LOOKING BACK: What's in a name?

Opinion | Looking Back

Melissa Samms

Apr 12, 2021 | 2 minute read


Melissa Samms is a local history enthusiast with their fingers in several pies. They studied at MUN and CNA before moving back home to Codroy Valley, where they help with community development and project coordination. They can be reached by email at: Melissa.samms@gmail.com.


Channel-Port aux Basques has been used by Europeans for centuries, and as such, has had many different names. Various landmarks and stations that eventually became towns were marked on and off throughout the centuries, and a few consistently had names, even if they changed over time.


The earliest maps of Newfoundland showed it as a collection of islands rather than one large mass. On one such map drawn in 1546 by Pierre Desceliers, Cape Ray was marked as Cape Real. By 1602 it was marked as Cape Ray, and the name has stuck ever since. Earlier, in 1534, Jacques Cartier wrote that there were over 1,000 Basque fishing vessels in the Gulf of St. Lawrence when he sailed to claim the Gaspé peninsula. These Basque fishers and whalers frequented the Port aux Basques harbour to resupply and rest in the relative safety of the ice-free port. They called the area Sascot Portu, the meaning of which I can’t find.


According to the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland, the next name to pop up in the area was Bay Éclaire in 1612, referring to the ice-free harbour. A 1621 map drawn by Jacobscz included in A History of Newfoundland by D. W. Prowse marked Cap de Ray, Bay St. Éclaire, and a Port aux Basque further down the coast. It’s far enough that it may be the location of present day Burgeo, the name of which bears a striking resemblance to the city and province of Burgos, an autonomous region in Basque Spain.

In 1647, Bay St. Éclaire saw another name change when Robert Dudley marked it as C. Lascot, a French surname. The final change came not long after, in 1687, when Dutchman Johannes van Keulen labeled it as Port aux Basques. From this point on, it was labeled as such until more English settlers arrived in the 1800s and established the town of Channel. Élisée Reclus noted in 1890 in his writing Social Geography According to an Anarchist that Port aux Basques had been “renamed as Channel by the English.” As a visitor, he may have been mistaken, as the two towns had (and still have) their own unique identities.


Official work was conducted in Channel once it was established. This was likely due to anti-French and anti-Spanish sentiment in Newfoundland at the time. It had been illegal for either to settle in Newfoundland since the mid-1700s, and settlers often chose anglicized names for themselves and their towns to more easily conduct business.


Finally, in 1945 the two towns amalgamated, changing the name one last time to Channel-Port aux Basques, a symbol of co-operation and the towns’ unique history.

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SOURCES:

• Encyclopedia of Newfoundland

A History of Newfoundland – W. D. Prowse

• French Visitors to Newfoundland: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Travel Writings – Ronald Rompkey, translated from the French and edited by Scott Jamieson and Anne Thareau. Excerpt Social Geography According to an Anarchist by Élisée Reclus in 1890.

• The Basque coast of Newfoundland – Selma Huxley Barkham

Treaties of Utrecht (1713), Paris (1763), and Versailles (1783)

• Maps, 1546 Pierre Desceliers; 1621 Jacobscz; 1647 Robert Dudley; 1687 Johannes van Keulen.

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