Links of interest for

Canada : Fogo & Ramea Islands


With an area of 108,860 km2, Newfoundland is Canada’s fourth largest island and the most populous part of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  The provincial capital, St.John’s, is located on the southeastern coast of the island and Cape Spear, just south of the capital, is arguably Northern America’s easternmost point. Newfoundland is separated from the Labrador Peninsula by the Strait of Belle Isle and from Cape Breton Island by the Cabot Strait. It blocks the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River, creating the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the world's largest estuary. Newfoundland's nearest neighbour is the French overseas community of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.

Dating to around the year 1000, L’Anse aux Meadows  is an archaeological site on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland. It remains the only widely accepted instance of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact and is notable for its possible connection with the attempted colony of Vinland established by the Icelandic explorer Leif Erikson around the same time period or, more broadly, with Norse exploration of the Americas. Newfoundland was later visited by John Cabot, working under contract to King Henry VII of England on his expedition from Bristol in 1497. This landing is considered the initial foundation of the British Empire - a fact solidified on August 5, 1583, when Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed Newfoundland as England's first overseas colony under Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth I of England. According to 2006 official Census Canada statistics, 57% of responding Newfoundland and Labradorians claim British Isles ancestry, with 43.2% claiming at least one English parent, 21.5% at least one Irish parent, and 7% at least one parent of Scottish origin. Additionally 6.1% claimed at least one parent of French ancestry. The island's total population as of the 2006 census was 479,105

For purposes of this case study we are going to concentrate on the Ramea Islands  just off the south coast of Newfoundland and Fogo Island  that lies off the northeast coast. In the early 19th century, settlers formed several small independent communities on the Ramea Islands. In the early 1940s, all inhabitants moved to Northwest Island and formed the town of Ramea, which was incorporated in 1951. The location provided an excellent harbour and was strategic for exploiting the East Coast fishery. In the mid to late 1800s John Penney & Sons developed a salt fish operation, which rapidly grew into fresh fish processing with deep-sea trawlers. This became the basis for the town's economy. Since the cod moratorium of 1992 and the closure of the fish processing plant, this isolated community has struggled to survive, having declined to about 50% of its peak population of 1,120 in the 1970s. Nevertheless, Ramea has been working tirelessly towards building a diversified economy and attracting new industry. A fishing industry cooperative of about 120 members was formed, who raised funds and had the plant refurbished. The plant was sold to a private company and reopened briefly in 2008 for whelk processing but has been closed ever since. Other initiatives have started including seaweed harvesting and processing, as well as mussel farming, but none have developed into long-term businesses.

Fogo Island is about 25 km long and 14 km wide making it the largest of the offshore islands of Newfoundland with a population of 2,706 people in the 2006 census. It is also one of the oldest named features on the coast of Newfoundland. On French maps of the 16th to 18th centuries the island is referred to as Ile des Fougues. The island may have been first named by Portugese 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. Today, there are 11 distinct communities including the Town of Fogo, Joe Batt’s Arm  and Tilting.

Tilting Harbour 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. 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 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 when the Beothuk became extinct.

Fogo Island, like most of the Newfoundland outports, was built upon the fishery. Until the widespread depletion of fish stocks in the 1990s, cod was king. Fishing has always been a hard life. Before Confederation with Canada, the mercantile classes of St John’s 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 harvest various species of seafood (crab, shrimp, sea cucumber, turbot, caplin, cod, herring and mackerel) and remains an international force in markets globally. A fleet of 30 long liners and many small inshore vessels supply quality raw material daily to three modern processing plants. The Co-op has its own laboratory, welding shop and a marine services centre complete with a fishing supplies outlet.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

