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Community History

Notre Dame Bay ~ Fogo / Twillingate District

Fogo Island Communities

Fogo | Wild Cove | Sandy Cove & Cape Cove | Barr'd Islands

The following articles were published in "Decks Awash Magazine" and permission granted to Maureen Thoms to use them at the NL GenWeb Fogo District website in April 2001.
The information was transcribed by MAUREEN THOMS, 2001. While I have endeavored to be as correct as humanly possible, there may be typographical errors.


Fogo is surrounded by rocky headlands and protected by a string of islands and shoals which make navigation difficult in fog and rough weather. Seal Cove to the west provides an alternative anchorage and shelter, with a deeper harbour. It is much easier to navigate than Fogo Harbour, but both are frozen over from January to April. Northeast winds often block the harbour with ice until late May. Just how difficult it is to enter Fogo Harbour can be gauged by the detailed directions to mariners provided by su rveyor Thomas SMITH in 1826:

"This harbour is very secure with good anchorage in any part above the harbour rock. It has two tides and can be entered with any wind but from south to south-west. To enter the eastern tickle border on Ragg's Island and keep the extreme of Fogo Head nearly open off Lane's Island until Gappy's Island opens off Simms Island. You will then clear the Shoals off Pilly's Point. To avoid the harbour rock bring Slade and Cox's flag staff on with the eastern chimney of their dwelling house."

Brimstone (Fogo) Head is such a prominent landmark that it was claimed as one of the four corners of the earth by the Flat Earth Society. Believers claimed that you were gone if you jumped off the side of Brimstone Head. There is also a story that a piece of lead lowered into a hole on Brimstone Head will get burnt off. The story continues that anyone trying the experiment will always return to Fogo to die. The headland also lends its name to the annual festival.

Fogo was first settled in 1697 when poor shore fishery forced Newfoundland fishermen north. The EARLE family came from Poole, Dorset, and John EARLE died at Fogo, November 1, 1678. Long before this , it was used by the Beothuks and as a summer fishing station by French, Spanish and Portuguese fishermen. Thomas FARRELL found the tomb of a Beothuk Indian at Fogo in 1887 (reported in the Twillingate Sun November 5, 1887). The body was found at the base of a cliff covered with finely sewn birchbark. The tomb wa s covered with large flagstones resting on its smooth walls. This discovery indicated Beothuks had at least frequented the area some time before this.

Despite its being on the French Shore, Fogo was settled by the English, and there was already a large year-round population by 1728, when a census listed 215 people (about half servants) in summer and a winter population of 143. The 21 families produced 19,000 quintals of fish, seal oil worth $220 and furs worth $550. Early residents came from the English West Country, but several Bonavista families moved to Fogo in 1732. By 1738, Fogo had a resident population of 200 plus 220 migratory fishermen. Irishmen from Waterford arrived by 1750, some moving to Tilting.

The community grew to a point where it became the victim of French military and American privateers in the 1750's-1770's. A naval officer was sent to recruit a militia in 1771 and six guns were placed to defend the harbour. Settlement increased after 1783, when Slade and Company Limited established their business.

In 1803 the population was 450, and by 1836, it had grown to 588. An influx of Conception Bay fishermen in the 1830's and 1840's added several smaller settlements and increased Fogo's population to as high as 976 by 1869.

The Church of England was active on Fogo Island in the 1700's, but church records do not exist before 1841 because they were sent to the mainland. Records for St. Andrew's at Fogo indicate a christening in 1841: Thomas and Emma, children of Thomas and Sarah EASTON. The first marriage ceremony recorded by St. Andrews was in 1850. John SLADE died in 1847 and was buried in the cemetery, where other headstones include those of BANKS, BENNETT, BOONE, BROWN, COATES, HODGES, JACKSON, NIPPARD, RANDELL, SIMMS, SKINN ER, TIZZARD, and WATERMAN. The most common family names listed by Lovell in 1871 were DOWNER, DWYER, FARRELL, LUDLOW, OAKE, LEYTE, PICKETT, PAINE, RANDELL, TORRVILL, and WATERMAN.

The Wesleyan Church was established on Fogo Island shortly after its expansion in Conception Bay North. One of the more dramatic advances of Methodism in Newfoundland was reported from Twillingate and Fogo where numbers increased from 45 in 1836 to 1026 in 1884. Missionary preachers visited Fogo during tours of Notre Dame Bay, and special efforts were made to locate any surviving Beothuks without success.

Fogo and Change Islands became a separate mission in 1863 under the Reverend Thomas FOX. The first baptisms reported were in September 1863: Emeline, daughter of Robert and Ann Burt; Mahalla, daughter of Stephen and Maria ABBOTT; Martha, daughter of Elias and Selina MOULAND; William, son of J. and Amy ABBOTT Jane daughter of James and Ann ABBOTT. These were all at the church in Fogo.

