A Living, Breathing Ode to the Mighty Punt: The New Punt Premises Now Open

June 22, 2019

On Sunday, June 9th, a historic property took on new life with the opening of the new Punt Premises on Fogo Island. The Premises is an interactive cultural interpretation centre devoted to knowledge preservation as well as encouraging visitor interaction with the historical and cultural assets of the inshore fishery and its mighty workhorse: the punt. The Premises consists of a lovingly restored saltbox-style house, a traditional fishing stage, and two fishing stores that date back to the mid-1800s. These buildings collectively make up a typical outport fishing premises and were occupied by generations of several families in the community of Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island.

The Premises will consistently house a punt in the process of being built and will have on view a wealth of cultural artifacts including cod traps and items associated with their making and mending, knots, boatbuilding tools and models, fishing gear, photos, sound recordings, and household items.  Importantly, the spaces of the Premises will demonstrate how a fishing family lived and made a living in the vibrant inshore fishing era on which our outport culture was founded; it is both a tribute to our proud past and a promise for a hopeful and successful future off our province’s Northeast Coast.

An initiative of Shorefast, the Punt Premises represents the next phase of the charity’s long-term work to safeguard Fogo Island’s boatbuilding heritage and all its associated knowledge for renewed and repurposed use in building a modern, outport economy; it is representative of “finding new ways with old things”. In 2007, Shorefast began the award-winning Great Fogo Island Punt Race to There and Back, and also spearheaded a school program that placed students in apprenticeship with boatbuilders to reinvigorate excitement and learning around the punts. After the Great Fogo Island Punt Race celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017, attentions and energies were refocused on creating the Punt Premises as a permanent, dynamic, and publicly accessible place for residents and visitors alike to learn about the importance of the punt and the inshore fishery to our shared cultural history.

“Much of Shorefast’s work is about the making, preserving, and sharing of knowledge,” said Zita Cobb, CEO of Shorefast and Innkeeper of Fogo Island Inn. “The punts contain irreplaceable cultural knowledge that we intend to carry forward and make relevant for new generations through the Punt Premises. This project would not have been possible without the support and partnership of private donors and both levels of government.” Fogo Island Mayor Wayne Collins added: “The public programming for visitors and locals at the Punt Premises is a welcome addition to Fogo Island as we continue to grow our economy and ensure our heritage is preserved.”

“Spudgel, for example,” PJ continues, “is a term I learned just yesterday from my dad.” His dad, Pete Decker, is a former fisher and trusted advisor to Shorefast’s work around the punts; he stops by the Premises regularly. Born in 1949—the year Newfoundland joined Canada—Pete is of the last generation that grew up when many of the traditional fishing tools and boatbuilding techniques of the inshore fishery were still in practice. With memory to draw on, Pete is quick to provide illuminating anecdotes to this former way of life and it is clear that his first-hand knowledge and the contextual history of the fishery has been an integral part of PJ’s own upbringing.