Conche is a small fishing Town of less than 200 residents on the Northern Peninsula East, primary of those with Irish Catholic descent. This community is rebounding from economic instability. In recent years it is home to a very active fish plant and the community has re-branded itself as a tourism destination.
The French Shore Historical Society was formed in 2000 as a non-profit corporation to preserve, interpret and promote the history of the French Shore for education and economic development. This very active Society worked with the Town to turn a former Grenfell nursing station into an Interpretation Centre, studio and office space. This turquoise and brown building stands out and marks the culture and long past of the settlement, first inhabited by migratory French fishermen.
A tour of the museum contains French & English panels, artifacts and displays. The impressive 222-foot tapestry, the only of its kind in North America is on display. This Bayeux stitched masterpiece was more than 3 years in the making and can be viewed exclusively in Conche, NL depicting the history of the Great Northern Peninsula with a focus on the French migratory fishery to current day.
The Society has been focused on textiles and product development. It hopes to expand its property as it reaches out for investment to expand the property to better display this Tapestry and permit space to focus on its Centre for Textile Arts. A number of art classes, basket weaving, bread making and embroidery have taken place at the centre.
It has partnered with the regional Iceberg Festival to host a day long session. You too could take a class and learn to stitch your own Viking ship. The Society also does framed pieces upon request or for purchase in their gift shop. The gift shop is typically commissioned-based, but has a host of items, from the colourful codfish t-shirts, mugs, coasters to La Mousses (handmade French fishermen dolls), knitted items, amigurumi animals, post cards, greeting cards, soaps, books and other treasures.
In the studio, three of the nine commemorative panels that will form part of a travelling exhibit for the 300th Anniversary of the Treaty of Ultrecht are complete. Workers here in Conche, as well as Englee are producing these masterpieces, as part of a project funded through Job Creation Partnerships (JCP) through the Department of Advanced Education & Skills. This is a great investment, as it provides unique training and skill development to those participating in the project and will lead to other product development opportunities in utilizing this skill set. Additionally, the Exhibit will tour the province for other communities and regions to benefit. It is preserving, interpreting and promoting our history. There will be net benefits from this project on a much broader scale. These opportunities, will also create new opportunities for Conche, the Great Northern Peninsula and the Province.
Additionally, on site there is a French oven, work station, French boat and look-out with viewing area. Also when in the community, tour it for a unique outdoor textile exhibit. This is not my first post of the French Shore, nor do I hope my last. The French Shore takes in more communities than just Conche and surely could be expanded to include more of “Petit Nord” on the Great Northern Peninsula. This is a community-based organization that is having a positive impact and must be expanded upon. It like many non-profits needs assistance, if you have an idea, visit http://www.frenchshore.com.
My hometown of Green Island Cove and many others have an opportunity to reach out, collaborate and do something creative to add vibrancy to our communities. There a possibilities for development in our small rural communities, the French Shore is one of our many success stories and a must see on your destination.
Live Rural NL -Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA The Straits-White Bay North
Come out and enjoy a day of FUN! The French Shore Historical Society will be having a Christmas CARNIVAL!
When: Wednesday, Dec 29th
Where: Interpretation Centre, Conche
Admission: $5 (access to all games)
Soup and sandwiches for sale as well as tickets on a 50/50 draw!
For more information contact:
French Shore Tapestry
The tour began at 8:30 AM at the docks in St. Pierre. We previously purchased our tickets at the Tourist Information Office the previous day for just 60.50 Euro (~$80.00 CDN). At the docks we were greeted by the “tour opérateur” Monsieur Jean Cloony and handed life preservers; then took our seats on a large zodiac with two powerful motors. The sky was a little grey, but the rain held and we had a very nice ride to a sea cave formation, where we crept inside and once beyond we saw a group of harp seals resting on the rocks of the island. It was quite a treat, to see these white coats watch as we passed on. Some decided to plunge into the ocean, maybe they were startled by the sound of our engines or just hungry. It has been a long time since I’ve been so close to such an animal.