Power to Fogo Island is supplied by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro  via a submarine cable distribution system that was upgraded in 2009, so wind generated energy has never been a serious option. However, in 2004 Ramea was chosen by CANMET Energy Technology Centre at Natural Resources Canada in Ottawa for the site of Canada’s first Wind-Diesel Integrated Control System demonstration project. The objective was to demonstrate such a system could be used to displace diesel power generation by introducing wind to the island’s grid and to show significant energy efficiency and reliability for northern, remote or isolated locations. Six 65 kW wind turbines were installed that generated around 1 million kWh electricity over twelve months. Diesel fuel savings of 10% were made that offset producing approximately 750 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Ramea was then selected as the pilot site for a Wind-Hydrogen-Diesel energy project in 2007. This $12 million enterprise, led by Nalcor Energy and mainly funded by the provincial and federal government, began running in 2012 and will undergo three years of testing. Three larger wind turbines were added to the existing six on the island. Now when there’s too much wind power, it will be used to produce hydrogen through water electrolysis. The hydrogen gas will then be stored in tanks and tapped when wind energy is not creating enough power for the community. A hydrogen converter generator will convert the stored hydrogen to electricity, producing much fewer greenhouse gas emissions than diesel.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

Household garbage on Ramea is collected on a weekly basis and incinerated on the island. However, because of the harmful carcinogenic pollutants released through this disposal method, Western Regional Waste Management Authority  is phasing out waste combustion. Instead, a compactor truck will pick up waste and transport it to a new landfill in central Newfoundland. This arrangement has resulted in local controversy. During the winter months, the compactor truck needs to be stored in a heated building, which is not available in Ramea and would be costly to construct. In addition, trucking garbage on the ferry and across the province is considered both expensive and not eco-friendly.

Solid waste collection and disposal services on Fogo Island are provided by Central Newfoundland Waste Management Authority  under a service agreement. The Authority operates a waste transfer station where all waste from Fogo and Change Islands is collected and then trucked to a landfill site off the island. The Town of Fogo provides curb-side residential garbage collection on a weekly basis. Non-residential property owners are responsible for delivery of their own waste to the transfer station. There is also a green depot for return of beverage containers. A new material recovery facility is due for completion in 2013 and residents will be required to separate all waste by using green and blue bags. A compost facility will be available in 2014.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

Crucial to the survival of early settlers to the islands, root crops are still grown by some as a traditional hobbyist activity and to provide family members with fresh, local product. An agricultural cooperative was formed recently on Fogo Island because of increased interest in growing vegetables along with herbs. It offers feed and seed to potential farmers, and holds a weekly farmers’ market. There is also potential for a small fruit industry on Fogo that could be sustained through local demand and by supplying jams and jellies. Strawberries and raspberries for which there is a high demand, fall into this category, as do blueberries, bakeapples, partridgeberries, crowberries and cranberries although the last do require significant financial investment.


From Ramea there is a daily ferry service  to Burgeo provided by the M.V. Gallipoli, a 99-passenger, 18 vehicle car ferry. The journey takes 1 hour and 20 minutes. Twice weekly, the boat travels to Grey River to accommodate residents of that community. The weekend schedule will differ during summer and winter months to oblige those traveling year-round, and to ensure optimum travel opportunities. Burgeo itself is reached by Route 480, which is more commonly known as the "Caribou Trail". This road connects to the Trans Canada Highway and takes approximately two hours to drive.

In order to reach Fogo most people would fly into Gander, Newfoundland, rent a car, and then drive 60 or so miles to Farewell to catch the ferry  via the Change Islands  that takes 45 minutes.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

Ramea is a fascinating place to explore although accommodation is limited to the Four Winds Bed & Breakfast  historical home and the Ramea Retreat. A scenic walking trail provides a splendid view of the coastline and leads to the 110-year-old lighthouse.  Walking to the island's highest point on top of Man O'War Hill offers excellent views across to White Bear Bay. This spectacular fjord is home to an excellent salmon river and an abundance of wildlife, including moose, caribou and black bear. A boat ride along the coast near Ramea can also include visits to the cemeteries of several resettled communities. Sea kayaking tours  around the archipelago are also popular. Other recreational facilities include a ball field, an outdoor multi-purpose rink and an outdoor swimming pool, which is a major summer attraction. Every year the islands plays host to a traditional music festival on the second weekend of August.

