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06.- Basque Steps in the East

Most Basque-Americans are found in the western states. California has the highest population of Basques, as well as the highest number of Basque clubs and restaurants. It is also where Basque cultural activities are most visible. In relative terms, however, it is in Idaho that one finds the greatest Basque presence. The Basque population is only one third of what it is in California, however exceeding one million, while in California it is around thirty-five million. On the east coast there are Basque communities in New York, Washington D.C., and Florida.


In this context mention should be made of historical settlements in Newfoundland and Labrador. Basque fishermen arrived for the first time on the coast of Quebec and the Canada of today in search of whales. Historians do not agree as to when. Some say they may have been there before Columbus. Douglass and Bilbao refer to a literary tradition of the 16th and 17th centuries that attributes the discovery of the New World to the Basques. In any case it is clear that the Basques have been fishing in the area from time immemorial. Gravestones found in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries give testimony to such.


The western part of Newfoundland used to be known as "Côte des Basques", and a certain number of place names along the coast are of Basque origin. The fishing stations were described in 1677 by Pierres Detcheverry of Donibane Lohizune (St. Jean de Luz) in his book Ixasoco Nabigacionecoa, which was translated into Euskara from the French work published in 1578 by the Basque Martin de Hoyarzabal, of Ziburu.

The name of the modern Port-Aux-Basques may be found as early as 1612 on the map of eastern Canada by Samuel de Chaplain. Whalers and cod fishermen along the entire Basque coast (Baiona, Donibane Lohizune, Ziburu, Hondarribia, Donostia, Mutriku, Ondarroa, Lekeitio, Ea) knew the area well. Even today in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon a Basque population and Basque festivities are found, with the colours of the Basque ikurriña (flag) flying alongside other local symbols. Currently about thirty percent of the people of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon (islands offshore from Port-Aux-Basques, belonging to France) are of Basque origin. In Saint-Pierre one can find the Orok Bat Basque dancers. There is a club with a great pilotazale tradition, its pilota court dating from 1906. On the route between Europe and America, Iceland also knew Basque presence. In the 17th century the inhabitants wrote two Basque-Icelandic glossaries, which have survived.

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