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Month: August 2023

Last Will and Testament of Domingo de Luca

Last Will and Testament of Domingo de Luca

This is a photograph of Galeon La Pepa, a Basque ship that may resemble La María del Juncal (Source: Anonymous).

Domingo de Luca was a humble storekeeper aboard La María del Juncal, a Basque ship stationed in Plazençia, now Placentia, in 1563. It’s prime purpose was to harvest cod. There was nothing out of the ordinary.

However, de Luca was not favoured by fortune and became gravely ill. When he eventually passed away, the Will he left behind indicated the unquestioned presence the Basque have played in the history of the Placentia area.

Crossing the Ocean

The Basque followed in the footsteps of the seaworthy Vikings. In and around 1,000 CE, the Vikings had already done the honours of reaching what is now North America, no surprise for a sea-venturing culture. All the chronicles of the Vikings have been recorded in The Saga of the Greenlanders.

Norwegian Bokmål: Leiv Eirikson oppdager Amerika  Leiv Eiriksson

discovers North America (Source: Wikipedia )

As expert shipbuilders, the Vikings had already reached Helluland, likely Baffin Island and the region around Nunavut. They’d journeyed further south near central Labrador to find Markland. Continuing, they travelled further south to Vinland, which was most likely the Gulf of St. Lawrence, L’Anse aux Meadows and perhaps as far south as New Brunswick. However, despite reaching North America, knowledge of their travels did not spread very far in Europe.

Summer on the Greenland coast circa year 1000 by Carl Rasmussen Source: By Carl Rasmussen –, Public Domain, Wikipedia)

Only centuries later was this treasured knowledge able to circulate. It was in 1497 when John Cabot made the groundbreaking news that new lands lie west of Europe. News travelled fast.

As a result, it’s certainly no surprise the Basque were in Newfoundland by the sixteenth century.

Leaving a Will

By the 15th of May, Domingo de Luca had realised his illness was serious enough that he best dictate a short will to the ship’s notary, Joan de Blancaflor.

As part of his will, de Luca included the usual information regarding his debts and receipts. He also made certain to appoint the ship’s master and another individual to function as his executors.

Image of the Will belonging to Domingo de Luca (Source: Sabino Laucirica).

However, the most noteworthy inclusion in his will was one statement—his “body be buried in this port of Plazençia in the place where those who die here are usually buried.”

This clearly indicated several things about the Basque. They had been evidently present long enough for there to be a place of worship present in the region. Furthermore, others had already been laid to rest in Plazençia. Moreover, they had been visiting long enough for the Basque to feel comfortable being left Plazençia. And in all likelihood, that it was a place of worship ensured the Basque, it would be acceptable to be laid to rest in that location.

Evidence of the Basque

Prior to the writing of the will, we had known of the Basque presence based on headstones that had been left. The earliest was dated to 1677. This was found in the cemetery surrounding the late St. Luke’s Anglican Church, now St. Luke’s Cultural Heritage Centre.

Image of a Basque headstone found in the cemetery surrounding

St. Luke’s (Source: Christopher Newhook).

Although it became an Anglican church in 1714, when it was first founded in the 16th century, it was as a Roman Catholic church. After the British were given Newfoundland, following the Treaty of Utrecht which ended the War of the Spanish Succession, the denomination of St. Luke’s changed to Anglican.

Image of the Treaty of Utrecht

When Domingo de Luca died, Plazençia was merely a location valued for its resources. However, in 1662, Plazençia or Plaisance as it became known to the French, had drawn the attention of the French state for its function in their economy. In so doing, it played a role in expanding the control of the state, thus helping to establish what would become North America.

And it’s in this context, the will of Domingo de Luca must be regarded. It established that the Basque were indeed the first Europeans to lay claim to the vast resources of cod in Placentia Bay.


Barkham, Michael M. 2014 “The Oldest Original Civil Document Written in Canada:

The Last Will of Basque Sailor Domingo de Luça, Placentia (Newfoundland), 1563” Unpublished paper.

Pigeons — Contented Nomads

Pigeons — Contented Nomads

Image by Sandeep Handa from Pixabay

I always knew there were pigeons where I live. For as long as I can remember, they’ve been a constant fixture near the lift bridge where one enters the Placentia beach.1 They’d roost there, periodically lifting off, flying in a circle and then returning to the bridge. Sometimes, I’d spot them on the boardwalk, ambling along the shore of Placentia Bay, pecking at the various wild grasses they’d encounter.