The Ramea Heritage Centre contains the Senior Puffin Museum which celebrates the 400-year history of Ramea and its surrounding islands. Exhibits showcase occupational history including mercantile artifacts such as business ledgers and weights, coopering, cobbling, carpentry, and the inshore fishery - including examples of early Acadia gas engines. A variety of domestic artifacts are also displayed including sewing machines and a variety of air organs. A selection of model boats and schooners built by community members are also displayed, as well as a variety of photos of the townspeople and community itself.

Bleak House  on Fogo, built around 1816 for John Slate of Poole, England, was the principle house of the fish merchant Henry J. Earle and family from 1897-1967. It was the first structure to be restored through the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador's restoration program and has been open to the public since 1988. It contains many original items belonging to the Earle family and other artifacts depicting the heritage of the island. Another heritage property, Quintal House  has been recently renovated and transformed into a three room B&B but other interesting contemporary accommodation is available – see IDP section.

The town of Fogo is home to the Brimstone Head Folk Festival and attracts people from all over Newfoundland every year in early August. The Fogo Island Accordion Group,  which started up in the 1990s was recognized by various communities throughout  the province not only for their talent, but their motto 'keeping tradition alive' and traveling the country, coast to coast, bringing Newfoundland music to many provinces as well as recording 5+ CD's and 3 videos. The World’s End Theatre Company regularly produce original performances that showcase the history, culture and experiences of Fogo Island.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

The coastal and marine region around the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is home to a number of areas that are of particular interest from an ecological perspective and this document provides comprehensive descriptions of 73 sites. Some 60 km east of Fogo Island is Funk Island Ecological Reserve, with more than one million common murres, numbers that make it the largest such colony in the western North Atlantic. The Ramea Islands are an important stopover for many migratory birds and home to a variety of seabirds including two puffin colonies. The Protected Areas Association and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society both aim to promote the systematic establishment of new terrestrial and marine protected areas and to foster effective management of existing protected areas in Newfoundland and Labrador by working in conjunction with the Department of Environment and Conservation.

Integrated Development Planning

In the late 1960s, Fogo island played a key role in the development of what came to be known as the Fogo Process, a model for participatory 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. Through a series of experiments in the political uses of interactive film and video Fogo islanders resisted what seemed to be an otherwise unstoppable movement toward resettlement of their community and an imposed, top-down ‘modernisation’ of its way of life. Villagers on Fogo eventually resisted government plans to resettle them and formed a cooperative to run their fish plant.

In July 2008 the Fogo Island-Change Islands Socio-Economic Strategic Plan was published as response to the numerous challenges the community was facing, such as the decline of the fishing industry, an increase in out-migration, a decreasing birth rate, and an ageing population. To serve as a useful development tool this strategic plan clearly outlines the collective goals and objectives of the community stakeholders and action steps to aid in the implementation process. One islander who fully embraced the plan was Zita Cobb, who left Fogo in 1979, and returned a multimillionaire in 2006 after helping California-based JDS Uniphase become a world leader in fibre-optics during the high-tech boom. Cobb and her brother established the Shorefast Foundation with the idea of revitalising the community by weaving together the fundamental components of Fogo’s heritage – fishing, craftmanship, nature and tourism. Shorefast put $6m into the project, the federal and provincial governments $5m each.

Firstly, Shorefast (named after a tether that anchors a cod trap to the shore) planned to put Fogo on the map as an international art destination and hired Newfoundland-born, Norway-based architect Todd Saunders to design a series of studios where visiting artists could embark on projects and collaborate with local artisans. To date, six have been built and are completely off grid. Scattered over the island, these ultra-modern constructs are jarring and dramatic blades of volcanic stone built on rock, perched seemingly precariously over the water. While radically different in appearance from Fogo’s weather-beaten clapboard houses, in subtle, abstract ways they have a relationship with them. Both are built on stilts over the water and seem to cling to the shore like their life depends on it. In different communities around the island visiting artists live in renovated traditional salt-box houses and work in the nearby new modern studios specially built and designed for them with their thick, highly insulated walls and solar panels. Elisabet Gunnarsdottir, an Icelander hired by Cobb to run the artist-in-residency programme led by the Fogo Islands Arts Corporation says that Shorefast is guided by the principles of geotourism.

