Exploring the French Shore
by David Sorensen
The archaeology of the French Shore will again be the subject of Dr. Peter Pope’s research on the Northern Peninsula. He’s returning for the second year to explore the fishing rooms of the French fishermen who were travelling to this region for 400 years before a treaty in 1904 brought to an end the French migratory salt cod fishery.
Dr. Pope surveyed the area in 2004, returned last year for further research, and this year will travel to the area around Conche, on the eastern coast of the Northern Peninsula, with a team of 10. The group includes four graduate students and two soon-to-be graduate students.
The project is called the Archaeology of the Petit Nord, an area that runs from Cape St. John on the Baie Verte Peninsula to Quirpon on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula.
Dr. Pope’s group is working with The French Shore Historical Society, a local group based in Conche.
He said it was the enthusiasm of the local group that helped steer him to this area. After the historical society did some necessary background work, he agreed to check it out.
“I went down there and there was some really interesting material,” explained Dr. Pope. “Bread ovens, particularly, you could still see on the landscape.”
He said the co-operation with the community has made this an enjoyable experience.
“I remember the first time I visited them, which would have been around 2003, they were renovating the nursing station to be an interpretation centre,” he explained. “They took me through the basement and on one of the basement doors it had painted ‘archaeology lab’ and inside was a kitchen cabinet and a sink and a table. It’s the right attitude. I thought, ‘I can work with these guys.’”
Co-operation extends to funding the work. This year, the project is funded by Dr. Pope’s SSHRC standard grant; last year, the Historical Society paid for the archaeology team’s boat and helped pay for accommodations.
Additional funding has come from the provincial archaeology office, Smallwood Foundation and ISER grants, and a Harris Fellowship for one of the grad students.
While it’s not his research aim to supply the local group with interpretation, it’s an important side product.
“They’re hoping we’ll fill in more details, which we are,” he said. “They know there is fishing there, but they are not sure when the fishing started. So we’re starting to look at that. I’ve got documentation that they were fishing there in 1540, and I’ll bet they were there before that.
“They didn’t know exactly where the French rooms were; they didn’t know exactly what the French rooms looked like, and so it’s that kind of stuff we’re putting together.”
Dr. Pope, who is a professor and head of Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, and cross-appointed to Department of History, said his research goal is to understand the evolving landscape of that fishery. He’s come up with a catchy line to describe this region the oldest European landscape in Canada.
“This is the way that Europe started to use North America and this is the place,” he said. It’s not the only site where Europeans prosecuted the fishery, but others have had centuries of development built on top of the original settlement which obscures some of the original remains.
“The thing about the Petit Nord is it was used for more or less the same purpose for 400 years.”
This is part of a summer-long series on research around the province. Have a story on a Memorial researcher working in rural Newfoundland and Labrador? Contact the Gazette at email@example.com.