Story Ideas

Discover the history of Newfoundland’s French Shore.

A magnificent tapestry details the region’s stories, culture and fishing industry in rich colour.

14 January 2015

Suggested tweet: Discover the vibrant history of #Newfoundland’s French Shore via world-class tapestry @NLtweets

In a small wooden outbuilding that once stored saltfish, the women of Conche, a Newfoundland fishing village in the remote northeast of the island, came together to share their community heritage by creating an embroidered tapestry—one stitch at a time—depicting the history of their region known as the French Shore. The tiny village has always depended on the fishing industry, which has been under threat in recent times, and the women were looking to develop something new to draw tourists to Conche.

The French Shore Tapestry has become a big attraction for the small community:  a colour-splashed and detailed piece of needlework art that details the region’s proud history, stretching from the settlers of the early days through to the beginning of the 21st century. It’s on display to the public May through September at the French Shore Interpretation Centre in Conche.

The French Shore (le petit nord) was an area of early French presence in Newfoundland, although most fishing families who live there now trace their roots to Ireland. Inspired by the style of France’s 1,000-year old Bayeux tapestry, the 66-m (216-ft) long Conche tapestry took 13 Conche women four years to embroider from start to finish.

Along the way they were helped and guided by Jean-Claude Roy, a French artist who arrived on The Rock to paint the communities he saw. He listened to the stories they told about the fisheries, icebergs, moonshine and the history of the French Shore, then sketched black and white outlines onto seven long pieces of Jacobean linen twill.

By day, most of the women, who ranged from 30 to 60 years old, worked in the local fish plant. In the evenings, they came together for more than 20,000 hours of stitching, conversation, laughter, tears and support. Along the way, they helped each other when illness struck, as well as with a host of other emotional ups and downs. It took a year to prepare the outlines and an additional three years to complete the intricate wool thread embroidery. Display cases hold the scissors and needles for each of the embroiderers; each woman developed a special attachment to her own tools.

When the seven sections were pieced together and edged with a thin strip of cloth binding, a historical timeline came to life, telling of a traditional lifestyle rooted in days gone by and of a deep sense of community pride. The result is a colourful history of the outport village, a renewed feeling of power and an attraction that compels visitors to make the trip to Conche.

Thousands have come to Conche to see this project of the heart and of heritage. The tapestry is about much more than colours and thread and stitches. It tells a story about the sisters, mothers, neighbours and cousins of a small fishing village who’ve watched the disappearance of the fishing industry and, like many hard-working Canadians, realized they needed to create long-lasting change in their own community.

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