Secondly, is the Fogo Island Inn that will open in June 2012. This five-star modernist building, also designed by Saunders, will have 29 oceanfront rooms, sauna and spa facility, conference centre, heritage library, art gallery and e-cinema system. The inn will be filled with handmade items that reflect the character of Fogo. For example, guests will wake up in beds covered in quilts befitting the island’s long tradition of community quilters. At $400 a night the inn is targeting a wealthy, niche clientele attracted by local culinary delights featuring on the restaurant menu and Cobb says all profits will be reinvested into the community.

Lastly, microfinance loans given by the Shorefast Foundation have enabled new businesses to spring up like Nicole’s Café that in turn support the Fogo Island Partridgeberry Harvest Festival, yet another Shorefast initiative. The older generation has also found alternative ways to make a living, allaying fears that new development would wipe out a traditional way of life. Veteran husband-and-wife fishing team Aubrey and Marie Payne were allocated cod pots as part of a pilot program. The lightweight structures can keep the catch alive for up to a week until it’s retrieved. Since cod pots don’t wastefully trap every other sea creature in the vicinity, as trawling methods do, the hope is that using them will eventually allow local waters to recover from overfishing. Fisherman Aidan Penton, 55, used to fulfill his catch quota in a mere four trips out. Now he’s never short of work. Since Shorefast launched a rowing competition – The Great Fogo Island Punt Race to There and Back - Penton has been busy making wooden tags for competitors, building custom wooden boats and teaching traditional boat-making skills at the local high school.

It is open to conjecture whether all Fogo residents wish to become part of a cutting-edge international art scene. Whilst more tourists are visiting the island mixed reactions from locals have been reported. Some would have preferred Cobb to have built a swimming pool as there’s no place for children to learn how to swim. Others complain that the price of housing has already gone up considerably. The ferry operates about six times a day and runs on a first-come, first served basis. It can’t handle the amount of people that are now travelling back and forth resulting in the new phenomenon of a rush hour. Residents have to leave a lot earlier in the morning and maybe send vehicles across the night before to try to get off the island for medical appointments or shopping. These problems have been compounded with recent damage to the main old ferry and a replacement new vessel is not expected to come into service until 2016.

In 2006 the federal and provincial governments signed the Canada Newfoundland and Labrador Agreement on the Transfer of Federal Gas Tax Revenues. This Gas Tax Agreement included a commitment to develop Integrated Community Sustainability Plans (ICSP) at the local level. Ramea published their ICSP in 2010 in order to secure continued access to its allocation of funds under the Gas Tax Agreement. While there could be potential employment for Ramea residents if oil off the southwest coast is developed, or if mining operations were established on the mainland, Ramea cannot sit back and wait for big business development in the area. Instead it will need to focus efforts on small-scale businesses that creatively build on the island’s strengths and can flourish into successful niche markets. Their ICSP produced nine main action points and an “ideas bank” positively brimming with suggestions for enterprise and innovation.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador believes that climate change is one of the greatest long-term challenges facing the planet and is committed to fulfilling the province’s potential to be a global leader in this area. In 2009, it established the Office of Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Emissions Trading (CCEEET),  with lead responsibility for strategy and policy development reporting directly to the Premier. In August 2011, the Government released Charting Our Course: Climate Change Action Plan 2011 and Moving Forward: Energy Efficiency Action Plan 2011.

The Conservation Corps of Newfoundland and Labrador became the host organisation for the Climate Change Education Centre in 2002 providing public education and outreach that covers a wide scope of climate change related information. The Centre has presented to over 11,000 teenagers through schools and youth groups; provided climate change awareness sessions and curriculum training for over 500 teachers; provided over 300 public information sessions on climate change and energy efficiency, reaching more than 25,000 people; held climate change capacity building workshops for more than 50 NGOs; and presented to industry.