Things soon changed, though. One day, a pigeon appeared in the front yard where I live. It was then followed by others. I’d always put out a few seeds for other birds—crows, starlings, sparrows, juncos and the lot. So, that’s what must’ve drawn them. It was a surprise, but to me, it was an unexpected spectacle to enjoy.

However, eventually, there’s one thing I came to learn. Some people really don’t like pigeons. It’s not even a dislike grounded in some annoying activity perpetrated by the pigeons. The ill will was just there. And the sentiment is not uncommon. I wrote a book focussing on eight of the animals people tend to dislike, one being the pigeon. I’m sure many would be happy for pigeons to return to their wild origins and never look back.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the pigeon is going anywhere. Besides, it’s not entirely fair. If we take a closer look at pigeons, we’d see they come with a rich and substantial history. Much of that time has been spent without hesitation, helping other species, namely our own.

Origins of Pigeons

Every pigeon we encounter, from the ones flying around Placentia, to those streetwise denizens of the cities around the world, are all the feral descendants of the rock dove (Columba livia). It’s a member of the family Columbidae, which has numerous members of pigeons and doves, Columba livia, being one of them.

Columba livia likely came from southern Asia around a million years ago. Over time, they found their way to new homes in North Africa, parts of coastal Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and Central Asia.

When in the wld, Rock Doves commonly perched on cliffs (Image by Aidan Semmens from Pixabay).

Then, fairly recently, they made it to North America. There’s reference to pigeons from the early seventeenth century in Port Royal, Nova Scotia in Canada. Apparently, the settlers were complaining about the eagles who’d taken a liking to the local population of pigeons.2

One thing we know for certain, rock doves have been actively evolving. There are now well over 300 breeds of domestic pigeon, including the feral pigeon, all of whom originated from the rock dove.3

Pigeons Lending a Helping Hand

Columba livia has undergone many biological changes through various forms of unconscious, artificial, and natural selection over the centuries.

Pigeons tend to occupy the backdrop of our lives, whether in our laid back rural landscape or our bustling and boisterous cities. Although, there was a time when their presence was more noted in our lives.

They’ve had their fair share of drama and intrigue. Around the world, in Mesopotamia, the Aztec world or in Ancient Greece, pigeons or their alter ego, the dove, played a central role. In Greek mythology, Venus is sometimes symbolised by a dove. Fittingly, her chariot is also depicted as being drawn by two doves.4

The first evidence of pigeons being used as a food source comes to us from Egypt in 3,000 BC where the remnants of a funerary meal, which included pigeons, were unearthed.5 Later, for the Romans, pigeons were a mainstay with many Romans keeping houses in order to raise pigeons for the table.6 Their guano was regarded as gold in ancient Egypt, Rome and into the Middle Ages.

Pigeons have been valued for centuries for their ability to carry messages. From the time of Julius Caesar to last century during our two world wars, pigeons have played a central role in ensuring all the major actors in the wars were in communication.

The Dickins Medal for the pigeon Royal Blue Source: Joseph Krol Wikipedia.

Pigeons always accompanied aircraft on bombing missions during the second world war. During D-Day, the paratroopers carried a pigeon they would release once they’d landed. Pigeons even received medals for their highly valued and honourable role in war.

In Modern Times

Nowadays, some pigeons are used in shows. Termed fancy pigeons, they are doted on and biologically manipulated to enhance their physical appearance. People spend large sums of money preparing their pigeons and then showing them at special events. Different breeds of pigeons are known for various qualities such as “pouters” or “croppers” which inflate their crops.

A blue bar Pigmy Pouter pigeon (Source: Jim Gifford Wikipedia).

Others choose to race their pigeons. In these instances, pigeons are useful in their ability to fly to specially identified locations. This is much the same as they’ve done over the centuries. Except now it’s just for competitory reasons. Many owners are simply driven by the thrill of the game.

And they take it seriously. They ensure their pigeons are in top condition with nutrients and medicinal and non-medicinal supplements to give the pigeons the added vigour they require to win. As would be expected, a lot of money is also illegally made in the betting too often accompanying the racing.

Our “Street” Pigeons

For most people nowadays, your everyday or “street” pigeons are just an expected attribute in our communities. They wander along the streets or fly from rooftop to rooftop, maybe alighting onto a bridge or wire. For the most part, they’re forgotten. That is until their actions are deemed undesirable.

Pigeons on a wire (Image by Şahin Sezer Dinçer from Pixabay).

