There is a place at the farthest
edge of the earth.
Stunning contortions of rock perched
in the powerful Labrador Current.
Those who journey to this remote island
find home in its welcoming wilderness.
Fogo Island is big and small–big enough to be interesting, yet small enough to know.
Located off the Northeast Coast of Newfoundland, Canada, Fogo Island is a remote yet accessible outport community found at 49.6667° N, 54.1833° W. "Fogo" is the Portuguese word for fire, and the Island was likely named by passing sailors who noticed small fires burning on our shores. Situated in the Labrador Current along "Iceberg Alley," the Island is bounded by the rugged shores of the wild North Atlantic Ocean.
Fogo Island spans about 35 kilometres from east to west and 24 kilometres from north to south with 2,395 people living in 10 distinct communities. The Island boasts countless plant and animal species that thrive in its untamed wilderness and icy waters. Although located just over halfway between the equator and the North Pole, the Labrador Current passing by Fogo Island's doorstep brings with it the makings for a subarctic landscape and a temperate maritime climate. The Island's boreal forest plays host to herds of caribou, beavers, foxes, mosses, grasses, and wildflowers. Migrating whales and icebergs visit in the spring, and fall’s berry season finds Fogo Island carpeted in at least two dozen varieties of edible berries.
The isolation from the mainland and the lives lived in intimate and profound entanglement with the forces of nature and the ferocious North Atlantic have created a place of unique stories and traditions. Located as it is on the outside edge of the North American continent, it is not surprising that the Flat Earth Society considers Fogo Island to be one of the four corners of the earth.
Fogo Island is one of the few
places on earth where you can see
the full spectrum of the magma
Fogo Island’s 420-million-year-old geologic history is in evidence everywhere and includes stunning and fascinating contortions of rock formed by ice, fire, and sea. For geology enthusiasts, it is one of the few places on earth where you can see the full spectrum of the magma chamber exposed – and for much of the year there is a geologist-in-residence on the island to guide you to the secrets the rocks hold.
The geological story of Fogo Island and the neighbouring Change Islands begins 420 million years ago in a time geologists call the Silurian Period of the Paleozoic Era. At that time, the ancient continent of Gondwana, which included Africa and South America, had started to collide with the North American Continent, Laurentia, to form the Appalachian Mountain Belt along the eastern margin of North America. As the two large continents of Gondwana and Laurentia started to collide in the late Silurian Period, melting within the Earth’s mantle resulted in the creation of hot molten magma which rose into the earth’s crust forming large magma chambers.
As this hot magma continued its rise to the earth’s surface, volcanoes formed and erupted on top of the sedimentary basin with massive and destructive forces. The magma also intruded into the sedimentary basin, resulting in the destruction, consumption, and metamorphism of the sedimentary rocks. The magma chamber which remained below the surface eventually cooled, forming igneous rocks such as granite and gabbro.
During the final formation of the Appalachian Mountain Belt, all of the key geological components resulting from the continental collision including the Sedimentary rocks, the Volcanic rocks, and the Intrusive igneous rocks became tilted, faulted, folded and uplifted by the tectonic forces resulting from continental collision. This was followed by 400 million years of erosion to expose all these rocks at or near the surface of the earth in the distribution pattern which we observe on Fogo Island today.
The Geology At The Edge Residency Programme was established to add to the body of geologic knowledge on and about Fogo Island. The rocks know all, and their lessons are of great value in keeping community with the past and in navigating the often stormy waters of modernity.
Our English and Irish ancestors
were self-reliant cod fishing people
who made their living on the
tumultuous North Atlantic.
Arguably the most important of the species that call Fogo Island’s maritime climate home is North Atlantic cod (Gadus Morhua), which has been the backbone of Fogo Island’s economy and culture for centuries. Our ancestors came for the cod and they stayed for the cod: Fogo Islanders were inshore cod fishing people who worked together as families to make their living on the often unforgiving North Atlantic.
Fogo Island is located just outside of Notre Dame Bay, one of the oldest venues of European activity in North America. The unique geography of the Bay and the resources it offered proved attractive to fishermen from Europe, and Fogo Island first appeared on early mariners' and explorers' maps of Newfoundland in the sixteenth century.
The area surrounding Notre Dame Bay and the rivers which flow into it encompassed the economic and spiritual heartland of the native Beothuk people. The Beothuk were a hunting and gathering people who came in the wake of the Maritime Archaic and Dorset Eskimo people. Fogo Island was a key summer fishing and hunting station for the Beothuk people, and they developed a system of informal exchange with visiting French, English, and Irish fishers in the neighboring Notre Dame Bay. As European settlement increased, the Beothuk were increasingly denied access to vital resources as they competed with European furriers and trappers. The last known Beothuk, Shanawdithit, died of tuberculosis in St. John’s in 1829.
