Eider Mendoza (Deputy General of Gipuzkoa), Zulema Aragonés (President of the Canada Spain Chamber of Commerce), Xabier Agote (President and founder of Albaola), Wendy Drukier (Ambassador of Canada in Spain).
Today, at the Official Residence of the Canadian Embassy in Spain and hosted by Ambassador Wendy Drukier, Albaola has presented the project “The San Juan, bound for Canada”.
After welcoming all the guests, the ambassador has opened the event by expressing her total support for this project which, due to its uniqueness and importance, aroused her interest from the very first moment. She also has shared with the attendees that, having recently taken up her post, she visited Albaola Itsas Kultur Faktoria, the shipyard-museum-school and headquarters of Albaola located in Pasaia. Ambassador Wendy Drukier took the opportunity to quote the joint statement between Prime Minister Trudeau and President Sánchez on the occasion of the Canadian Prime Minister’s official visit to Spain last year, which said: “We also note the historic relationships between the coastal communities of our two countries, including the presence of Spanish seafarers on the Atlantic coast of Canada and the exploration of the west coast by Spain; as a tribute to this, we highlight the reconstruction in Pasaia (Gipuzkoa) of a replica of the San Juan, a 16th century Basque whaling ship, the original of which is located in Red Bay (Labrador), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “
After the ambassador’s opening remarks Zulema Aragonés Monjas, president of the Canada-Spain Chamber of Commerce and co-organiser of the event, has stressed the importance of supporting initiatives that, like this one, stand out for their capacity to transform and generate links between cultures. “The San Juan project illustrates the deep roots and ties existing between Canada and Spain. With the help of our partner Albaola, it represents the past and the future of commercial and cultural relations between these two great countries and motivates us at the Chamber to keep going at our work”.
Then it was the turn of Xabier Agote, president and founder of Albaola, who, during his passionate speech, has explained the project for the construction of the replica of the transoceanic whaling galleon San Juan, sponsored by UNESCO; Agote has recalled the main milestones in the voyage of the San Juan, from the discovery of the wreck in Red Bay (Labrador) by the underwater archaeology team of the government agency Parks Canada, to the final stages of the construction of this galleon, unique in the world, which is currently underway.
Xabier Agote: “One of the reasons for holding this event here at the Canadian Embassy is the desire to share with Canada the transcendental common historical heritage that was the adventure of the Basque whalers. The second, and no less important, is the possibility of showing our deepest and most sincere gratitude to the Government of Canada for the extraordinary research work carried out through its agency Parks Canada and for its involvement and active support to Albaola from the beginning, a position that we have always perceived as a great gift and have assumed as a responsibility: that of recovering a history of courage and collaboration between different people. A story that began as a dream and that today is an extraordinary reality”.
More than 80 guests have attended the event, half of them members of the Chamber of Commerce Canada Spain. Among the institutional representatives were Eider Mendoza, Deputy General of Gipuzkoa, whose presence showed the support of the government of Gipuzkoa for the project, the deputy mayor of the town council of Pasaia, Aintzane Taberna, the delegate of the Government in the Basque Country Denis Itxaso, the delegate of the Basque Government in Madrid Juan Aguado, and José Cebrián and Josu Bilbao, from the Directorate General of the Merchant Navy. There have also been representatives of UNESCO Spain, the Madrid Chamber of Commerce, the Naval Museum of Madrid and a large number of national and international companies, as well as various cultural agents.
Albaola has ended the event by thanking all the guests and giving special thanks for the support received from the Canadian Embassy in Spain and the CCCE for organising the event; they also have mentioned three entities that have helped making the event possible: Irizar, Carbopress and Malagissona.
THE KEY FACTORS OF THE SAN JUAN
Some placenames, old documents and the oral tradition contributed to the existence in Canada of a knowledge of the presence of Basque whalers on its coasts in the 16th century. On this basis, the dense information compiled by Selma Huxley in various historical archives triggered the search for a Basque whaling ship, called San Juan, which was built in Pasaia and wrecked in Labrador in 1565.
Intensive underwater research by archaeologists from Parks Canada led to the discovery of the wreck in 1978. The wreck was found in Red Bay, Labrador, at about ten metres’ depth and under a thick layer of ballast stones and sediment. Surprisingly enough, most of the wood was in very good condition, considering the centuries that had passed since it sank; in fact, at that time it was the best- preserved shipwreck of a 16th-century transoceanic galleon found in the world.
An unprecedented underwater archaeological work was carried out under the direction of Robert Grenier. It began with eight years of excavation and inventory, during which all the pieces of the ship’s structure, cargo and personal belongings of the crew were extracted and recorded one by one; after that, the research continued in the laboratories in Ottawa.
It took a total of 30 years of work to obtain, process and complete all the information provided by the shipwreck. Everything found, timbers, tools, etc., was thoroughly investigated. As a result, plans and models of the San Juan were drawn up. Three whaling boats were found at the same location, one of which was in an excellent state of preservation. After her structure was consolidated, it was installed in the Red Bay Museum, where it remains on display to the public.
Following the conclusion of the investigation, the San Juan wreck was returned to the seabed, where it remains protected, monitored and in a stable environment for conservation. Only some of its most unique pieces are on display in the museum.
In 2013, the entire Red Bay archaeological site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Albaola took over the continuation of this research, bringing this emblematic ship back to life in Albaola Itsas Kultur Faktoria, its shipyard-museum-school in Pasaia. This construction project received the patronage of UNESCO two years later, in 2015; a major milestone, as it was the first time that a shipbuilding project received such recognition from UNESCO.
It deserves a special mention the fact that the San Juan is the symbol of UNESCO’s Protected Underwater World Heritage. In fact, the silhouette of the San Juan is the image chosen for its logo, which gives the measure of the international relevance of this ship built in Pasaia.
For the first time, and almost five centuries later, the work and collaboration of various people and institutions on both sides of the ocean have contributed to revealing the technological keys that opened the oceans to mankind, a transcendental historical fact. Through different disciplines such as scientific and archaeological research, international relations and cultural exchange, and following in the wake of this great ship, we have rescued a shared heritage, re- establishing cultural exchange links with Canada.