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The French Shore Tapestry of Conche, N.L. rivals the famed Bayeaux Tapestry

 

On a recent trip to Newfoundland and Labrador, my wife and I ventured to the end of the Viking Trail to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of L’Anse aux Meadows. There are few roads in this remote area. Most visitors retrace their route back down Highway 430 to Deer Lake where the trail begins. But you can also explore the isolated French Shore on the northeastern side of the Great Northern Peninsula. There are many reasons to take this alternate route, not the least of which is to view a work that rivals the famed Bayeaux Tapestry in size and colour.

Found in the tiny community of Conche, the French Shore Tapestry was the brainchild of artist Jean Claude Roy and his wife Christina. She’s a native Newfoundlander and he’s from France, so they split their time between the two places. Roy was familiar with his country’s famous Bayeaux Tapestry that depicts William the Conqueror’s Norman conquest of England. He came up with the idea of creating something similar to depict the history of the French Shore.

Embroidery has always been an important pastime on the French Shore; Roy had no problem convincing locals to sign on to the project, perhaps not realizing the magnitude of the undertaking. With Roy designing the tapestry, his wife in charge of coordinating the numerous local embroiderers, and with more than 20,000 hours of stitching, they finished the tapestry in 2010. It’s now displayed in the former Grenfell Mission house, which is now the French Shore Interpretation Centre.


Hooked rugs from cottage industry.


To get to Conche, leave the Viking Trail just past the St. Anthony airport and take Highway 432 as far as the turn off to the village of Roddickton, some 14 kilometres along. In Roddickton, the 24-kilometre dead end road to Conche begins. Until recently, roads didn’t connect the isolated coastal communities; the road to Conche has only been recently paved. Outside the village there’s a short path to an observation tower, which has majestic views of the peninsula below and the Grey Islands offshore.

Descending into Conche, you can’t miss the bright green interpretation centre, which houses many items of interest, including some of the famous hooked rugs of the Grenfell Medical Mission’s cottage craft industry.

But the star is the breathtaking 69-metre tapestry. I’ve visited the Bayeaux Tapestry in Normandy, but it’s not remotely like the experience of seeing the French Shore Tapestry in Conche. The Bayeaux Tapestry is so popular that you must get on a moving sidewalk to see it, which means no lingering over details. And although well restored, the Bayeaux Tapestry is almost a thousand years old and shows its age. The French Shore Tapestry is bright and vibrant, and you have a good chance of having it all to yourself when you visit.

The French Shore Tapestry tells the story of this area of Newfoundland in a chronological sequence that starts in prehistory before human habitation and progresses through the First Nations, the Vikings, the European fishery and colonization, up to the present. It depicts many slices of local history, broadening our understanding of how the people of Conche maintained their ties with France long after British rule began.

While the tapestry is ample reason to visit, there are many other interesting things to see along the way. Newfoundlanders on the Great Northern Peninsula have long used the land alongside roads to create community vegetable gardens. These are fenced in to keep the moose out and often have interesting scarecrows or other folk art. The ones along Route 432 are among the best I’ve seen.

Another unique attraction on Route 433 to Roddickton is the underground salmon pool where salmon, migrating upstream, disappear into a natural tunnel on Beaver Brook. There is no other place where this is known to happen. Find it down a 2.3-kilometre gravel road followed by a short hike through a partial old-growth forest to the pool at the entrance to the tunnel. It’s a beautiful spot. We saw some large Atlantic salmon awaiting their turn to go upstream.

frenchshoretapestry.com

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