Certainly, those street pigeons are mostly noted for their insistence on roosting and nesting along the ledges of buildings. They do so for obvious reasons. These features are closest to the cliffs their predecessor rock doves would’ve used in the wild. That and their propensity for perching on conveniently placed statues is largely for the same reason. Both of these habits are considered a nuisance. We erect any number of features to prevent them from coming to rest, for instance, pigeon nets or bird spikes.

A common perch for pigeons in communities around the world Image by Éva Zara from Pixabay.

Except for those who are lulled by the peace invoked when feeding the pigeons in a park, for the most part, that’s now how they’re regarded—a nuisance or pests. Even in more rural areas where I live, pigeons are often diminished by preconceived notions of their worth.

Love Me or Love Me Not

In all honesty, for some, pigeons are often respected, loved and even adored, but often only if they are of use. For some, of course, simply the presence of the pigeon, puttering around and coming for a hand-out is all that matters.

Perhaps one of the things we must bear in mind is how this small creature has been a superlative companion to our species in the past. Surely that must matter. Whether we recognise the great value of the pigeon or continue to level complaints about it, ultimately, it won’t matter.

Pigeons having a drink (Image by Tomasz Hanarz from Pixabay).

For the pigeons who are a part of our life, they’ve only ever remained with us, as they’ve been pleased with the food and care they receive—a “voluntary captive.”7 Freedom is always within easy reach. For those contentedly roaming along the streets of our cities and communities, they’ve already found their freedom, forever contented nomads.


1The Town of Placentia incorporates the amalgamated communities of Argentia, Dunville, Freshwater, Jerseyside, and Placentia which sits on the beach.

2Schorger, A. 1952a “Introduction of the domestic pigeon” Auk No. 69, 462-463.

3Jerolmack, Colin 2007 “Animal archaeology: Domestic pigeons and

the nature-culture dialectic” Qualitative Sociology Review

III (1), 74-95

4Allen, Barbara 2009 Pigeon (London, England: Reaktion Books), 60

5Allen, Barbara 2009, Pigeon (London, England: Reaktion Books), 91

6Blechman 2006, Pigeons – The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird (New York: Grove Press), 11

7Donaldson, John 1860 British Agriculture, containing the cultivation of land, management of crops, and the economy of animals. Illustrated with 240 plates of implements, animals, etc (London: Atchley & Co., Agricultural, Architectural, & Engineering Publishers), 667.

Finding Truth in Dreams

Finding Truth in Dreams

Chrys slammed the door behind her, the loud bang an oddly satisfying expression of her anger. Why had he told that woman about the file? He had no bloody business. She’d told him in confidence. Just to earn points, that’s what it was. She walked briskly onto the path, her steps determined and unyielding.

Chrys knew full well that’s what he was doing, telling their line manager so he could get into her good books. She had no idea why they called them line manager. Stupid. She rolled her eyes, the collection of spruce and firs silent witnesses to her ire.

I mean, it’s not like they were in some damned factory putting together some widget, for God’s sake. She couldn’t stand that woman, one of those upstarts fresh out of university climbing the corporate ladder. Vigorously, she waved away the cloud of insects clustering in the shade of a tree. She tripped, soon regaining her footing. “Damned bugs.”

Image by Hands off my tags! Michael Gaida from Pixabay

It had to end. That’s all she knew. Chrys had come to intensely dislike where she was working. It was useless. They worked to all hours with meeting after meeting. And her life was not that much better now that Marigold was gone. Thinking about the accident was like a sharp knife in her heart. It was still difficult to believe she was gone. She kicked at a rock propelling it into a bush.

Face stern and dispirited, Chrys walked along the path, extending her hiker’s stick just in case she ran into a stupid dog. That’s all she needs. After the last time, she thinks it was a couple of years ago, she never walked without some sort of pole. People are forever walking their dogs and more than half of them couldn’t control the bloody dogs if they tried. She swiped at some brush on the side of the path. The small dogs are the worst.

Keeping her head down, she walked past a couple of other walkers coming the other way. She never bothered to greet anyone any more. Sure, some might find it off-putting. Still, Chrys reckoned they’d only be saying hi because she was looking up. Otherwise, they wouldn’t say anything—obviously. So, why bother bugging them in the first place—better that way. She took another swipe at the brush.

“Excuse me.” Chrys heard a faint singing voice from behind. She turned around suddenly, scanning to see the source of the voice. There was nothing. She rolled her eyes. ‘I must be hearing things,’ she reckoned. “Excuse me.” This time she could swear she heard something. But it was up ahead. Chrys swung around and she just caught sight of something just off into the woods.

