Our latest issue features five of Canada’s World Heritage sites – find out what makes these locations so special.
Red Bay Basque Whaling Station
On June 22, 2013 the remains of a 16th century Basque whaling station on the south coast of Labrador became Canada’s 17th UNESCO World Heritage Site, thrusting the small town of Red Bay into the global limelight. Lauded as “the earliest, most complete and best preserved testimony of the European whaling tradition,” the 60-square-kilometre site – on land and underwater – was established in the 1530s to supply Europe with whale oil for lighting.
From the maritime treasure on display at the site’s visitor centre to its proximity to a very different archeological wonder, here’s what you need to know about this Canadian World Heritage Site.
- Mariners from the south of France and northern Spain came to the area in the 1520s to harvest cod and noted an abundance of migrating whales in the Strait of Belle Isle.
- The location soon became a summer outpost for coastal whale hunting. It involved the butchery of bowhead and right whales and the rendering of oil from their blubber.
- At least 15 vessels and as many as 2,000 men and boys from France and Spain would make the journey to Red Bay each season.
- The site includes remnants of rendering ovens, wharves, living quarters, a cemetery, several underwater vessels and whale bones.
- The station was used for about 70 years until the local whale population was depleted.
- Red Bay National Historic Site was established in 1979 and is open to visitors each year from June to September.
- The visitor centre contains a restored Basque chalupa – a small boat used to harpoon whales. It is North America’s oldest-known whaling boat and was retrieved from the harbour.
- Less than 70 kilometres east, across the Strait of Belle Isle, lies another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 11th century Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Provincial Park, ground zero for the world’s richest deposits of dinosaur bones, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the very first in Alberta – on October 26, 1979. Nearly 75 square kilometres in size, the site is renowned not just for the unrivaled number and variety of 75-million-year-old dinosaur skeletons but also for the surreal landscape of the badlands that stretch along 24 kilometres of the Red Deer River.
From how the climate has radically changed since the “Age of Dinosaurs” to how you could help make a potential dinosaur discovery, here’s what you need to know about this unique Canadian World Heritage Site.
- Over 350 high-quality dinosaur specimens have been excavated so far, including more than 150 complete skeletons.
- Over 44 species representing every known group of Cretaceous dinosaurs have been discovered, along with important plant and animal fossils.
- 75 million years ago the area had a subtropical climate similar to northern Florida and was a low-lying coastal plain near the edge of a large shallow sea.
- The sand and mud at the location became the perfect place for preserving dead organisms millions of years ago. Subsequent layers of sediment, pressure, and a lack of oxygen resulted in exquisite fossils.
- Glacial ice and meltwater from the last Ice Age not only shaped the badlands 13,000 years ago, they also exposed the world-famous fossils.
- The park was established by the province in 1955 in an effort to protect the fossil beds. Fittingly, the park’s very first warden, Roy Fowler, was an amateur fossil hunter.
- Dinosaur digs are offered by the park from May to October for those wanting to try their luck.
- More than 30 major museums worldwide have displays showcasing the site’s dinosaur fossils. The largest collection is at Alberta’s own Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller.
Historic District of Old Québec
In December 1985, the Historic District of Old Québec became Canada’s ninth UNESCO World Heritage site, singled out for being “an exceptional example of a fortified colonial town.” In addition to its remarkably well-preserved Old World character with cobblestone streets, the centuries-old walled site is recognized as the only fortified city north of Mexico with its ramparts still standing.
From how it got its name to its most photographed architectural feature, here’s what you need to know about this stunning UNESCO World Heritage site:
- Old Québec is made up of two parts: the Upper Town, the site of the fortified ramparts and citadel on top of the cliff, and the Lower Town beneath Cap Diamant, on the waterfront.
- The district consists of nearly 1,400 historic buildings across 1.35 square kilometres – an area the size of 165 CFL football fields.
- The first permanent settlement of 28 people was established in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain after setting up a trading post there. (The very first European to set foot there – Jacques Cartier – arrived for the first time in 1535.)
- Before the UNESCO designation, The Historic District of Old Québec was first officially established by the National Assembly of Québec in 1963 and is legally protected under the province’s Cultural Property Act.
- The name Québec derives from an Algonquin word meaning “narrow passage,” used to describe the narrowing of the St. Lawrence River near the site.
- The well-preserved Fortifications of Québec – a National Historic Site – built between 1608 and 1871, successfully fended off an American force in 1775-76.
- Its dramatic geography and fortified walls have led to some to describe Old Québec as the “Gibraltar of North America.”
- Château Frontenac, one of the most recognizable architectural treasures in Old Québec, was first opened by Canadian Pacific in 1893 and is considered one of the most photographed hotels in the world.
L’Anse aux Meadows
A Viking settlement from over a thousand years ago – located on the extreme northern tip of the island of Newfoundland – L’Anse aux Meadows became one of Canada’s first two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in September 1978. It has the unique distinction of being the earliest known European presence on the American continent.
From the origins of its name to how Google put it on the map in a whole new way for all to explore, here’s what you need to know about Canada’s first World Heritage Site on the East Coast.
- The historical significance of L’Anse aux Meadows was established starting in 1960 when Norwegian husband-and-wife-team Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad first documented the overgrown ruins of an 11th century settlement left behind by the Vikings.
- Eight timber-framed sod buildings were excavated between 1961 and 1968 by Anne Stine Ingstad and were similar to those found in Norse outposts in Greenland and Iceland from the same time period.
- It’s been established that L’Anse aux Meadows was inhabited by 60-90 people, with evidence of carpentry and ironworking – the first-known iron smelting in the New World – 500 years before Christopher Columbus arrived in America.
- The name L’Anse aux Meadows is thought to be an anglicized version of Anse à la Médée, French for Médée’s Cove, but another theory suggests it comes from L’Anse aux Méduses, meaning Jellyfish Cove, and may have been anglicized to “Meadows” because of the landscape.
- The archeological location was designated a National Historic Site by Parks Canada in 1975. The 80-square-kilometres site includes ruins, forest, bog, coast and islands.
- It was one of the first locations Parks Canada chose to document using Google Trekker in 2013, giving Canadians and the world the chance to experience the site interactively online using Street View imagery.
Mistaken Point, Newfoundland
On July 17, 2016, thanks to its unique fossils, Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, became the 18th UNESCO World Heritage site in Canada – and our fifth that received the designation primarily because of its geology. The 17-km long fossil site is found at the south-eastern tip of the island, and is made up of a narrow strip of rugged coastal cliffs.
From NASA astrobiologists to treacherous foggy weather, here’s what you need to know about Canada’s latest World Heritage site:
- Mistaken Point is one of the few fossil sites in the world that reveals our planet’s first large life forms, which were then strange soft-bodied creatures that ranged in size from the length of a fingernail to a metre… and they didn’t have any legs or eyes.
- The rich fossil sites dates to 560 million to 580 million years ago, in what’s called the Ediacaran Period, which was when the transition from microbes to larger life forms started to occur.
- The new life forms began to appear after 3 billion years of domination by micro-organisms.
- Astrobiologists from NASA have studied the site to help them understand what kinds of life forms could exist on other planets.
- Mistaken Point got its name from how sailors, in often foggy weather, would sometimes mistake it for Cape Race – which could be a deadly error amid the area’s rocks.
- In the coastal community, people celebrated the UNESCO announcement by honking horns and releasing balloons.
- The geological importance of the site was revealed in 1967, when a Memorial University graduate student named Shiva Misra decided to investigate it.
To purchase one of the UNESCO World Heritage site stamps, you can visit any post office across Canada, or our online store.