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A Story of a People and the Sea

Once we are all back on board, the afternoon is spent at sea heading in a southerly direction. It was time to walk the deck and breathe in the salt air while watching whales  blow and crash there huge pectoral fins onto the ocean’s surface.

Inside, Senator Bill Romkey and Jerry Kobalenko fill folks in on the history of Labrador and the incredible experience of kayaking its coastal waters. Thanks to Bill, I think, I’ve finally got the structure of this province correct. Nunatsiavut is a provincial territory, part of Labrador and within the province of Newfoundland & Labrador. Nunavut is a federal territory that stretches across the far north. Both have a form of self-government. You would think this would not be hard but I seem to stumble every time I try to get our evolving federal and provincial structures straight!

By late afternoon we have cruised our way to the town of Conche that is on the north eastern tip of the island of Newfoundland. It is a predominately Irish Catholic community. Some of the residents came here from the Grey Islands as part of the government’s resettlement of folks from remote fishing communities.

untitled-7286ountitled-2As the zodiacs bring us ashore, we are greeted by tons of friendly people ready to point us in the right direction or give us a lift to the hall where we will share a meal and some island music. untitled-7296ountitled-2But before supper there is time to walk the gravel roads, past peeling paint and idle fishing boats.untitled-7291ountitled-2 Eventually I arrive at the community hall where the French Shore Tapestry is under construction.untitled-7295ountitled-2

untitled-7297ountitled-2Inspired by the eleventh century Bayeau Tapestry, it was designed by artist Jean Claude Roy and his wife Christina who developed a partnership with local stitchers, Joan Simmonds and Colleen McLean. Roy researched the history of the French Shore and produced a 222 foot template.untitled-7301ountitled-2 It includes colourful characters important in the history of the area as well as legends about life in Conche stretching from creation to 2006.

Local stitchery artists were taught how to transfer the design to linen canvas. It was stretched on a specially made frame and by the time it is complete over 20,000 hours of work will have gone into the telling of the story. Pride, precision, craftsmanship and dedication have made this a remarkable community project.

One by one, our motley crew weaves its way to the top of the hill where supper awaits. It’s like a church supper but more rambunctious. Music fills the air and those who are able, dance their dinner away.untitled-7305ountitled-2

As the moon comes up, the parade past the churchyard winds its way back to the harbour where we load the zodiacs and head back to the ship. The town’s deep harbour runs the length of the community and in spring folks can be marooned by ice. For a long time getting around was best done by dog sled but in the 1970’s the town was connected by road to the rest of the province. Overnight ,we will travel to the Change Islands the traditional way….by water.untitled-7307ountitled-2

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Reference – wikipedia.org,www.frenchshore.com;frenchshoretapestry.com;Adventure Canada Notes, Personal Journal

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