The Roman Catholic Church dates from the late 1750's when families arrived from Waterford in Ireland.

Lion's Den, two miles to the west of the harbour, established in 1836, and Eastern Tickle, established in 1857, were abandoned in 1945. Back Cove, Seal Cove and Lock's Cove, established in 1874, and Sargent's Cove, settled in 1891, are all part of Fogo. The total Fogo population in 1874 was 1,158. The Church of England's 710 residents had at least one church and two schools, while the 262 Roman Catholics and 186 Wesleyans each had at least one church and a school. Fogo was a very prosperous community with t wo doctors, seven merchants, 22 mechanics, and 164 fishermen. Two large schooners fished the Labrador, and the inshore fishery landed 7,215 quintals of fish and 1,550 seals. The adjoining communities added 4,820 quintals of fish and 399 seals. Fogo also had 10 factories producing items such as oil clothes and ironwork.

The Directory of Newfoundland, 1877 showed South Islands had 30 planters, North Island 16 and Fogo 18. Many of the families were the same as listed in 1871. Fogo became less important in the Labrador and Notre Dame Bay fisheries later on, but the 1891 census listed 1,133- about half of them in Fogo Harbour. The various communities sent 29 schooners to the Labrador fishery, which brought back 4,600 quintals of fish, while the inshore fishery accounted for 2,515 quintals of fish, 68 barrels od herring, and 20 5 seals. Fogo also had a lobster factory, which employed 22 men and packed 400 cases. Butter and wool production was enough to accommodate the growing population.

By 1911, Fogo was divided into Fogo North, with a population of 263 in the Church of England and Methodist families and Fogo South, with 532 in the Church of England, Roman Catholic and Methodists families. Fogo South had three churches, Roman Catholic and Methodist schools and a courthouse, while Fogo North had a 120 pupil Church of England school. In addition, Seal Cove, Back Cove, Sargents's Cove, Eastern Tickle, and Lion's Den added a further 422 residents and a 17 pupil Church of England school in East ern Tickle. The Labrador fishery had declined with only two vessels and 800 quintals of fish landed, but the inshore fishery remained important with 7,118 quintals of fish. A lobster factory in Fogo South had just 4 employees and packed 22 cases.

The Methodist Monthly Greeting of March 1924 reported the February 4, 1924 death of the Reverend William Seeley MERCER, a United Church minister who arrived at the Fogo Mission in 1922. " He had spent Sunday at the Seldom-Come-By appointment, and on Monday morning at 10 o'clock undeterred by the storm, he started for his home in Fogo.....After a journey of eight miles in the blinding storm, he reached within a mile of his home and loved ones, and then overcome by the fierce blasts, he was found by a search party, in the pure white snow.....

The main road into Fogo has a signboard for Mercer Memorial Drive at the spot where he died.

Fogo was known for more than just the fishery. Mary Anne DUGGAN (nee CHAFE) was one of the most famous entertainers in Newfoundland from 1907 until the 1930's. Johnny BURKE, who knew a real talent when he saw it, paid her $65 a week (a virtual fortune in those days) to ensure she performed for him. She also sang from the wings during silent movies.

By 1935, Fogo had a population of 1,037, and Lock's Cove, Eastern Tickle and Lion's Den added a further 129. Most fishermen owned dories and motorboats and there were only three schooners operating out of Fogo. The population remained steady as Lewisporte and Twillingate took over some of Fogo's commercial role in the 1940's and 1950's.

The Glencoe and Clarenville operated as coastal boats from May to early January but schooners carried most of the bulkier goods, and there were also small passenger boats to Lewisporte. Freight was unloaded in the fall for transshipment to Barr'd Islands, Joe Batts Arm and Tilting. In winter, mail was brought in by planes landing on a nearby pond. Patrick MILLER, who owned a schooner for coal and general cargo, had a wharf at Little Harbour, where another merchant , John BAKER, also had a wharf.

In 1953 there were 115 fishermen (111 fishing for cod, 17 for salmon and 20 for lobster) with 96 boats, 34 cod traps, 629 lobster traps, 13 salmon nets, 12 herring nets, and a mackerel seine. Caplin, herring and squid were caught for bait. In 1953 the cod catch was estimated at about 5000 quintals with 5000 lbs of salmon, 3,677 lbs of lobster, and 793 seals landed.

There were two fish exporting companies in the 1950's and 1960's, and Newfoundland and Labrador Export Company had a large retail store with 16 year-round employees and 55 in summer. The 150 fishermen from Fogo, Hare Bay, Island Harbour, Stag Harbour and Change Islands supplied it with fish. All fishing supplies came from St. John's.

