A Memorial University of Newfoundland professor will receive a significant honour from the French government.
Dr. Ronald Rompkey, a research professor in Memorial’s English Department, has been chosen to receive the Ordre National du Mérite. This Order of Chivalry is awarded by the president of the French Republic to French nationals for distinguished civil and military achievements and to foreigners for service to France and the Francophonie.
The honour recognizes Dr. Rompkey’s contribution to the francophone community of Newfoundland and Labrador – work that has significantly raised the profile of that small but important group.
“There’s a misconception in Canada that all the French activity happened in Quebec or in Acadia, but that isn’t the case,” he explained. “The French have had a presence in Newfoundland as long as the English have.”
Although a 1713 treaty prohibited the French from establishing settlements, they retained the right to fish along Newfoundland’s shores for centuries. And according to Dr. Rompkey, between 10 – 20,000 French men came to fish every year. “There was a significant French presence here, but because they couldn’t settle here, it was a kind of ‘phantom’ French presence.”
Dr. Rompkey’s research has lent substance to that phantom. The French left a rich written record of their experiences and perceptions of Newfoundland, though those writings were never well known or accessible. He has studied and published those writings widely and included some of his findings in the 2004 anthology Terre-Neuve: Anthologie des voyageurs français, a collection of travel literature about Newfoundland.
“The archives in France are full of things about Newfoundland,” he noted. “They were interested in this place and its landscape, in its culture. They were very interested in the aboriginal people here.”
In the fall, he will publish En mission à Terre-Neuve, correspondence by Charles Riballier des Iles, vice-consul at St. John’s from 1885 to 1903. The dispatches cover 18 years of rich history, including tense relations between the British and French, a bank crash, a major ministerial scandal and the St. John’s Great Fire of 1892.
Dr. Rompkey chaired the board of Société 2004, a body that organized activities to mark 500 years of French presence in Newfoundland. The Ordre National du Mérite also recognizes his academic contributions in France. In 2005, he was invited to lecture at the Université Michel de Montaigne in Bordeaux on Canadian and British literature, as well as the French overseas fishery. He also lectured at the Sorbonne, the Université de Poitiers, and the Université d’Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse.
The decoration associated with the Order will be presented by the Ambassador of France, Monsieur Daniel Jouanneau, in St. John’s on June 30.
In 2004, Dr. Rompkey was made an Officer of the Order of Canada; last year he became a member of the Royal Society of Canada.
A high-resolution photo of Dr. Rompkey available upon request.
Dr. Ron Rompkey is available for interviews.