Do you know how Change Islands, Newfoundland got its name?
The fishermen who had been there since the early 1700s, moved from one small island, where they had built their homes and lived, to another small island within an arm’s reach. Here they set up their fishing stages, flakes, and wharves to tie up their boats.
At the turn of the 20th century, approximately 1000 people lived and worked on these beautiful islands known as the Fishing Stage Capital of the World. Such a beautiful place with such an interesting history. It is a paradise for artists and photographers and a little piece of heaven to any lucky enough to live or visit there. Learn more here.
But, those aren’t the only bits of its history. For us rug hookers, Change Islands holds a piece of history very dear to our hearts. Because, it was here in this beautiful place, our Guild came to life.
How It all started.
It’s sometimes funny how things come to be. Elizabeth Walker, a Newfoundlander and an accomplished mat hooker was living in New Jersey. Her mother grew up in Englee on the Great Northern Peninsula and was very familiar with Dr. Grenfell’s work there and was, in fact, a rug hooker herself. Her mom had not returned to Englee for many years so Elizabeth and her husband decided to travel with her to see her childhood home once more.
Feeling the drive from St. John’s was too long without a break for her mother, Elizabeth decided on a few days on Change Islands. Now, if you know our geography, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, because Change Islands is way off the beaten path for sure. Which means, Elizabeth was meant to be in Change Islands at that time.
While visiting, she looked around for rug hooking supplies and there were none. Elizabeth came to realize that rug hooking was no longer part of the life and times on Change Islands. She vowed to return the following year, 1994, to teach the craft of rug hooking.
Elizabeth kept her promise, bringing hoops, hooks, burlap and supplies for 10-12 people. Beulah Oake offered the dining room of her B & B and before the boxes were unpacked, people were showing up to take the class. One such person was Linda Peckford, who had learned to hook from her grandmother. Elizabeth encouraged Linda to attend Rug School in Nova Scotia which she did in May 1995. Well, Linda thought, if Nova Scotia can have a Rug Hooking Guild, why can’t we have one in this province? There were very few people who knew how to hook at that point, other than a few older ladies and it was very difficult to find a hooked mat for sale in a craft shop.
Linda started asking around to see if there was any interest which led her to Joan Foster. Joan’s mom taught her to hook in 1979. She had already been to the Nova Scotia Rug School in 1993 and was very interested in trying to revive the tradition which was quickly fading into the pages of history.
Response from an ad placed with The Evening Telegram was so good, Linda convinced Edie Cole (a mat hooking teacher from Nova Scotia) to come to Change Islands in August of 1995. Twenty-one people from around the province attended the three day workshop which was held at the Seven Oakes Inn. They were: Edna Porter, Suzanne Porter, Edna Long, Amy Burden, Linda Peckford, Joyce Carrigan, Dorothy Hawco, Mildred LeDrew, Gladys Newhook, Ada Shave, Margaret Kavanagh, Minette Shave, Ina Budgell, Christine Moeller, Sadie Edwards, Joan Foster, Joy Johnson, Jean Taylor, Joan LeDrew, Dianne Flynn and Beulah Oake.
The Guild was formed.
The formation of our Guild was the result of a Saturday evening meeting with Linda Peckford elected President, Amy Burden as Vice President, Joan Foster as Secretary, and Sadie Edwards as Treasurer.
In 1996, Elizabeth returned again to teach Newfoundland Outport Houses at the Guild’s very first Rug School, held in Gander. Subsequent to the school, much work was done by the Guild members to promote the craft of rug hooking. Joan and Linda travelled around the province giving classes and promoting rug hooking where they could. Discounts on lodging and airfare were arranged. Elizabeth Walker and her friends in the Maritimes, Ontario and the United States also played a major role in our Guild moving forward as they would send patterns, wools and other supplies along to the Guild on a regular basis. For the first number of years, the teachers offered their services for free, in exchange for a holiday in Newfoundland.
