Sunday, August 20, 2006

Rediscovering Newfoundland's French Past

My sister, who has moved back to Newfoundland, is a Museum Technician at a museum there, and a couple of days ago I was really surprised and delighted to get a package in the mail from her containing information about the latest project she's been working on.

"Newfoundland's French Shore Depicted 1713-1904" tells the story of the French part of Newfoundland's early history (the rest of the story being made up of the Beothuk, the English and Irish, and the Portugese/Basque - and the Vikings, who dropped in - who together built the very first European discovery point of the New World into what would become the second-youngest province in Canada). Much of the early shaping involved dramatic battles between the French and English as they battled back and forth, taking, losing and re-taking great chunks of the prosperous fishing grounds and the shoreline that was key to supporting them by providing land for flakes where the cod could be salted, dried and packed for shipment to Europe and the Carribbean; burning each others' settlers out; and then doing it all over again.

The town names around my native part of the province, the Burin Peninsula, bear witness to its own French history - Baie Verte, Jacques Fontaine, Lamaline, the optimistically-named Baie l'Argent, and Baie d'Espoir ("Bay of Hope", which in an amusing linguistic twist has been Anglicized 180° to be pronounced "Bay Despair"). My own family name, I was startled to discover, was not English or Irish in origin, but French; although our culture is as Irish as Irish can be. On the west coast of the island, there are still pockets of French-speakers; their language was in great danger of dying out two decades ago, but a concerted effort to ensure the children attend French Immersion schooling has nurtured survival of the fragile francophone population.

The book and CD are really beautiful, as you can see; richly illustrated with full-colour maps, prints and very early photos. They're high-quality artifacts to be proud of, and I am so glad she thought to share them with me. I wish I could see the installation she created based on them - maybe someday. I'm very proud of her role in this!



Anonymous -Sister said...

SCOTTISH, not Irish! ^_^ Not that there's ANYTHING wrong with being Irish! ^_^

2:45 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

LOL! As I explained in email to you, I was thinking of Newfoundland culture, not our own family culture (of which Scottish culture is a key feature due to our Nova-Scotia-born Mom).

Our Newfoundland culture - the music, the food, even the mitts and the fisherman-knit sweaters - you have to admit, is as Irish as Irish can be.


10:46 p.m.  

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