ABOUT FOGO ISLAND
PAST & PRESENT
AN OUTPORT COMMUNITY
Fogo Island is an outport community: a small, remote coastal settlement unique to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Fogo Islanders are people of the sea who have made their living by fishing the frigid and often unforgiving waters of the North Atlantic. A non-capital-accumulating society until the latter decades of the 20th century, Fogo Islanders sustained themselves for generations by fishing as families and relying on an unrelenting sense of resourcefulness fed by a profound love of place. This history of relative isolation and self-sufficiency has shaped Fogo Islanders and the Fogo Island of today, and continues to inform the Island’s economy and culture.
Though Fogo Island is a settler community, it’s important to know that its territory is part of the ancestral homelands of the Beothuk and the island of Newfoundland is the ancestral homeland of the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk. We also take this opportunity to recognize the Inuit of Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut and the Innu of Nitassinan, and their ancestors, as the original people of Labrador. Accepted scholarship has generally found that the Beothuk most likely never had permanent settlements on Fogo Island; they probably visited Fogo Island as a summer camp, when the elements were ideal for a trip from the more protected coves of mainland Newfoundland. These conclusions have been drawn from archaeological evidence and local-oral histories, and more details and resources regarding the indigenous history of Fogo Island and the surrounding area can be found by clicking here.
HISTORY OF SETTLEMENT
Migratory European fishermen began fishing Fogo Island’s plentiful waters around the early sixteenth century. A 1529 map of Newfoundland identifies the Island as Y de Fogo, later anglicized to Fogo Island. Originally not permitted to settle, Europeans went back and forth to Fogo Island to fish during warmer months until official, permanent settlement began in the eighteenth century.
Fogo Island was a part of the Poole Empire and thus directly or indirectly settled by persons from regions not far from Poole, Dorset in England. Other settlers also migrated from the Southern Bays of Newfoundland including Trinity Bay, as well as from England and the South West of Ireland. The earliest record attributed to a settler on Fogo Island a 1697 journal entry from one Pere Baudein, who reported one hundred and fifty men living on Fogo Island, Twillingate and other scattered populations in the northern part of Newfoundland. According to historian John Carrick Greene, official records show that the communities of Fogo and Tilting were permanently settled by 1729, and the community of Joe Batt’s Arm first appeared in the fishery census in 1773, followed closely by the neighboring Barr’d Islands in 1778. Records of permanent settlements in the Island’s other communities followed throughout the rest of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, driven mainly by the cod fishery but also supplemented by the spring seal fishery.
FOGO ISLAND TODAY
They came for the cod and they stayed for the cod, and the fishery is still the main cornerstone of our Island’s economy. Through the Fogo Island Co-operative Society, a direct result of the participatory filmmaking project now known as The Fogo Process, our fishery remains community-owned. It has expanded since the 1960s collapse of the cod fishery to include species such as crab, shrimp, and turbot, and our fishers have adapted to the new technologies and equipment required to fish farther away from shore than their forefathers ever did.
Our 11 distinct communities are not without their contemporary challenges, but they are also not without hope. Having resisted resettlement in the mid-twentieth century, we are here with purpose and conviction in this place that Captain Wadham, in his celebrated sailing directions called “a parcel of dammed rugged isles.” Our isolation from the mainland, our intimate entanglement with the sea and the forces of nature, and our lives lived at the very edge of a great ocean have created a place of many stories deserving of being passed down to many more generations.
Said Mr. Coaker in 1909: “I’d be a Newfoundlander, outport born, outport bred, of outport strength and tenderness of heart, of outport sincerity, had I my birth to choose.”
ART, IN THE FORM OF THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD'S CHALLENGE FOR CHANGE INITIATIVE, HELPED TO SAVE FOGO ISLAND FROM RESETTLEMENT IN THE 1960S.
THE FOGO PROCESS
We have a long history with film. Fogo Island was the location of a now legendary community filmmaking project in the late 1960s known as The Fogo Process. As part of the national “Challenge for Change” program, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and Memorial University of Newfoundland Extension Service came to Fogo Island to give light and voice to a set of communities struggling with the loss of the inshore fishery that had sustained them for centuries, and the very real threat of forced resettlement to the main island of Newfoundland.
Filmmaker Colin Low and community worker Fred Earle worked from the vision of Donald Snowden, who was the head of MUN’s Extension Service. Low produced 27 short films on Fogo Island that catalogued daily life, challenges, and celebrations, and sparked a dialogue between Fogo Island’s distinct communities which had no previous history of collaboration. These films catalyzed much positive social change by helping Fogo Islanders see their similarities, celebrate their differences, and work together to forge a plan for the future.
The Fogo Process films can be viewed on the National Film Board’s website, and are also available for viewing by guests and visitors at the Fogo Island Inn Cinema.