions of France and Spain settled here. The Basque tradition and folklore are very much alive. Just about every evening on Place Richard Briand, the locals play a game very much like jai alai on the Fronton or "big wall"; and groups of Basque folk dancers perform durinv various summer festivals, such as the Fete Basque in August, and France's national holiday, Bastille Day on July 14.

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