Skip to content


The Pioneers Scholarship Fund – Honouring  Basque Research in Labrador

AARA Inc. regularly announces scholarships for graduate students conducting research on Newfoundland and Labrador cultural topics. The purpose of the fund is to honor pioneering Arctic and sub-Arctic research by awarding a scholarship in this area. Awards will be based on the promise of a student’s research to make a contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the cultural heritage of northern peoples, both past and present.

Next deadline: December 1, 2016 @5pm EST

Scholarship Amount: $2000

For the 2016-2017 scholarship we honour the research at Red Bay, Labrador and the Basques who intensively used this area from 1530 – 1600AD to hunt, and process, migrating whales for oil. The global significance of the Red Bay Basque Whaling Station was recognized through its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.

During the height of their annual visits in search of right and bowhead whales, as many as 2000 Basque whalers arrived in the Strait of Belle and Quebec’s Lower North Shore. At least half of these men went directly to Red Bay. Whale oil was a valuable commodity in Europe during that time and was used in lamps, as well as an additive for paints, varnishes, and soap. Other parts of the whale were also used, such as baleen, for whips, umbrellas, petticoats, corsets, and even nose spectacles.


Selma Huxley Barkham © Troy Media

The research at Red Bay can largely be attributed to three outstanding scholars, who are (in alphabetical order): Selma Barkham, Robert Grenier, and James Tuck. The investigations here began with the meticulous archival work of transcribing documents about Labrador,  in the archives of the Basque country by historical geographer, Selma Barkham. This led to archaeological research which occurred from 1977 – 1992: the underwater component was spearheaded by Robert Grenier of Parks Canada, and the terrestrial archaeology was led by James Tuck from Memorial University of Newfoundland.


Robert Grenier © Rod McIvor

The scholarly work related to Red Bay revealed that Butus, as it was known in the 1500s, was among the most extensively used stations, which featured whale oil rendering sites on Saddle Island, as well as on the main land. These sites revealed the remains of ovens, where whale fat was rendered over open fire pits in large copper cauldrons. There is also a Basque cemetery on Saddle Island, which contains 60 graves. Remains of cooperages were also found. Adjacent to those sites, in the harbour itself, the remains of a Basque galleon that sank in 1565, was also recovered. That galleon’s name is believed to be the San Juan.

tuck1 (1)

Jim Tuck © CAA

After many lucrative years of profits, Basque whaling in the Strait of Belle Isle declined by the end of the 16th century due to change in climate and whale population, the use of more viable whaling grounds in Spitsbergen, and overall change in European politics. Although over 400 years have passed, a connection still exists between Newfoundlanders, Labradorians, and the Basque people.

We are honouring that connection, the above research, and the cultural resources which resulted from these efforts. In the near future, the ties between our countries will reach the ultimate expression in the form of a replica of the San Juan, which will sail from the Basque town of Pasaia to Newfoundland.

See here for more information about the project, and people, responsible for undertaking the construction of this 16th century whaling ship:

At AARA Inc., we happy to support a student who is conducting research to further ensure that the relationship between Basque and NL people, remains strong.

How To Apply

This call for applications will support any graduate student who is writing a thesis about the Basque presence in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Applicants must:

  • be registered at a Canadian University and in disciplines related to music, literature, or social science.
  • include a two page maximum, single spaced proposal of research.
  • submit a CV.
  • submit two letters of recommendation. For larger, on-going projects, please submit only one application per project.
  • use a type font of 12 in Times New Roman.
  • provide supportive material (links to video or songs, or 1-2 pdf files of written work).
  • acknowledge AARA in any publications or written works that result from this scholarship.
  • inform referees that their letters of support will go directly to the AARA Inc official email and cannot be forwarded from the student. Please inform the referee to put REFERENCE LETTER FOR <Your Name> in the subject heading of the email.

The award will be announced 2-3 months after the deadline, with funding disbursal soon thereafter. Please be advised that a range of career professionals will review the applications and therefore technical language should be avoided. The scholarship funds must be used for research or student needs related to the research.

All inquiries leading up to the scholarship deadline, as well as the application and reference letters, should be emailed to:


Red Bay, Labrador


Model of the San Juan in Red Bay, Parks Canada Interpretation Centre © Ted Dyke

%d bloggers like this: