Idyllic Island Masks 16th Century Industrial Site
Decades before Plymouth and Jamestown, Basque whalers established a bustling colony in Red Bay, Labrador and used the banks of Saddle Island to transform the carcasses of bowhead and right whales into oil and other commodities valued in Europe. Today the idyllic site hosts a lighthouse, a dock, a walking path, and abundant wildflowers. The remains of a ship just offshore date from the modern era, but their haunting presence reminds visitors of the many lives lost during the island's heyday. The tiny island contains the graves of over 120 whalers, and the remains of four 16th century galleons rest on the bay's floor.
A quick boat ride from Red Bay, Saddle Island is well worth the visit. Stroll along the coastal path and you’ll spot the many seabirds that call the island home. Explore the remnants of the rendering ovens, where whale blubber was turned into oil for export to Europe, and tour the old cooperages where barrels to contain oil were built. A small burial ground is the resting place of 140 whalers who died here.
By Candice Walsh, AFAR Local Expert