Today is National Heritage Day and Canadians are invited to celebrate Heritage by learning about our country’s immense historical, cultural and natural heritage. Newfoundlanders & Labradorians have deep roots and are strongly connected to our many aspects of heritage.
I took the opportunity today to explore one of our cultural icons off the Great Northern Peninsula – Sir Doctor Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. I began by reading a couple of new chapter’s of Ronald Rompkey’s “A Biography Grenfell of Labrador“. This work of Canadian History had received such comments from The Globe and Mail:
Ronald Rompkey shows that Grenfell went beyond being a doctor or a missionary to become a cultural politician who intervened in a colonial culture. Grenfell of Labrador provides a vivid picture of the man and the social movements through which he worked.
There is an abundance of social history here and all of it is worth knowing – The Globe and Mail
I still have many pages of this work to read, and look forward to hearing about how Grenfell set-up his missionary work focusing on health care. He believed that advancing employment and education was a means to promote healthy lifestyles, so his mission developed schools, an orphanage, cooperatives (fishery, retail, forestry, craft), industrial work projects (agriculture), and aspects of social work. His mission, the International Grenfell Association gained international status in 1914. It will be celebrating its 100 year in 2014.
The legacy continues, even today as the Grenfell Historical Society continues to operate a museum, archives and interpretation centre that has thousands of visitors throughout the year. There are regular craft nights and a focus to retain the Grenfell Handicrafts and use the famous “Grenfell cloth” in its clothing.
I dropped by the Heritage Gift Shop and purchased the coaster below. If you would like to make a purchase on-line visit: http://www.grenfell-properties.com/STORE/
I encourage you to take some time today to reflect on an aspect of heritage. We can learn much from where we have come, as we plan for the future.
Live Rural NL -Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA The Straits-White Bay North
- Giving the Gift of something Handmade cannot be Beat (liveruralnl.com)
Curtis Memorial Hospital was built-in the 1960′s – a sophisticated medical facility at the time servicing the Great Northern Peninsula and many parts of Labrador. The John M. Grey Centre, a modern personal care facility is adjacent to the hospital and now falls under the banner of Labrador-Grenfell Health. Unlike most medical facilities – this hospital has a rotunda with a unique offering of murals that are dedicated to the people of Northern Newfoundland & Labrador.
These are the Jordi Boney Murals, which circulate around the Main Entrance. This ceramic masterpiece is forever a gift to the people and our way of living. One will see images of people, fish, trees, snowshoes and water. An important means of subsisting from the land & sea.
If you have the opportunity the next time you are in St. Anthony pull into the Hospital and take a few moments to find the meaning behind the images circling the walls.
The Great Northern Peninsula has a unique offering!
Live Rural NL -Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA The Straits-White Bay North
On January 4th, 2012 – My friends and I spent some time in St. Anthony – where you will find the only traffic light on the Great Northern Peninsula. However, St. Anthony`s claim to fame is much bigger than a traffic light – it was the home of Dr. Wilfred Thomason Grenfell.
I am currently reading, A Biography of Dr. Wilfred Grenfell – a Doctor, Missionary and Politician who radically changed the way of living for the people of Northern Newfoundland & Labrador as an International Association was founded to help enhance the social, medical and economic climate of the region.
Grenfell House (pictured in the background above) is one of the Historic Properties which thousands of visitors walk through beginning in May and into the Fall to gain insight on what it was like to live a day in the life of the good Doctor. I have been there many times; however, this was my first visit to Teahouse Hill. I remember my grandmother talking about her walking up to see the simple markers of Dr. Grenfell and the site of where his ashes were buried. Yet, never had I taken the time to experience for myself what it meant to trek teahouse hill – a common play area for the children of St. Anthony.
Teahouse Hill overlooks the town of St. Anthony. According to the Grenfell site, the walking trail is approximately 20 minutes and has been developed to National standards. Although, it seemed much longer on this chilly day of January. We were not really sure where we were going and really hoped not to get lost as the signs or interpretative panels were taken down for the season.
Oh no! – a fallen tree….
Headlines to read…`Mitchelmore uses brute strength to restore the tree to the vertical position`
Unfortunately, Mitchelmore is no Chuck Norris and the leaning tree remains.
The trail is a wonderful winter walk. I can only imagine the joys of walking or jogging along the trails in Spring or midsummer after a day in the office. A great offering for residents and visitors alike.
At the top of the hill there are three strategically placed lookouts that permit you to see the Town, the harbour and gain views of the ocean. The freedom of seeing the open water is quite powerful.
There is beauty in this space. It seems like the wonderful place to re-build a seasonal teahouse – offering incredible views and a place for people to escape and enjoy the beauty of nature that surrounds them, as well as a site for geocaching.
