Like a line from the 1939 film ‘The Wizard of Oz’, Dorothy is heard saying, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”, Grandois was just that during its first ever Come Home Year from July 17-20.
This tiny community of 19 permanent residents was able to register 240 and more than 300 participated in the fun filled weekend organized by Peggy McGrath and Josephine Clarke. These two women are incredible organizers and should be commended for making something extraordinary possible in the community that may be small in numbers but exudes spirit, heart and sense of belonging.
As I drove the 30 kilometer gravel road of route 438 to reach Grandois – you could feel the energy as the sun was beaming down, banners and flags flying high and campers and traffic scattered in the cove. The community hall was crowded and there were children everywhere. This was a remarkable shift from the usual daily life in this quiet community of just 19.
The children were gravitating to the beach, playing upon the rocks, which made for a beautiful photo. It was not the first time people talked about how good it was to have dozens of youth in Grandois again!
It was a pleasure to march in the parade through the community with the Clarke’s, Hillier’s, Walker’s, McGrath’s, Sexton’s, Bromley’s, Alyward’s, Whiteway’s and other families that have a connection to the community. The McGrath and Whiteway seemed to have the biggest turnout! Inside the old school house, now community hall was a memorial tree, with photos of those loved ones who passed on. I thought that was a really nice touch, as well the candle lighting with a family representative at the opening. Organizer Josephine addressed the crowd and greetings were brought by myself and a representative from the MP’s office. It was a pleasure to hear special guest, Benjamin Swett, New York Photographer deliver a speech. He first came to Grandois in 1977, where as part of the Quebec Labrador Foundation (QLF), he supervised a summer camp. While in Grandois he took photos of the people and the community way of life. It was a pleasure to buy a copy of his collection that went to print especially for the Come Home Year. We need to do more to document and tell our stories. Raw emotion could be heard when Peggy McGrath took front and centre. She had worked tirelessly to get back to the community and organize a celebration that would be remembered. She talked about her parents, about her children and about being home. It was truly a special moment. Festivities continued with cake cutting, healthy snacks, gifts for the 19 residents, sale of memorabilia and of course some music by Conche’s own Danny Carroll.
The next day, I decided to walk some of the trails in beautiful Grandois. I was not disappointed, but the close encounter wit hthe bear could have been left for another day :).
The weekend continued with beautiful breakfasts, each family working together to serve up and prepare the meals and easing the burden. There were children’s games, face painting, bingo and lots of music. I thoroughly enjoyed my big turkey dinner and an afternoon of local talent.
It’s the little things that truly matter, this Come Home Year focused on community, on family, on this special place. There was a unique place mat design for each day, detailing when picking up the cutlery, themed banners and the amazing photo print quilt of all the old family homesteads, school, church, fish plant and community spaces. The expressions on people’s faces, especially the children, the people who stepped us as volunteers to make everything run so smoothly and of course the exceptional music that lasted long into the nights.
The community conversations, the memories and connections made will last a lifetime. They will be told both in Grandois and around the world. This may be the first Come Home Year for Grandois, but surely it will not be the last. This is a remarkable story, a remarkable strength found in a small community of 19 at the end of a gravel road on the Great Northern Peninsula. I always say big things happen in small communities and this weekend was just that!
No matter where we go, we never forget where we came from, one fact is unchanged: There’s No Place Like Home
Live Rural NL –
Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA (The Straits-White Bay North)
Most people will never experience the serene beauty of Grandois. It can be found at the end of almost 30 kilometres of gravel road on Route 438. On my visit yesterday, most residents brought up the “winter pavement” they now have given the snow has settled and the road solidly frozen. It was evident that Transportation & Works was working hard to maintain this winding road and from my observation doing an incredible job!
This place is part of the French Shore with a strong connection to the migratory fishery and even current residents have connections to the Grey and Fishot Islands. There are many stories to be heard over a cup of tea or coffee, which will be offered at every homestead, because of the incredible generosity and hospitality of the livyers, to this very day!
Grandois has an historical church with an altar carved from a pocket knife in the early nineteen hundreds, it is certainly a place you will want to visit while in the community. The French connection is ever present with a bread oven at the end of a walking trail. There are rocks remaining in the location where the French dried their fish and a trail leads to rings in the cliff where the French tied up their boats.
The community is only a fraction of what it was based on the 2011 census, with more lights out as residents move on or sadly pass away. It is difficult to tally and realize vacant properties out number those with permanent residents. It is quite clear many of our rural communities are struggling to cope with an aging population and trying to maintain a strong vibrant community.
I was very happy to be in Grandois – the residents are passionate about the place they call home. It is evident from the photos and views, who wouldn’t fall in love with this special place? There is activity in the works as a Come Home Year Celebration in July will bring people home in droves. A recent project supported employment and saw additions to the Community Hall. I was told at the last Come Home Year, people congregated and filled the Hall well past capacity and even ended up to the roadside.
These are the stories I love hearing, about all the activity, community interactions, the fishery as the boats leave the harbour, the mystery of the re-settled French Islands and the quest for the copper cod. There is hope for this community, since its depletion of its people after the 1992 cod moratorium as there was a mineral find near the community, as well a former marble mine sits idle. As time passes, and with the right investment we could see a small place like Grandois boom with economic activity.
Legend says, “there’s gold in them hills”
I look forward to more stories and celebrating the strength of community in July as the population hits the high-water mark for 2015. Bring on the accordion music and song…
Live Rural NL –
Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA (The Straits-White Bay North)
The census lists the population of Grandois (St. Julien’s, used interchangeably) at 50, but there are far fewer reside there today. I visited this picturesque community a few weeks ago and took in a service at St. St. William’s Church which overlooks the harbour.
St. William’s Church houses a wooden folk altar built by Jack Fitzgerald in the early 1900s. The intricate details was carved by a pocketknife. It is a wonderful piece of history and depicts the talents of the people in the region.
The community is steeped in French history and has beautiful walking trails that lead you to old French fishing sites, such as French Point. There are tent platforms, barbecue pits and picnic tables along some of the trails. Visitors can also experience St. Julien’s Island, Fischot Islands and Harbour de Vieux, which were re-settled communities. A boat tour can be arranged in summer, which may include up close views of icebergs and whales.
Additionally, the community Grandois (St. Julien’s) sits on an abandoned copper mine that has been re-discovered in recent years with high concentrations of deposits. The population would drastically increase for this and surrounding communities with the development of a commercial mine. There are lots of untapped mining exploration on the Great Northern Peninsula, waiting to be unearthed.
I would encourage people to experience the beauty of this tiny community, which requires nearly 30 km travel over a gravel road (Route 438 Croque road) off Route 432 near Town of Main Brook. Grandois will host Come Home Year from July 17-20th, 2015 and it surely will be a wonderful celebration of community and place. Population may increase or surpass historic highs. I look forward to it!
Big things happen in small communities.Live Rural NL – Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA The Straits-White Bay North