Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland and Labrador

From Academic Kids

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Port aux Basques and the other Marine Atlantic ferry ports

Channel-Port aux Basques (also Port aux Basques) is a town at the extreme southwestern tip of the island of Newfoundland fronting on the eastern end of the Cabot Strait. A Marine Atlantic ferry terminal is located in the town which is the primary entry point onto the island of Newfoundland and the western terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway in the province. The town was incorporated in 1945 and the current population (2001) is 4,637.

Port aux Basques is the oldest of the collection of villages that make up the present-day town, which consists of Port aux Basques, Channel, Grand Bay, and Mouse Island. Amalgamation took place in the 1970s.



The community received its name from whalers hailing from the Basque region of the Pyrenees of France and Spain who sailed in the area during the 1500s. Permanent settlement came from French fishermen who overwintered on this, the "French shore", using rights given under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht which saw France cede Newfoundland to England in exchange for right of use of coastal lands for the fishery. With the fishery being the economic mainstay for both French and British settlers in the area, Channel-Port aux Basques appeared destined to remain a collection of small fishing villages.

Telegraph cable

In 1856, an undersea telegraph cable was successfully laid between Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island, making landfall nearby. This was the first step in the race to complete a trans-Atlantic telegraph cable.


In the 1880s, the Government of Canada erected a lighthouse at nearby Cape Ray which, despite being in the then-separate British colony of Newfoundland, was considered a navigation hazard for vessels bound for Canadian ports in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

In 1893 it was decided to extend the western terminus of the Newfoundland Railway, then under construction west from the Avalon Peninsula by Robert G. Reid, from St. Georges to Port aux Basques harbour. By 1897 the tracks reached Port aux Basques, although the harbour facilities had not been built at that time to handle the steamer Bruce which had been built in Scotland and had arrived in Newfoundland several months earlier. Instead, while Port aux Basques harbour was having docks built, the Bruce operated from October, 1897 until June, 1898 between Little Placentia to North Sydney, Nova Scotia.


On June 30, 1898, the first passenger train arrived in Port aux Basques and the Bruce departed for North Sydney shortly afterward. Over the years, the Newfoundland Railway expanded both the number of trains and vessels which called at Port Aux Basques. In 1925 the steamer Caribou began service but was attacked and sunk by a U-boat on October 14, 1942 with a loss of 137 lives, some from the Port aux Basques area. On March 31, 1949 Newfoundland entered into Confederation and the railway was transferred to Canadian National Railways.

Under CNR, Port aux Basques was expanded in the 1950s with the construction of new dock facilities and the arrival of newer and larger ships such as the William Carson. Extensive blasting of rock created large railyards with extensive dual-gauge trackage. This rock was then used as fill to create the required docks. By the mid-1960s, new railcar-capable ferries such as the Frederick Carter permitted the exchange of railcars requiring further expansion at Port aux Basques terminal facilities.

The mid-1960s also saw the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway across Newfoundland, an event that forecast the death of the railway which would be abandoned by 1988, but which made Port aux Basques into an even more important gateway to the island of Newfoundland for increased number of tourists visiting the province, and the rising amount of truck traffic. New Ro-Pax (roll-on, roll-off, vehicle/passenger) capable vessels were commissioned and/or chartered during the 1960s-1980s to meet the growing demand, such as the Marine Nautica, Marine Atlantica, Marine Evangeline, Ambrose Shea, and John Hamilton Gray.

With the abandonment of the railway, extensive rebuilding of Port aux Basques terminal resulted in expansive marshalling areas for waiting motor vehicle traffic. A plant disease inspection station is located near a modern rebuilt railway station which is now used as a passenger terminal for the ferry service operated by Marine Atlantic, which was renamed from CN Marine in 1986. Port aux Basques harbour hosts the arrival of the two largest icebreaking ferries in the world, the Caribou and Joseph and Clara Smallwood, as well as other passenger and cargo vessels.


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