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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.

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