For more than 300 years the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have used wooden boats for industry, travel and recreation for time out of memory. These boats played an essential role in making a living in a marine environment where fishing was not only a way of life but often the only means for survival. Before the development of roads, traveling by water was the only way to move from one community to another. In the thousands of bays and coves, all sizes and designs of boats took people to the fishing grounds, to the cottage hospitals, to the homes of friends and relatives and to the larger mercantile centres. Life lived between wind and water, was dependent on these wooden boats of Newfoundland and Labrador’s outports.
These boats were built in every coastal region of the province using methods handed down from generation to generation. The skills of these master boat builders were well known and greatly admired and others were eager to learn the methods to ensure that their enterprises were developed and strengthened. As a result, the boat building practices influenced a community’s social, economic and natural environments. Those skills and abilities have been lost to many communities in recent decades. Modern construction materials and techniques, the collapse of the inshore fishery, the decline in rural communities and the out-migration of younger generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have all contributed to an erosion of traditional wooden boat building skills. As a result, there are very few communities today that are recognized for maintaining that traditional boat building heritage.
Fogo Island and Change Islands are well known for their fine boat building techniques and today those traditional methods and skills are being revived and preserved. The Shorefast Foundation is currently creating a heritage collection of wooden boats. It is involved in traditional boat building projects with experienced builders on both Fogo Island and Change Islands. The foundation has also begun a ground-breaking boat building program with students and staff at the local high school and it is in the process of acquiring some older punts that will be included in the heritage collection.
These boats will be available for the general public to view and learn about the traditional building methods. Allowing residents and visitors to use the collection will bring our maritime history alive through direct experience so our punt heritage can be enjoyed, preserved and passed along to future generations.
The Great Fogo Island Punt Race will create a greater awareness of this wooden boat heritage, help preserve the traditional skills and methods, and promote the pride, appreciation and enjoyment of the great wooden boats of Fogo Island and Change Islands. These boats embody the very nature of our people; ingenious, creative, adaptable, resourceful and hard working.
As with any endeavour boatbuilding of Fogo and Change Islands have developed its own very unique terminology. You may click here to see a sample list of boatbuilding terms that are unique to our corner of the world.