Fogo Island’s first European settlers were English Protestants from Devon and Dorset and Catholics from Southeast Ireland. The settled in their own isolated but strong communities and supported their families by sealing and fishing. For centuries, Fogo Island was a non-capital-accumulating society: Islanders fished together as families and were fiercely independent and largely disconnected from the outside world. Indeed, Fogo Island had no town council to speak of until the 1970s, and churches were the primary social institutions. Settlers brought with them their respective dialects from Southwest England and Ireland, the remnants of which remain audible to this day in the distinctive accents of Fogo Islanders.
Fogo Island’s geographical isolation led to the development of a society of master builders, recyclers, and innovators. Today’s Fogo Islanders remain entangled with the natural world, constantly devising solutions to the challenges of Island living on the North Atlantic. Following the 1992 moratorium on cod, Fogo Islanders have adapted to the midshore fishery and fish for a greater number of species, including crab, shrimp, and turbot. The fabric of family and community remains tightly woven as contemporary Fogo Islanders continue to identify closely with their history as people of the sea who are deeply sensitive to nature’s gentlest and fiercest gestures.
Fogo Island and Change Islands
are outport communities.
"Newfoundlanders call these miniscule villages ‘outports,’ which gives them an aft air of edge-of-the-known."—The New York Times Magazine
In Newfoundland, small coastal settlements are referred to as “outports.” Fogo Island and Change Islands are among Newfoundland’s oldest outport communities. They are not towns, nor are they hamlets or villages; they are, in the unique language that has developed in this place over the centuries, outports. In the words of Newfoundlander Mr. Coaker: “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.”
Outports have been under pressure since Newfoundland became a province of Canada in 1949. Soon after joining Canada, the provincial and federal governments announced plans to centralize Newfoundland’s population. Outports were seen as offering few job opportunities, and three major resettlement initiatives were launched in the 1950s and 1960s which ultimately displaced approximately 30,000 people and lead to the demise of 300 small outport communities. Ever the resourceful people, Newfoundlanders often chose not to abandon their houses, instead launching them down to the shoreline and floating them on drums to their new communities.
Fogo Islanders resisted resettlement by cooperating to secure a resilient future for their island home. In the late 1960s, they were helped along by the Memorial University of Newfoundland’s extension service and the National Film Board, who launched a participatory film initiative on Fogo Island to help facilitate conversations and contribute to positive social change for the Island’s ten distinct communities. NFB filmmaker Colin Low filmed everyday life and people in Fogo Island’s various communities, producing 27 short films which he then publically screened on the Island with the goal of demonstrating that the Island’s people were united in many ways despite divides along religious and community lines. This methodology became known as The Fogo Process and continues to be employed in other communities around the world to this day.
The efforts of people involved in the Fogo Island Improvement Committee and the Fogo Process in the late 1960’s gave rise to the formation of a fishing Co-op which helped Fogo Islanders hold on to their place, their home. However, outport communities remain under pressure today as the realities of globalization, industrialization, and virtualization continue to bear down on rural places. Continued efforts and vigilance are needed to allow rural and outport communities to thrive as integral parts of our human history and culture.
Each of our seven seasons
provides a different perspective
for getting to know us,
our island, and perhaps yourself.
Claiming there are seven seasons is a bold statement. However, there are indeed seven seasons on Fogo Island and each one delights the senses. Each of our seven seasons provides a different perspective for getting to know us, our island, and perhaps yourself. Our seasons consist of warm summers, snowy winters, a spectacular ice season, hopeful spring, trap berth season, the world’s best berry picking in the early fall, and a stormy and emotional late autumn.
Our winters are harsh yet forgiving, characterized by blustery winds, fast-moving snow, and cozy days spent by the wood stove in the company of friends and family. Ice season arrives with March bringing the pack ice: multi-year ice delivered to our doorstep by the swift Labrador Current. Ice season offers sunny days and still-frozen ponds that lend themselves to criss-crossing the Island’s interior via snowmobile.
Spring brings whales and icebergs to our shores and eventually gives way to June’s trap berth season, a dynamic season that belongs neither to spring nor summer and represents the beginning of the traditional cod fishery. Our warm summers see the Island touched by gentle breezes and blanketed in wildflowers. On Fogo Island, fall is berry season. The Island is home to dozens of varieties of edible berries which quite literally carpet our barrens and bogs from late August to October. Berry season is followed by the late fall season, a temperamental season which oversees the Island preparing to once again welcome the snow and ice of winter. Late fall lends itself well to reading, writing, and reflection.
Whichever season you choose to visit in, there are always a myriad of things to do and see from skating and ice fishing to fishing and hiking. You will find that your curiosity may get the best of you; after experiencing one of our seven distinct seasons, you will be itching to get to know the rest.
There is no stronger definition,
no stronger attachment or symbolism,
than Newfoundland and Labrador
with Atlantic cod.
The cod holds a mythic place in Newfoundland culture. The following excerpt from George Rose’s book Cod, The Ecological History or the North Atlantic Fisheries says it best:
“There are places and species that have become inextricably linked in human history and in the human mind have taken on mythic proportions. This is not to say that these same species occur nowhere else, or that they are the most abundant or important, although they may be. But somehow the animal comes to symbolize and define the place. In this way, the wildebeest symbolizes the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania, the polar bear the Arctic, finches the Galapagos Islands, the panda China, and wild salmon the northern regions of the Pacific Ocean. But there is no stronger definition, no stronger attachment or symbolism, than Newfoundland and Labrador with Atlantic cod.”