The Great Seal Hunt has historical significance and plays a role even today as we continue to live our rural heritage. In winter I proudly wear a pair of seal skin boots. The leather was prepared, barked and tanned by my father. They are the last pair I will ever own that have his talent and craftsmanship. Although they are more than 11 years old, I hope to have them for the rest of my days. A future article will be dedicated to the Great Seal Hunt.
The zodiac ride was 40 minutes. We passed a few fisherman’s camps that were strategically placed between the cliffs, well sheltered from weather and perfect for launching a boat. We landed in Langlade to be met by friendly locals ready to pull our boat to shore. It was time for breakfast at “Chez Janot”, the only restaurant in town!
After a cup of coffee and croissant we boarded an air-conditioned bus with seating capacity for 20 and bilingual audio. We visited Langlade, which has beautiful sites and is basically untouched and uninhabited (excepted during summer months). The population goes from 0 – 200 people. Some of these people have summer houses, but most are like Newfoundlander‘s, they enjoy camping! Our first stop was a lovely French garden. My grandmother certainly would have smiled seeing all the love gone into caring for the variety of flowers. We continued to view l’Anse du Gouvernement, the Bellai Bridge (which crosses the Belle-Riviere), the Ste Therese Chapel, the Belle-Croix, the Debon brook and a lovely view from the Petit-Barachois.
We returned to Chez Janot for a French-style meal, which included wine and a dessert with coffee. Tres Bon! We continued the afternoon on the bus, we drove on a sandy beach and stopped by the campground. One of the proprietors invited us all to stop for an aperitif. This alcoholic beverage was mixed with sparkling water and had hints of licorice. It was quite pleasant! The people on this quaint island we incredibly hospitable to their guests. We continued on our way to pass several wild horses. The children on the bus stopped to feed them some bread. Even the older people were smiling and in love with these animals. A little further up the road, one horse spotted “Chez Janot” bus and decided he would come visit.
This horse was either well-trained or just curious, because none of the others decided to come near. He received some treats and we continued on our merry way to Miquelon.
Miquelon and Langlade were once two separate islands. Since the end of the 18th century, they have been reunited by a sand isthmus on which a road was built. The drive from the beach in Langlade to the village of Miquelon is about 24 kms. Upon arrival to Miquelon, which has a population of about 600 people we stopped and viewed the church, craftshop and harbour. We walked the streets and saw the Cap Blanc lighthouse. There is a museum for those that are interested.
After a day of discovery, we returned to the zodiac. We arrived in St. Pierre at 5:30 PM. This enabled us to relax and returned to our friend’s house before we would dine for the evening over some delicious French-style cuisine and good wine!
If you want a memorable visit to the French Islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon you must consider this tour, if you wish to really experience the entirety of their adventurous archipelago.
For more photos of my trip, visit my Facebook Group at: “Live Rural NL”.
From Live Rural NL – CCM
It was nearly a decade ago, during a high school French trip in May 2001, since my feet touched the soil of St. Pierre. I reflect on fond memories with my former classmates to enjoy the unique characteristics of this place – the cuisine, language, architecture and the Franc as the mainstay currency.
Heritage Run, the route on the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland & Labrador leads to the St. Pierre Ferry which leaves port from Fortune. As you drive this route you will be captivated by the landscape with your imagination leading you to believe dinosaurs, dragons or some other creature will appear. On August 16, 2010 myself and a friend of a friend from Vienna, Austria had visited beautiful Burin. We had stopped by historic homes in Grand Bank and attempted to stay at Grannie’s Motor Inn, but it was filled. Although, the owner was quite helpful in securing a place at one of his other accommodations in Fortune. We stayed at Fortune Inn B&B for a short rest as we caught the 7:30 AM ferry.
