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(November 15, 2001, Gazette)

These walls tell a story

Dr. Gerald PociusDr. Gerald Pocius

St. Pierre et Miquelon is renowned for its distinct culture. But it seems that the French islands have another claim to fame: vernacular architecture. In March 2001, Dr. Gerald Pocius, Folklore, received a grant from the Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF) to study the unique architecture in France’s North American outpost.

“St. Pierre et Miquelon provides a unique place to see French architecture modified by traditions from Canada and the United States,” said Dr. Pocius.

The grant enabled Dr. Pocius to bring two leading experts on vernacular architecture to St. Pierre et Miquelon: Dr. Gary Stanton, Mary Washington College, Virginia, and Dr. Bernard Herman, University of Delaware. Drs. Stanton, Herman and Pocius were assisted in their research and documentation by local experts.

“During the summer of 2001 approximately 75 buildings were measured and photographed, with follow-up work to continue through summer 2002 and then we’ll hold a conference in summer 2003,” said Dr. Pocius. “There were two criterions that we used when choosing the buildings to survey. First we considered the external features of the building and if it looked older or unaltered we could determine more about the original construction. The second criterion was being able to have full access to the entire building, attic to basement.”

As with all VAF conferences, Dr. Pocius said this meeting will involve one day of paper presentations, preceded by two days of tours of local buildings. Buildings that are visited are those not normally accessible to the public, and include private houses, warehouses, barns, and commercial establishments.

According to Dr. Pocius, there is one house in particular with a direct connection to Memorial.

“One of the more interesting places is the summer house that was built by the father of Dr. Georges-Alain Frecker, chancellor of this university for a number of years,” he said. “We also documented many other interesting buildings such as a military prison, prohibition buildings, homes of ordinary fishermen, and a concrete church. There is a real mix of architectural styles.”

He said the tour participants are provided with a tour book which contains plans and architectural histories for all the buildings visited.

“There will be approximately 100 participants, mainly Americans and a few Canadians, who have an interest in vernacular architecture. Most of them will be either teachers of vernacular architecture, work with heritage and preservation organizations or government agencies.”

The research and documentation being done by this team of experts actually has a twofold purpose.

“This research is, in fact, a joint project with L’Arche Museum and Archives in St. Pierre, and will result in a major exhibition of St. Pierre et Miquelon architecture at L’Arche in 2003, in conjunction with the 2003 VAF meeting,” Dr. Pocius told the Gazette.

“The museum exhibition will probably be a year long. In addition, the information will be published as a guide to St. Pierre et Miquelon architecture, and will act as a reference source for anyone interested in French architecture in North America,” he continued.

Rosiane de Lizarraga and Rodrigue Girardin at L’Arche are the other coordinators of the project.

This joint project between the Centre for Material Culture Studies and L’Arche Museum and Archives is the first extensive survey and documentation of St. Pierre et Miquelon buildings.