We owe much to Elizabeth and her friends for supporting our Guild, then and now. We also owe much to the Presidents and their executives who have served tirelessly over the years to bring our Guild where it is today.
In 2015 we celebrated our 20th anniversary. We now have almost 300 members from around the province, across Canada, the United States, Northern Ireland and France.
We produce a quarterly newsletter; the executive meets three or four times a year; we offer workshops around the province (hundreds of people have been taught to hook); and our annual Rug School continues every August.
Rug School rotates around the province – two years West Coast, two years Central and two years on the Avalon. The School offers 6 different courses, from Beginner through Advanced classes over three days is attended by approximately 100 people of all ages and skill levels.
The Guild has trained and certified mat hooking instructors of which 17 are currently active allowing us to primarily use our own instructors for Rug School and bring in one or two from the mainland each year to add variety to the course offerings.
As you follow along here, you will see samples of some of the skills learned at our rug schools and through our Branches where rug hookers gather to socialize and learn from each other.
Check out our Branches Page for information regarding regular hook-in gatherings and occasional workshops.
Preserving & Recording
An important part of our Mission Statement is to preserve and record the historic background of rug hooking in our province. Therefore, the Guild has held several exhibits of hooked mats including at The Rooms in St. John’s, the Mary March Museum in Grand Falls-Windsor, the Ryan Premises in Bonavista, all six Arts & Culture Centres as well as other locations around the province.
A major project has been our Heritage Hooked Rug Registry. In 1997, we received assistance from the Department of Rural Development, Innovation, and Trade to start registering (photographing and recording information) mats hooked prior to 1995.
To date we have registered over 800 mats. In 2005 we partnered with DRC Publishing to produce a book entitled Hooked Mats of Newfoundland and Labrador: Beauty Born of Necessity. It contains pictures and information, some of which are shown on this page, of 120 of the registered mats, the history of mat hooking in the province a well as a short history of the Guild. This Book has proven to be a great resource to rug hookers as the pictures give ideas for patterns, fabrics to use, and color combinations.
In honour of the Canadian Coast Guard’s 50 years of service to our province, Guild members hooked and exhibited over 40 lighthouses from around the province. Read more about this project.
Before joining Confederation with Canada on March 31, 1949, Newfoundland was an independent country with its own currency and stamps. Guild members hooked a series of mats featuring several of the old Newfoundland stamps.
Currently, Guild Members are working on an exhibit which will feature historical sites, locations and events from around our province. Look to our calendar to see dates and locations of the exhibit.
Then, we have our annual exhibit which is held during Rug School every August. Every year, members are amazed by the amount of talent showing through the work they produce.
The Guild & Community
Our Guild is also very community minded and has been involved in several projects giving directly back to the community.
Our Guild partnered with St. John’s Law Firm McInnes Cooper to raise $25,000 and place a 43 piece hooked tapestry on the wall of Ronald MacDonald House in St. John’s. Learn more about the RMHNL project.
Read also about how Guild members hooked two replica mats for the Church at Battle Harbour, Labrador.
25 Years & Counting
We are so excited and pleased with what we have accomplished through the very hard work of our members led by our very first President Linda Peckford and followed by:
Amy Burden, Joan Foster, Ruth Chaffey, Venissa Fancy, Alice Kelly, Teresa Greene, and current President Kelley Fewer.
Through teaching Arts Smarts to our school children and continuing to host workshops around the province, we will continue to pass on this wonderful craft.
By simply showing pride in our hooked pieces and all we have accomplished, The Rug Hooking Guild of Newfoundland and Labrador will continue to create public awareness.
Never again will we worry about this beautiful part of our culture and heritage falling off the history pages.
Thank you again for visiting us here at The Rug Hooking Guild of Newfoundland and Labrador. But, in reality, whether you’re a neighbour across the street, our province, country or another part of the world, what you really need to do is reach out to a Guild Member and learn to produce this beautiful craft yourself. Until then…..