The Ferry Arethusa only takes passengers and is $107.00 return for the 1 hour 30 minute run. You have the option of sitting on deck or below. We started on deck, but after a mist of salt spray, I decided I was better off heading down under. Upon arrival I moved my watch 30 minutes ahead to match the timezone. We dropped by the tourist office to get information and decided to walk the streets to familiarize ourselves with the local boutiques, restaurants, bakeries and bars. After several photos of the architecture and a sweet patisserie, we were greeted by our host Gilles.
After lunch we opted to take a van tour, which lasted for 1 hour and 15 minutes for 12.50 Euro (~$16.50). Our guide, Jean-Claude provided us with his take on the island’s economy, history, geography and culture. He started with the post office, which is still in operation, the salt sheds (no longer used for salt due to the moratorium on cod), the old fish plant, views of Ile aux Marins, the news station. Saint-Pierre Cathedral, the cemetery (17th century holding more than 1,000 graves, monuments and vaults), the Fronton (many traditional Basque games are played on site), Point aux Canons and its lighthouse, horses, former fishing rooms, a seabird on the rocks, freshwater swimming holes and saltwater sandy beaches and more. It was certainly worth the price paid.
At 4:15 we boarded the ferryboat that would take us to Ile aux Marins, which is just 10 minutes from St. Pierre by boat (1 KM). There is a low and narrow strip of land laying across the harbour to the East, which once was populated by some 700 fisherfolk and family. Now, the former fishing village is a museum island with no year round residents. Despite the few inhabitants, the island does not lack charm and appeal. There are many homes that are well maintained, others more rustic. Many of the buildings have been restored to their original state including the Archipelitude museum (former school), Mason Jezequel, Notre Dame des Marins (church), city hall, other buildings, cemetery and shipwreck are all for viewing. One can definitely understand the hardship of living on such an island without electricity, running water, indoor plumbing and exposed to the environmental elements more than a century ago.
We arrived just prior to 7:00 PM and decided it was time to get some French cuisine. I certainly recommend a reservation, since the good places fill up, even on a Tuesday evening. We were turned away from Ile de France. La Feu de Braise was the second choice and I was delighted to have a half-liter of Bordeaux with lamb, rice and vegetables and for dessert, my always favourite, Creme Brulé. After dinner, it was off to the bar for a couple of beers before returning to our host. I chatted with him for several hours over wine while he played a traditional instrument before I retired for the night.
Certainly my first day on the island was off to a great start! The following day, I took a zodiac, saw seals and explored Langlade and Miquelon. Check out Part II as it should be posted tomorrow. If you are interested in viewing more photos of these French Islands join the Facebook Group “Live Rural NL”.
Live Rural NL (from a distance) -
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others” (French Shore Historical Society)
This statement is very powerful as it notes the relationships we establish and contributions we make towards the lives of other people and society. Our history, memories and character is not forgotten once we pass on and simply noted by a name on a tombstone. No, we all touch the lives of others and leave behind elements that carries on long into the future.
On July 27, 2010, The French Shore Historical Society cordially invited me to attend their official grand opening of the French Shore Tapestry, at the French Shore Interpretation Centre, Conche, NL. Other commitments prevented me for being there on this day. However, the newspaper noted that more than 200 people showed up for the festivities, which more than doubled the Town’s population.
I did visit the facility back on June 29, 2010 with a friend who lives in Montreal, Quebec. Enroute, to Conche I saw a black bear cub. My first bear sighting ever on the island of Newfoundland! The road is a number of unpaved kilometers, but certainly worth the trip. As you loop into the Town of Conche, there are look-outs and well placed signage directing you to attractions of the French Shore. At the centre (formerly a nursing station established by the International Grenfell Association) there are informative panels and artifacts, as well as pleasant staff to answer any question you may have.