‘What is going on?’ she thought, walking to the place where the person had gone into the woods. Should she bother, was her first thought? Sounded like a kid, though. What if they were in trouble? So, she pushed the tangle of branches apart.

“Hello?” she said, trying to raise her voice. “Hello,” she said more loudly. She heard a giggle from up ahead. She walked a little further. “Hello,” she said, slight irritation entering her voice.

“Over here,” she heard, then more giggling. When her head swung around, she encountered the two little twin girls. Twins?

Image by Jacek from Pixabay (twins at sunrise)

“Wait a minute,” she said, her voice just barely a whisper. They were looking very familiar and all of a sudden Chrys realised at whom she was looking—herself. And Marigold, of course. They were dressed alike, as they always were. Their mother doted on them and had only stopped when they reached six or seven. It was her mom who named them after her favourite flowers—Chrysanthemum and Marigold.

The two of them were holding hands and skipping in a circle, first one way and then the other. ‘I must be dreaming,’ she said to herself. She couldn’t believe it. They were singing “The Rainbow Connection” at the top their lungs.

It hurtled her back in time. She remembered how she and Mari used to constantly sing that song. It was their favourite, accompanied, of course, by their total and unmitigated adoration for Kermit the frog. Their dad would play the guitar and they’d sing it at the top of their lungs.

Chrys’s mind returned to the present.

“You’ve gotta come join us,” the one sang out.

“Yeah, we know you you’d love to come. Right,” the one sang to the other. Both held their hands out, welcoming her to come.” Chrys stood there, unable to move, thoughts of what’s gone wrong in her life flooding to the surface. Feelings repeated in her ears—it’ll always be this way. There’s no hope. Give up. What’s the point.

But then, she looked up and met their smiling eyes which were just begging her to forget, to let it go. And like a break of sun through thick impenetrable clouds, finally Chrys couldn’t resist the urge to smile.

She walked towards the two little girls, herself and her sister from another time and clasped their hands. The three of them began to dance in the circle, all to the tune of “Rainbow Connection.” Round and round they danced.

Finally, when she unclasped her hand with young Mari, in her hand was a locket she remembers losing years ago.

Image by Esther Chilcutt from Pixabay

“Oh my God!” she said, startled. “I lost that years ago,” Chrys said, clasping her hands around the locket. She knelt down next to Mari who was beaming. “Mom gave them to us and I was so heartbroken when I couldn’t find mine and then … at the funeral, we made sure you had yours for wherever you were going.” She put her hands around her face, tears flowing. “I felt so torn apart. When I couldn’t find my locket, I felt for sure I’d lost you.” She hugged Mari, her hand tight around the locket.

Chrys opened her eyes, squinting at the light. She didn’t know immediately where she was. Upon looking around, though, she realised she was on the sofa near the big window in her front room. Putting her head against the cushion, she couldn’t help but smile. It was astonishing.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Chrys remembers vividly thinking in the dream how it must be a dream and not real life. She wondered if that’s what people call a lucid dream. She’d heard of those, when the dream is particularly real.

Regardless, Chrys felt like a new person. It was phenomenal. She remembers how she felt when she was dancing and singing. Laughing aloud she thought of the locket. Maybe now, she could finally forgive herself for having lost it.

Chrys went to go put on her jacket because she thought she really would go for a walk. It was like a great weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Grabbing her sunglasses, just in case it cleared up as they said it would, she placed them in her pocket. There was something else in the way. Pulling it out, she couldn’t at first believe what she was seeing.

There dangling from a chain was her locket. Chrys looked at it with complete disbelief. “It can’t be,” she said in hushed tones, plunking down on the bench by the door. “I mean, I thought I was dreaming. But here’s the locket Mari gave me.

She opened the locket to make doubly sure it was the right one. When she did, sure enough, there was a picture of Mari. That’s what they’d done for fun. Being twins, nobody would know that Mari was in Chrys’s locket and vice versa. So, does that mean I really did go for a walk and meet them? Because Mari sure as heck did give me a locket,” she said looking down at the locket. “It just can’t be.”

Chrys sat in the porch, trying to make sense of what had happened. Holding the locket in her hands, she remembered meeting her young self and Mari, thinking of how wonderful it had made her feel. She hadn’t felt that good in years, to be honest.

Image by Milada Vigerova from Pixabay

She got up from the bench, placing the locket around her neck. Chrys pondered, “I suppose, in the end, what does it matter whether it was a dream or reality or a little bit of both,” Chrys thought. Seeing her young self and Mari was like a sign. Everything was still the same and yet it was not. In its reconciliation was the peace for which she’d been searching.