Ah yes, Stephenville, the town with a difference. It’s the French you know! The accents from off of the Port au Port, and the Stephenville Crossing, (Xing). I always find it refreshing that no matter what seems to be happening in St. Johns, Gander, Grand Falls, Corner Brook, this place seems wonderfully unfazed by it all, almost impervious to the will of those who would bend it to suit their own agenda of what we as Newfs should be. There was a lot of that from the now nearly defunct guardians of the neo- Newfoundland movement (many now deceased) who wanted to describe all that should be regarded sacred and that which is disposable and contemptuous regarding Newfoundland culture. Those sprung largely from our folk revivalists and republic politicos and it really heated up in the 70’s, simmered in the 80’s nearly caved to the realities of life in the 90’s but found new heat in the last decade when even Danny got republican and the now matured hippies needed to liquidate some mutual funds.
Here in Stephenville however it’s as if the water lapping at the long strand along St. Georges North washed away all other influences with every tide. No one will dispute the ingenuous nature of the average resident along the remnant of the old French Shore. To just hear the dialects is so beautiful, and that from a people who are used to surviving as they are, not changing to the whims of what is trendy.
If you dear reader do not come from the fair province of NL, you can do no better than to visit not just the area along St. Georges North and the Port au Port, but to continue south and try to get a glimpse of what is the Codroy Valley and its various towns, for here exists here a remnant of that distant past where time has not erased all impressions of a people and culture that truly was most unique, not just in this province but in the world.
What am I talking about? Well, this area became the last refuge of the French cultures as the once great coastline described as the French Shore got diminished in the face of British colonization after 1763 and the great world land settlement between Great Britain, France, Spain and Portugal known as the Treaty of Paris, or the Peace of Paris. With the French successfully ousted and relegated to the two tiny islands Saint Pierre and Miquelon the British set to colonizing this place to maintain a hold and so bit by bit the French were squeezed off of the north shore, up the Northern Peninsula and down it’s west side until the only remaining group of French were those gnarly tenuous hardened types who had so integrated with the land and place here as to never leave because like mussels they’d become attached to the rocks. And thank God for it, because it was the richest colour in the already varied palette painting the landscape of this area, adding to the resident native cultures, the Scottish by then peopling the valley, and the odd Basque and Portugese family, some coming off the Labrador. The Irish and English arrived later. So here, no matter how Irish St. Johns would have us be, it simply doesn’t matter. It’s like washing a turr with seawater, you won’t change things.
So, I take great long walks along the rocky beach every time I’m here and no matter the weather. I revel in it’s singularity for landscape and seascape. I find the revitalizing calm along the waters edge and lie on the sandy portions of it’s beach-front, visualize Brian LaSaga’s paintings and think of what the great artist tries to reveal in his works. Most certainly, the only glimpse of this part of the world many easterners will get are his paintings hung in the prestigious galleries of the city, and I think they can’t pay enough!