The crown jewel of the exhibit is a 222 foot Tapestry that depicts the history of the French Shore of Newfoundland and Labrador from the very beginning. The stories were designed and sketched by renowned artist J.C. Roy. Then the images were stitched by a group of women from Conche onto Jacobean linen and embroidered with crewel wool. The process had taken three years to complete, many long tiring hours, the trial of more vibrant colours and increased levels of difficulty to produce this extraordinary hand-stitched piece of art, that is simply one of a kind and forever a part of our rural Newfoundland & Labrador history. The tapestry includes animals, native Aboriginal groups, the Norse, Basque, English, Irish, French and transitions to the current settlers. It is a remarkable timeline from the beginning to present.
A walking trail pass the French Bread Oven, led us to a magnificent view of a quaint little down that is rich in history and big on charm. This Town has an Artist’s Retreat. It is no wonder! The perfect place to truly get-a-way from it all and find your inspiration. Another noteworthy stop was a visited to the remains of a World War II plane crash. The occupant survived, but remnants of the wreckage are preserved on site to this day.
Finally, not trip to Conche could be complete without a visit to Bits-n-Pieces Cafe (which is also Stagehead B&B). This old salt-box home has been completely restored after receiving a lot of tender loving care. It now shines with a splashy blue coat of paint and bright sunshine trim. I enjoyed a nice cup of coffee served with homemade French fries from potatoes grown in the garden and delicious fish cakes. If this place is not recommended by Where to Eat Canada, it damn well should be! It certainly was a treat to meet the youthful owner. It is refreshing to see people follow a dream and choose entrepreneurship as a viable career option.
Before leaving I purchased an original piece of art, entitled “The Lonely Harbour”. It was painted locally with a transparent fisherman alone, mending his net. There were others, but this one stood out as my father was a fisherman. It certainly can be a struggle. I admire the passion of those who continue to choose fishing as a profession. There are many challenges, long tiring hours, typically modest income and significant dangers. I am waiting to frame this print, most likely it will hang in my office. Each glance will bring me closer to my father.
My advice to you dear readers, when the opportunity arises whether you are local or from afar take time to put Conche, NL on your 1,000 Places to Go Before You Die.
Savouring the French Shore -
This post is dedicated to all my Mainland and International friends. Some of you may have heard me pose the question, “How ‘is yer boots, me ol’ trout?”.
K posted a comment earlier today about Newfoundlanders & Labradorians and our wonderful sense of humor. Well I have certainly turned a few heads when I asked someone “how their boots are?” The look of confusion and lost stares are ever present on their face, because it is somewhat odd to ask someone about their boots, especially as a conversation starter. However, this is an expression I have either created or adapted as a friendly way of saying, “How are you today?” and well “Me ol’ Trout” or “My Old Trout” is just an expression for “old buddy” or “(good) friend”. I enjoy the humour and providing an explanation of this saying, because it is a great ice-breaker. It is an instant way for me to smile and tell the person what I really mean and begin to share aspects of my Newfoundland culture, heritage and upbringing.
We certainly have a unique local language and regional dialect. However, local language variations and dialects are not uncommon and exists all around the world. French is much different in New Brunswick and Quebec than in France, because of expressions and adapted slang. As well, the North & South of France have regional language variations and barriers. Are language variations part of an urban and rural divide? If so, what happens as the world becomes more urban? Will languages be adapted and integrated? It is a curious concept.
I often wonder if the Newfoundland & Labrador language and our never ending list of unique vocabulary is a result of the integration of the many cultures that inhabited Rural NL throughout history. We have had Maritime Archaic Indians, Groswater & Paleo-Eskimo, Recent Indians, Norse, Basque, French, English, Irish, Scotish and other European settlers all living here at one point in time. Was the result the Dictionary of Newfoundland English (the only province to have its own)?
We learn from others and can share valuable experiences and knowledge. Culture, traditions and language does not remain stagnant and surely evolves over time.
I invite you all to post comments regarding some of your favourite Newfoundland & Labrador words or expressions and your thoughts on our language.
Linguistically Living Rural NL -