Fogo Earle Premises
Fogo - Earle Premises

Earle Sons and Company had a cannery, a saltfish operation and a store. Their fishermen were from Fogo, Barr'd Islands, Joe Batts Arm and Tilting. A canning factory opened in 1946 to can caplin for catfood (sold at 12 cents a can in Canada and USA). Partridgeberries, bakeapples and blueberries were all important cash crops. The Newfoundland-Labrador Export Company ceased business in 1958, as did Henry Earle and Sons in 1966. Business failures in the 1960's were high because there was no one to take over wha t were still essentially family businesses.

A cottage hospital promised in 1945 was built in 1952. It had eight beds- one doctor and two nurses were reportedly kept very busy. Lighting at that time was by diesel and gas generators or windchargers.

An idea of what life was like at that time has been provided by one of the more well-known EARLES- Canon George EARLE who was born in Change Islands in 1914 and moved with his family to Fogo in 1928. One of ten children of Fred EARLE, George worked for Earle Sons and Company in Fogo until 1931 when he attended Memorial College and became a teacher. After teaching in White Bay and Fogo Island he studied theology to become a Church of England priest in 1939. He later became provost of Queen's College and reti red in 1979- during this time he wrote " Come Home to Old Newfy" in 1966.

Canon EARLE related in a newspaper article how cold it could get on Fogo Island in fall and how his brother-in-law had to endure a business trip to Fogo in the last week of October in the 1950's: "He nearly froze to death the first night, having been used to central heating in the great city of St. John's. But my father never lit the hall stove till the first of November no matter what the weather was like- it would be a waste of fuel, especially hard coal." Oil was another precious commodity on Fogo Island . As Canon EARLE pointed out: "You always screwed down the lamp if leaving the room for a short time or doused it when no longer needed. Saving as much oil as possible was a rule of life."

The Reverend Ivan JESPERSON arrived as the United Church minister at Fogo in 1968. With his wife Mollie, he set about keeping islanders informed about their communities every month in The Fogo Island Profile.

In 1967, the Fogo Island Shipbuilders and Producers Co-operative was formed with its main office at Joe Batts Arm. The Co-op did, however, build a wharf and shore facilities at Wigwam Point, Fogo, in 1972. In 1971 there were 561 people in Fogo: 85 fishermen, 26 clerks, 12 teachers, 68 laborers. There were 150 houses on the east side of the channel and 120 on the west.

The present St. Andrew's Anglican Church was built in 1910 and includes stained glass windows and some intricate wooden paneling. Our Lady of the Snows Roman Catholic Church is a small green-and-white church with a peaked tower. Its oak pews provide a modern addition to the interior. The schoolhouse next door was built in 1888 and had 47 pupils in the next year. The Gospel Hall arrived quite recently on Fogo Island with its sole church in Fogo. The Reverend John CURRIE of the United Church had a narrow esca pe in December 1977. He was rescued from his car in which he had become trapped after going off the road and breaking through the ice on a pond.

Wild Cove

Wild Cove, which was settled at the same time as Seldom, had a population of 32, all members of the Church of England in 1874. Inshore fishermen landed 250 quintals of fish and 26 seals. By 1891, there were 59 residents. About half the men were already working at lumbering, and the Labrador fishery catch of 500 quintals of fish was three times that of the inshore fishery.

The population had increased to 88 by 1911, and there was a Church of England school with 40 pupils. The inshore fishery landed 245 quintals of fish and 88 barrels of herring, but the one Labrador schooner came back with just 50 quintals of fish.

By 1935, only 51 residents remained, and the community was abandoned in 1945. An old road through the woods leads to Wild Cove, but very little remains of what was a thriving settlement.

Sandy Cove & Cape Cove

While there is no evidence of earlier settlers at Tilting, nearby Sandy Cove with its white sand beach was a Beothuk Camp before white settlement. The first Irish families arrived by 1836, with a further influx in the 1850's, and by 1874, Sandy Cove had 17 residents, all Roman Catholics. The six fishermen landed 280 quintals of fish and 45 seals that year, and produced 262 lbs of butter. In 1891, both fish landings and butter production had dropped to 158 quintals and 262 lbs of butter. The population remai ned the same in 1911 at 22 residents, but fish landed had risen to 210 quintals.

By 1935, when the population was 35, fishing was on the decline, but farm production was substantial with 1,370 gallons of milk and 320 lbs of butter listed for the community. Sandy Cove residents moved to Tilting in 1945.

