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REF NO.: 138

SUBJECT: Centre for Material Culture Studies at Memorial University co-organizes St. Pierre et Miquelon conference

DATE: April 10

Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, consisting of three small islands off the south coast of Newfoundland, are the only surviving part of France's once vast North American empire. This year people will get a unique opportunity to view some of the island's traditional architecture by attending the 2003 Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF) annual meeting. The conference, held from June 4-7, is hosted by L'Arche, the Museum and Archives in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, France, and co-organized with the Centre for Material Culture Studies at Memorial University.

"Before 2000, almost no research had been done on the archipelago's architectural traditions, and in many ways the Saint-Pierre conference will resemble those VAF conferences of old, where tour participants are given both preliminary research as well as questions and analysis of buildings will take place in small groups on the spot," said Dr. Gerald Pocius, of Memorial's Centre for Material Culture Studies.

The first two days of the conference will involve touring buildings (mainly houses) not normally opened to the public; Thursday, June 5, will focus on the town of Miquelon and one area of Langlade. Friday, June 6, will include the town of Saint-Pierre, and small fishing villages outside of it, as well as Ile-aux-Marins and Saturday, June 7, will feature papers by North America's leading vernacular architecture scholars.

The territory consists of two major year-round inhabited islands: Saint-Pierre (containing the town of Saint-Pierre) with about 5,700 inhabitants, and the larger island of Miquelon (made up of two portions-Miquelon and Langlade), with a population of about 700. Saint-Pierre et Miquelon has been visited seasonally (and later year-round) by French fishermen since the 16th century, but the island has experienced a long history of being a French and later an English territory. In spite of a longstanding French presence, surviving buildings date from after 1816 when France returned permanently to the islands, and this architecture will form the focus of the VAF meeting.

Although the building traditions were primarily focused on wood, there has never existed a native timbering industry, and virtually all lumber has historically been brought to the islands by merchants from eastern Canada or New England. Historically, Saint-Pierre's economy has been based largely on catching and drying cod, and the landscape and buildings reflect this. During the Prohibition era, however, Saint-Pierre was center to a vast liquor shipping industry to the United States; cement warehouses and whiskey crate architecture are a testimony to these times. Tours will examine a number of building types: houses, churches, institutional complexes, stables, fisheries structures, summer housing, small-scale industrial buildings.

Technologies featured in the conference include the typical frame house built of mill-sawn timber imported from Canada or the US, brick-clad frame houses, versions of earthfast construction, a massive 1850s double-purlin roof in the town's Gendarmerie, and modern prefab buildings. The landscapes of these buildings will also be visited: stone drying areas for cod (natural beaches and constructed areas), meticulously tended gardens for vegetables and flowers, meadows for cutting hay and grazing animals, the urban town and the rural farmstead. In short, this will be a meeting about place: how the spaces of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon are constructed, thought of, and used.

"Because of the modest size of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, the meeting intends to provide participants with a sample of the full range of building traditions on the islands, from the earliest surviving structures to the most modern," Dr. Pocius explained. Conference registration fees cover all meals (featuring local French cuisine), four receptions, a two hundred plus page field guide describing buildings on the field tours, translators for visited structures, and the boat to Miquelon.

For more information visit Vernacular Architecture Forum Saint-Pierre 2003 Web site at

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