I recommend taking a trek to teahouse hill. This may have been my first visit, I sure hope it is not my last.
Live Rural NL -Christopher C. Mitchelmore, MHA The Straits-White Bay North
“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 -
I live just 14 miles NW of L’Anse au Loup, Labrador giving me the opportunity to wake up each morning and view the empowering rocks of the “Big Land”. As well, each night see the illuminating lights twinkling before I close my shade and say goodnight to the world. Yes, there is something magical and luring about the pristine landscape of Labrador. I understand why Hubbard was interested and optimistic about his expedition into the unknown.
In 2008, during Labour Day weekend I had the privilege of travelling the south coast and onward to Port Hope Simpson to collect some fishing nets. During the night we visited with a local, named Ben. He invited us into his home and gave us a room for the night and would not hear of us staying at the local hotel. Talk about hospitality! For a youthful man in his eighties, he sure could whip up a great batch of pies, give us a tour of his massive greenhouse and tell us stories from his trapping and fishing years. I think the secret of staying youthful is to keep a good attitude, maintain your sense of humour and of course, stay active!
We had travelled to Charlottetown and another coastal community with Ben, stopping to visit the fishers on the wharf to discuss their daily catches and other news of the sort that gets collected at such a “social commons” and is transferred throughout the communities. It is amazing how fast news can travel this old-fashion and more personalized way in rural regions.
Our next morning would take us to Mary’s Harbour, where we would catch the ferry-boat at the former Grenfell Mission Shed to take us to “Battle Harbour” (known historically as the Capital of Labrador), an island just 17 kms away. The wind was not strong that day, which provided for good steaming and the opportunity to capture some fantastic scenery along the way.
I snapped images of former fishing rooms, dwellings and coastlines as we came into port. Battle Harbour is full of history. In the 1770′s a mercantile salt fish premises was established, spurring economic and social activity. It posed to be a significant stopover for those who became involved in the Labrador offshore bank fishery in the early 19th and into the 20th century. I recall my grandfather speaking of stopping there on some of his longer journeys. Hundreds of fisherman flocked to the area, the Grenfell Mission provided medical services.
Battle Harbour, in its current form presents an opportunity to visit historical buildings, walkways and work areas, while receiving an interpretative tour. Upon arrival you also get a meal. Additionally, it has a distinction of being the only historic site in Canada where you can overnight in the historical buildings http://www.battleharbour.com/home/. I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, but next time I certainly will, as Battle Harbour is the perfect get-a-way from it all retreat.
We are blessed to have many Rural Retreats in Newfoundland and Labrador. Around every corner if we stop, take a look and breathe it all in, we will see that we have a great quality of life that many can only dream. I have visited many large centres and rural villages on my travels, but there is no retreat comparable!
On June 28, 2010 as I continued my vacation and could not resist a visit to the rotunda of Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital. I have frequented the hospital on many occasions, typically to see a sick friend/relative or a new birth. Usually, I am in such a rush and take the attitude of disliking hospitals that I tend to rush past one of the most unique aspects of the hospital and even on the whole peninsula. The rotunda houses the Jordi Bonet Murals which depict life in Northern Newfoundland and Labrador.
Jordi Bonet was born in Barcelona, Spain (his work reminds me of the remarkable abstract and contemporaries of Gaudi’s work, which is greatly influenced by forms of nature and this is reflective of Gaudi’s Barcelona architecture. When in Barcelona, check out his marvels.)
Bonet at the youthful age of 9, lost his right arm. He had will and determination that he would not give up and learned to paint with his left arm. He came to Quebec, Canada and learned the technique of tiles, mosiacs and ceramics. In 1967, Bonet designed and fabricated the murals for the friends of the Grenfell Mission. In taking the time to look at each image, you will note that some are quite realistic, with native peoples, fisherman, water and the forest. While, others are more abstract and certainly open to individual interpretation. His use of color in the project creates a soothing, harmonious feel as we circle the room and realize that these images tell a story about us, our people and that it continues to circle.
I’ve learned two lessons from this visit. One, is to take time out in our everyday lives to really appreciate true beauty. You will find that it is all around you. Two, Jordi was strong willed and determined and so are the people of this peninsula, those who have passed on, those who remain and those who have adventured to other parts of the world. We can all make strong contributions and are a part of the living history, culture and heritage of the people of Rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
Grenfell Historic Properties coins The Jordi Bonet Murals as one of the Peninsula’s best kept secrets…..well I say lets not keep something so wonderful to ourselves. It is up to you to take the time to visit a meaniful piece of our history and heritage that in my mind compares with any piece of art or structure found in any gallery or museum, but I am probably a little biased.
We are talented people, those who have roots in Rural Newfoundland.