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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Historic Northern Peninsula - Grenfell Centre

Someone recently told me that the tourism industry has replaced the fishing industry as the main economic staple in the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. I can see this, as there is really only one set of roads to take you to all pertinent locations, but there are a million signs warning you when you get closer to the attraction that you were bound to pass anyway. Of course, by the time you pass by the advertising has convinced you that you want to go in.

I decided, being an avid history nerd, what other tourist, history based attractions I could take in while up in the Northern Peninsula. I came across a fairly unexplored gem. For all history nerds I highly recommend the Grenfell centre. Its interpretation centre was highly informative and well set up. Clearly whoever designed the exhibit was well versed in museum theory, as most of the exhibits they had were text and information, so they tried to intersperse it with models, audio and other things not necessarily used by Grenfell or in the work of the Grenfell mission, but that had cultural relevance nonetheless. The house, part two of the exhibit, was just as interesting, though less well interpreted and hardly mentioned in the early exhibit. The walk up behind the house was also interesting, vigorous and informative, with plaques useful to tourists unfamiliar with the local landscape.

Of course I was the only one in there. On a Saturday. Of an open house. So..., despite the massive funding that clearly went into the establishing of the museum and the exhibits, they should probably invest a bit more in advertising. Like so many museums they have probably hit that catch twenty-two of getting funding once they get visitors and needing funding to get those visitors. Perhaps as well it is just because the subject matter has not been well linked to the other historical based tourist attractions, or because the house itself, despite signage, is hard to find tucked up behind the hospital. Or maybe it is only really interesting to people who are history nerds.

However, between all three parts of the historical interpretation this was not just a museum about the Grenfell mission, but I believe it is the only museum in the area which talks about local history. It is here that I learned about the American airbase, what Partridge berries look like, when roads came to the area, about local crafts, how the fishing operations worked at the turn of the century and what demographics made up the early population of Northern Newfoundland and Labrador. I think the museum would do well to emphasize some of this in their advertising. Maybe then they might get a few more visitors.

P.S. For fellow London Ontario-ers/Public History students, Grenfell has been inducted into the Canadian Medicine Hall of Fame in London, and in the interpretive centre one of the only artefact exhibits contained turn of the century medical equipment, something we got to investigate this year.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Parks Day at L'Anse aux Meadows

July 17th was Parks Day across Canada. In addition this year Parks Canada is celebrating its 125th anniversary, and so this past Parks Day was special for many people who have grown up enjoying our National Parks.

At L'Anse aux Meadows, despite the construction that is still going on in the Visitor Centre, and despite the incessant downpour that occurred yesterday, we were still able to enjoy Parks Day. For visitors we offered our regular tours of the archeological site. Despite the rain and the icy winds many brave souls came out while our interpreters gave them a background on the mounds that they saw in front of them. In fact, yesterday I, who started about a week ago, delivered my first tour of the archeological remains. We deliver tours in both English and French, though our French language tours are largely by request.

L'Anse aux Meadows, along with a newly renovated Visitor Centre, also has a newly groomed interpretive walking trail this year. The trail is 2.2 kms, and takes visitors right along Epaves Bay. At the moment it is also the only means of getting to the archeological site from the main parking lot. Yesterday the site previewed the new tour, From Fog to Bog, that it will be conducting and while no one, because of the wind and the rain, partook of the 11:00 tour there were two hardy souls from Germany that joined Kevin, one of the interpreters, on the 3:00. The new tour is an hour and a half and should prove to be a popular addition once it is added to the site's programming.

A highlight of the day was the Sagas and Shadows encore presentation that was held in the reconstructed longhouse. Michael Sexton, a.k.a Bjorn the Beautiful, enraptured a record 36 attendees with his renditions of several of the Icelandic Sagas. Shadows and Sagas is typically held on Tuesday nights, around 8pm, and usually there is a fee of $22 for the performance, but as it was Parks Day all our events were free. Partridgeberry jam and drink from local manufacturers at the Dark Tickle was provided for the onlookers.