Also referred to as Cape Fogo, Cape Cove was first settled in the early 1800's by Irish settlers, with Catherine Kennedy listed in 1827. By 1845 there were just three residents involved in the cod fishery and sealing, but the arrival of Irish immigrants increased the Roman Catholic settlement to 33 in four families by 1874, when 17 fishermen landed 200 quintals of cod and farmed 17 acres of land. Families moved from Little Fogo Islands 1889, and the 1891 population was 61. As well as 193 quintals of fish, the 16 fishermen listed landed 19 tierces of salmon. By 1911 the population had dropped to 41, but the catch remained at around 210 quintals.

There were 58 residents by 1935 but the community began to lose its attractiveness. No roads was ever built and the isolation and the decline of the cod and seal fisheries in the 1930's led to abandonment in 1953. The five fishermen among the 37 residents landed 2,400 lbs of salmon in the last year of settlement.

Another small Roman Catholic settlement at Oliver's Cove had 20 residents in 1891, when 214 quintals of fish were landed by nine fishermen. By 1911, there was only one family of five, and the community listed just three residents who later left in 1945 to move to Tilting.

Barr'd Islands

This is the second oldest settlement, dating back to the early 1700's when fishermen from Poole, England and Waterford, Ireland, visited Fogo Island. The name may have come from the long barrier ridge of islands forming the harbour and acting as a breakwater. One island has houses on it and is joined to the main settlement by a small wooden bridge. Settlement was made at Barr'd Islands because it was closer to the northeast coast fishery. Early settlers were from Poole, Dorset, but the first Roman Catholic families were from Waterford, Ireland, arriving in the 1750's.

The first permanent settlers were listed in 1802- Slade and Company ledgers show 11 men fishing there, with three fishing families, those of John CULL, James FORSTER and William PRIMMER. Slade and Company were local merchants until 1830 when fishermen dealth with James Rolls. the population increased from 208 in 1857 to 298 in 1874, when there were 54 Church of England families. Barr'd Islands had a church of England school from the early days, although no children were in the school during the census, and the church of St. John the Evangelist was consecrated in 1853. At least three vessels went sealing from the community, and a total of 450 seals were landed, along with 2,570 quintals of fish. There was also a sawmill in operation with 12,000 board feet of lumber listed in the 1874 census.

The population was up to 403 in 88 families in 1891. A third of the residents were Methodists, while the remainder belonged to the Church of England - both had church in the community and there was one school listed, although none of the 147 children in the community was shown in attandance. The Labrador fishery landed 432 quintals of fish from five schooners, but the community was more dependent on the seal fishery, with 233 seals landed, and the inshore fishery, with 1665 quintals of fish and 88 barrels o f herring reported. Only two cows were listed for the community in 1891, but 300lbs.of butter were produced- suggesting very high production or some hidden livestock. Other listings of 47 sheep, 135 pigs, and 104 fowl were more in keeping with the size of the community.

There was now one merchant in the community after 1883 when Henry Earle and Company of Fogo bought out James Rolls and were merchants for the settlement until 1967. The population remained steady in the first half of the 1900's, although many fishermen moved their families to Birchy Bay and Lewisporte and became involved in logging. There were 453 residents in 108 families in 1911, when the Church of England school had 42 pupils. The 172 fishermen landed 2,672 quintals of fish worth $18,524 - third in value to Joe Batts Arm and Tilting.

The Union Trading Company store was established in 1920 and was still active until early 1980's. Lobster and herring were caught along with cod, but landings had dropped by 1935, when the population was 471 in 103 Anglican and United Church fanilies. Farming was, however, quite important with 2,229 gallons of milk, 55lbs of butter and 1,360 dozen eggs produced. This may have influenced the founding of the Iceflo Co-op Society Limited in 1946. Five years later, the Bardand Consumers Co-op opened and operated for nearly 20 yrs. in 1953, there were 413 inhabitants, 81 of them fishermen with 15 cod traps. Earle Sons and Company and the Co-op Society both had business in Barr'd Islands at that time.

Barr'd Islands
Barr'd Islands by Joshua, Fogo Island Central Academy

In 1966, the population of Barr'd Islands was 274, and it rose slightly to 288 in 1971. By 1976, it was joined with Joe Batts Arm, but it's populaton had decreased to 188 as families moved off Fogo Island. Barr'd Islands had lobster fishermen, small-boat fishermen and longliners, and some lumbering in 1981, when the population was 280.

The Mercer Memorial United Church was built between the communities of Barr'd Islands and Joe Batts Arm in memory of the Reverend William S Mercer who died in a snowstorm in 1924. The church, which took several years to complete and was opened in 1952, is built of stone. A similar Anglican church begun at the same time was not completed. The community of Barr'd Islands consists of houses spread out along the shoreline and separated by gardens and lanes.

© 2001 Maureen Thoms and Stephen Baker