There’s this Newfoundland folk song we heard growing up called I’se the B’y*. It’s a really fun song and I love it. So today, a little bit of Newfoundland!
There are four towns mentioned in I’se the B’y: Fogo, Twillingate, Moreton’s Harbour and Bonavista. All four towns are along the north coast of Newfoundland and were cod towns up until the 1992 moratorium** and have a long fishing history.
Moving west to east:
Moreton’s Harbour: The most information I can find on Moreton’s Harbour is that it is located on New World Island and appears in the chorus of I’se the B’y which is not new information. ***
Twillingate: Originally settled by Maritime Archaic people as far back as 1500 BC, then the Beothuk people between 1650 – 1720, Twillingate is apparently “the iceberg capital of the world.” (Whether that’s true or just an attempt to draw tourists, go look at this website and check out the first picture on the right hand sidebar. It’s pretty stellar! Back? Good.) Twillingate is located on Twillingate Island in Notre Dame Bay and is home to 2500 residents. Since the collapse of the cod fishery, it is largely reliant on tourism, the crab and lobster fisheries and the seal hunt. The area was fished by the French as far back as the 1500s (in fact Twillingate is specifically mentioned in the 1713 Treaty of Utrect which allowed the French to continue fishing the French Shore despite the land falling to Great Britain) who named the island Toulinguet, which was later anglicized to Twillingate, but the first European settlers were Englishmen who arrived sometime around 1700. By 1738 there were 12 families living in Twillingate.****
Fogo: Located on Fogo Island, Fogo is the largest of 11 settlements on the island and home to 750 residents. The town was settled by English and Irish fishermen sometime in the 1780s, but had been a seasonal home to French fishermen from the 1720s. The most popular theory about the island (and town’s) name is that it was named by Portuguese fishermen who called it “Fire (fogo) Island”.*****
Bonavista: The easternmost terminus of the French shore, Bonavista was first discovered by Europeans when John Cabot landed in 1497. As with the other three towns in this post, the waters off Bonavista were fished by the French, Spanish, Portuguese and English. In 1696, the French raided the settlement at Bonavista in an attempt to gain control of the settlement, (politically, a bright move because it would have cut off more western points like Fogo, Twillingate and Moreton’s Harbour from English/Irish settlement), but were held off by about 300 men. During the boom years of the fishing industry in the late 19th and early 20th centurieis, the Bonavista peninsula was home to 20,000 residents and was a major commercial centre with several processing factories. Currently, the town of Bonavista boasts a population of about 3,800 and is one of the handful of towns in Newfoundland the retains a fish plant.******
A quick note on the Treaty of Utrect: It was the ratification of the Treaty of Utrect and subsequent underlying tensions between the French and English that precipitated Le Grand Derangement (aka the Exile of the Acadians) in the mid-1700s.
A quick note on the songs of Newfoundland: Off the top of my head, I can think of at least one other Newfoundland folk song that mentions Bonavista and one that mentions Twillingate. Additionally, of the songs I know — many of them because one of my favourite bands of all time, Great Big Sea, are Newfoundlanders — places in Newfoundland made reference to include, St. John’s, Cape Freels, Fortune, Tickle Cove, Greenspond, Marasheen, Toslow, Valen, Oderin, Presque, Fox Hole, Bruley, Harbour Grace, Harbour LeCou and Torbay. The French Shore is actually the subject of an entire song. That’s off the top of my head…there are likely five times that in real life.
**For a very interesting read on the cod fishery in Newfoundland and the economic impact of the moratorium, read Myron Arms’ Servants of the Fish.
******Information on Bonavista can be found here.