Fogo Island is the largest of the offshore islands of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. It lies off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, northwest of Musgrave Harbour across Hamilton Sound, just east of the Change Islands. The island is about 25 km long and 14 km wide. The total area is 237.71 km² (91.78 sq mi).
Though migratory French fishermen visited Fogo Island from the early 1500s until 1718, the first permanent settlement of the island took place in the 18th century. Fogo Harbour and Tilting Harbour were the first settlements on the island. The English and Irish descendants of the first inhabitants retained traces of their Elizabethan English and Old Irish dialects which can be heard on the island today. The island has many ancient folk customs brought from England and Ireland that are now disappearing.
Fogo Island is one of the oldest named features on the coast of Newfoundland. The Bertius map from 1606 shows Fogo Island as one of only about a dozen important features around the coast of Newfoundland. On French maps of the 16th to 18th centuries the island is referred to as Ile des Fougues. The island was likely named by Portuguese explorers and early fishing crews in the 16th century (Fogo means Fire in Portuguese). Until 1783 Fogo Island was on an area of the coast called the French Shore. Though English and Irish were not supposed to settle there, under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht, they did settle, and by 1750 Fogo was a thriving part of the British mercantile system of fisheries, based out of West Country English towns such as Poole, in Dorset.
Tilting Harbour on Fogo Island is a National Cultural Landscape District of Canada and is Newfoundland and Labrador's first Provincial Heritage District. Tilting is unique for its Irish culture and, some people say, its Irish dialect. The Irish Cemetery in Tilting may be the oldest in North America. Local oral history indicates that Tilting was originally a French harbour before becoming a venue of Irish settlement. This is highly likely, given the traditional commercial and cultural links between southern Irish and northern French fishing ports. The first Irish settled in Tilting in the 1750s, and uniquely for Newfoundland, Tilting evolved into an exclusively Irish and Catholic town by the 1780s.
Beothuk Indians traversed Fogo Island for many hundreds of years before Irish and English settlers arrived. The Beothuk pursued the seal and salmon fisheries in the area. They also travelled out to the Funk Islands to collect feathers and eggs from the birds there. In the early years of European settlement at Fogo, there were incidents of violence between the Beothuk and the Europeans. This contact ended around the year 1800. The Beothuk became extinct as a people in the late 1820s.
Fogo Island first attracted Europeans because of the extensive opportunities for commodity harvesting, including seal skins and oil, lumber, fur-bearing animals, salmon and of course cod. Over time, settlers on the island concentrated on processing dried cod, mainly because that was the product that most interested the merchants who dealt in the region of Fogo. From about 1850 until the widespread depletion of fish stocks in the 1990s, cod was king. In recent years the economy of the island has seen diversification away from solely fishing to tourism and cultural industries.
Fishing has always been a hard life. Before Confederation with Canada, the mercantile classes of St John's, Newfoundland became rich by holding a near-monopoly stranglehold on both the supply of goods to the Newfoundland outports and on the sale of fish from them.
In the early 20th century, the Fisherman's Protective Union was formed in an attempt to break this stranglehold. It was a form of co-operative with general stores owned by fishermen for fishermen. One of the Fishermen's Union stores still stands at Seldom-Come-By on Fogo Island, now open as a museum complete with general store, port installations, fishing implements and equipment for the manufacture of cod liver oil.
Today the Fogo Island Cooperative continues to successfully stake footholds in new fish markets. Communities began recognising the appeal of their land and heritage as cultural tourism opportunities.
A Marconi radio transmitting station was once operational atop a hill near the town of Fogo; operating with a spark-gap transmitter to establish maritime communications, the station was forced to close around the time that radio became common for household use as the spark-gap design generated unacceptable levels of radio interference. Efforts to rebuilt this station as a historic site commenced in 2002.
In 1967, the island played a key role in the development of what came to be known as the "Fogo Process," a model for community media as a tool for addressing community concerns, when Colin Low shot 27 films with Fogo Islanders as part of the National Film Board of Canada's Challenge for Change program.
Residents defeated the Smallwood Government's plans to resettle Fogo Island in the 1950s but by 1967 a downturn in the inshore fishery had forced many to turn to welfare support. While the island did recover—in part to the Fogo Process—the fishery state held negative impacts felt for years to come. The northern cod fishery closed in 1992, directly or indirectly impacting every resident of Fogo Island.