For centuries, too many have viewed the oceans as providing vast, endless supplies of resources. In recent decades it has been recognised that the oceans’ resources are not infinite; the dramatic decline in commercial cod stocks attest to that. Decades of international factory overfishing brought the cod to the brink of ecological extinction and led to the declaration of a moratorium on cod fishing in 1992. The moratorium brought drastic changes to Fogo Island’s fishery, which has since adapted to fishing for different species including crab, shrimp, and turbot. The good news? The cod are making a promising come back and human beings have been given the chance to start over in our relationship with this mighty fish. The challenge remains to forge a more holistic balance between the business of fish, human need, and the health of our oceans and ocean species.
“Every year, half of Greenland breaks off
and comes down on top of us”
PETER DECKER, FISHERMAN AND FOGO ISLANDER
Fogo Island is located in an area often colloquially referred to as “Iceberg Alley” due to the numerous icebergs that traverse the North Atlantic waters between Greenland and Newfoundland. According to Stephen Bruneau’s Field Guide to Icebergs of Newfoundland and Labrador, the majority of North Atlantic icebergs come from approximately 100 iceberg-producing glaciers along the coast of Greenland. The icebergs seen from the coastal regions of Newfoundland, including from Fogo Island, are carried south by the powerful Labrador Current. The quantity of icebergs visiting Fogo Island changes from year to year and they don’t exactly operate on a schedule, but you can usually spot them dotting our coastal waters between mid May and June.
Iceberg hunters wishing to track the movements of these migrating monoliths may visit: icebergfinder.com for live iceberg updates.
Fogo Island plays host to countless species that swim our ocean waters and wander our barrens.
Fogo Island’s temperate maritime climate is home to countless species of flora and fauna that have made their home in our rugged and bountiful terrain. Birds circle the skies: puffins, razorbills, bull birds, snowbirds, evening grosbeaks, king eiders, harlequin ducks, white winged scoters, and gannets just to name a few. Those who venture to Little Fogo Islands will see hundreds of puffins nesting in the hills and bobbing in the water off of this tiny archipelago. Caribou were placed on the Island in the mid-twentieth century and continue to roam and thrive. You’ll spot them all over the Island munching on caribou moss and causing the closest thing Fogo Island has to a “traffic jam” when crossing the road. The Island also features the regular Canadian menagerie, including wily foxes and bustling beavers.
Pods of whales visit us in the summer, their breaching backs and tails easily spotted from the windows of the Inn. Our waters are also teeming with fish, including the humble codfish on which Fogo Islanders have based their economy and culture for centuries. The Island’s ponds are filled with trout, offering the opportunity to try your hand at ice fishing during the winter and traditional pond fishing in the summer months.
The only way to truly know Fogo Island
is to explore it by foot.
Walk along ancient footpaths steeped in history, hike jagged cliffs to one of the four corners of the earth, and follow animal tracks into an untamed wilderness. With over 200 km of paths, routes, and trails, Fogo Island is a destination for hikers and walkers that sometimes feels like another world.
Fogo Island’s footpaths are historical trails used by man and beast alike. Animals such as caribou and foxes have traced their way through the Island’s barrens and bogs, leaving behind trails both wide and barely detectable. Follow ancient footpaths foraged by courting couples visiting one another in neighbouring communities and feel the history under your feet.
Most of Fogo Island is a commons to explore. Wander the hills picking berries, or hike the coastline and spot whales and icebergs in the distance. Discover sites of long-lost communities and their often emotional stories. Explore abandoned outports where people made a life at the absolute edge of human survival. Wander around unfathomably old glacier-scraped rocks. Breathe air as pure as any you’ll find on earth. Put your head to pillow at the end of the day with that old satisfaction of a rest well earned.
There are 14 easily accessible trails on Fogo Island. For those who want to venture further, our naturalists, geologists-in-residence, and community hosts can guide you.
View PDF of Fogo Island trails map.
Summer brings a bounty of beautiful
wildflowers followed by delicious
berries in the autumn months.
Many imagine Newfoundland as a barren, ice-covered mass of rock. But summer does visit Newfoundland, and it brings a bounty of beautiful wildflowers followed by delicious berries in the fall months. Fogo Island plays host to a wide variety of flora that thrive in our mineral-rich soil. Coniferous plants including juniper and spruce coincide with woods such as maple and birch. Wildflowers are plenty and include blue-flag irises, Canadian mayflower, pond lilies, orchids, goldenrod, asters, violets, and Newfoundland’s provincial flower, the stunning pitcher plant.
Berries follow the wildflowers and carpet the Island from late summer into the fall. Just a few short minutes of careful picking will easily yield handfuls of blueberries, raspberries, bakeapples, crowberries, or partridgeberries. Along the way, spot wild mushrooms and beautiful lichens: mosses and algae that cooperate to exist together on coastal rocks.