Writer, gardener, husband, father, museum founder. Born on Oct. 18, 1928, in East Chezzetcook, N.S.; died on Sept. 16, 2013, in Bridgewater, N.S., of complications from a stroke, aged 84.
Hugh Conrod grew up on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, and spent his life sharing stories of his province and its heritage, including the art of rug hooking.
After earned a degree in public relations from King’s University in Halifax, he launched a 30-year career in journalism that included more than 20 years as Dartmouth bureau chief for the Halifax Herald. A stint in private-sector public relations followed, before he joined the provincial public service.
Hugh rose through the ranks to become deputy minister of recreation and tourism, and during the 1970s was responsible for many high-profile projects, including the Maritime Museum, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Dartmouth Heritage Museum and the Nova Scotia Lottery Commission.
Hugh was also writer, of books – about the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, cookbooks, and the history of rug hooking – and of legislation, articles, grant applications, letters and too-lengthy e-mails (never missing an opportunity to use exclamation marks!!!).
He was always curious, keen to explore ideas and history; his sister Carole says he was a “go-getter” from the time he could walk. As a teenager, Hugh and a friend once rowed to an offshore island to look for buried treasure; when his pal headed back to shore for supper, Hugh decided to spend the night on the island rather than give up the quest.
Hugh married twice; first to Enid, with whom he had three children, Wendy, Derek and Monique; and later to Suzanne LaFrance, in 1980. He met Suzanne when he hired her as an interior designer for his apartment, and his tenacity showed in his courtship. “He never got defeated,” she says. “I had said a million times that I would never marry again – right up until our wedding day.”
Hugh’s persistence was on full display with his final project, the Hooked Rug Museum of North America. Strongly supportive of Suzanne’s talents as a hooked-rug artist and teacher, he devoted much of his late 70s to researching Acadian rug-hooking history. Surprised by the lack of information, he wrote a book, Rescued from Oblivion, to fill the gap.
In 2003, he and Suzanne were chatting with rug-hooking friends about the lack of attention paid to the art. The fact that others had tried, and failed, to establish a museum devoted to hooked rugs didn’t discourage Hugh. Soon he and Suzanne were criss-crossing Nova Scotia doing research, meeting rug hookers and finding rugs. They opened a hooked-rug store in their home community, Chester, to test whether it could generate enough business to serve as a museum gift shop, and to raise money to buy artifacts for the project. They also recruited volunteers for a non-profit society to pursue a museum in 2006, and to run the museum..
In June, 2013, when the Hooked Rug Museum opened in Queensland, N.S. – the first of its kind in the world – it was thanks to Hugh’s ideas and persistence. The rugs and artifacts on display were collected from across North America, either directly by Hugh and Suzanne or as donations for display. The museum has drawn visitors from all over North America and as far as Japan.
Hugh was also an avid gardener and one of his last endeavours was to secure funds for a “garden of rug hooking” on the museum grounds, to showcase traditional plants and flowers used as fibres and dyes in rugs. He did not live to see the garden completed, but when the plants bloom next summer, and flourish in years to come, they will be a testament to his memory.
Catherine Clute is a friend of Hugh.