Finding the Links: Structure and Agency on Twillingate and Fogo Islands
Deatra Walsh and Mark Jones
Rural restructuring through increasing local-global linkages, resource depletion and technological change, is a challenge for the environmental, social and economic nature of rural life in Canada. The emergent “new economy” is argued to be post-fordist, global in scale, dominated by information technology and service oriented. Within this context, a “new rural economy” has also taken shape with many of the same characteristics. Because of this shift, the viability of rural communities, which have been largely resource extraction based, is in question. Meanwhile, the dominant political, popular and often academic discourse is, for the most part, one of rural decline.Within this “new economic” context, rural Newfoundland and Labrador is in a state of flux. Resource depletion and changes to Employment Insurance regulations have combined with stunning impact. Between 1994 and 2004, for example, the province’s population fell by 10%; the province’s 0-19 age group fell 42% in the same period.
As rural fishing-based areas located along Newfoundland’s central north coast, Twillingate and Fogo Islands share similar histories. The communities within them have experienced intense environmental, economic and social change and have faced similar challenges, including, most recently, the 1992 Northern Cod Moratorium and subsequent rapid outmigration. One of the most obvious differences in the development of these islands and most salient to the current volume, however, is their connection to mainland Newfoundland. Twillingate Islands are linked to the main island through a series of four causeways, two bridges and several miles of road via New World Island, while Fogo Island is accessible only by ferry.
Both Twillingate and Fogo Islands have served as hubs of economic activity throughout Newfoundland’s history as a fishing colony. They are strategically located on Newfoundland’s central north coast, and have acted as easy access points for local inshore cod and seal fisheries, as well as those on Labrador. Fogo Island was on the main seaway between St John’s and Labrador for fishing schooners and coastal supply steamers. Until the 1930s, eyewitness accounts of Fogo Harbour noted it was as busy as St John’s, the provincial capital to the south. Likewise, Twillingate had grown in 1897 to house 400 fishing boats crowded in its harbours and inlets, as well as 40 sealing vessels.
Concerted efforts to address transportation gaps began in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Newfoundland. The provincial Department of Highways was established in 1958; and the Trans Canada Highway Construction began in the early 1960s and officially opened on July 12, 1966. Costing in the millions and consisting of three causeways, two bridges and several miles of road, the effort to connect New World Island (and later Twillingate Islands) to the rest of the province was considered a monumental task at the time and was referred to as a “great” structure. Prior to causeway development, the New World Island population could only access the main island via ship and ice roads, depending on the season and weather conditions.
The causeway infrastructure opened in 1964, initially with a tolled-ferry service running from New World Island to Twillingate. Ferry landings were constructed on both Twillingate and New World Islands to accommodate the ferry. At the time, the ferry service was touted as part of the “overall plan for linking up New World and Twillingate Islands with the rest of Newfoundland by means of a giant, island-hopping causeway and two bridges”, with the Government commissioning a study in 1965 to estimate the costs of completing the road link. Some seven years later, a final causeway was constructed to replace the ferry. Then Twillingate mayor, John Manuel, was cited as saying that the causeway was a godsend to the people of the islands.