Soul Stirrers #5: Shorefast
Far out on the northeast coast of Canada is a town called Fogo Island. Boasting dramatic landscapes, seven seasons, and a small but mighty population of under three thousand residents, Fogo Island was once a European settlement in the early 18th century where cod fishing served as the main source of sustenance. After two centuries of techniques and traditions passed down between generations of local fishermen, commercial fishing activities swiftly took over in the 1960s and began to decimate the cod population in the surrounding waters of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Given the steep and rapid decline of cod stocks as a result of overfishing, the Canadian government eventually decided to impose a province-wide moratorium in 1992, laying off thousands of people en masse and robbing them of their livelihood. Already struggling to make a living in the face of rapid industrialization, many locals had to leave to find other work on the mainland, while young people moved away if they could and rarely came back. Fogo Island was one such place affected by the fishing ban, and the community is still figuring out how to rebuild to this day.
What gives their story a huge boost of optimism, however, is the establishment of Shorefast in 2006 by siblings and proud Fogo Islanders Zita, Alan, and Anthony Cobb. Shorefast is a registered charity that promotes cultural, economic, and social resilience around the island through a myriad of activities ranging from in-residence programs for visiting artists, geologists, and academics, to providing micro-loans for small business owners, to running a world-class inn that is both a major employer and an economic asset owned by the greater community. Every undertaking is designed with Shorefast’s values and beliefs in mind, then further adapted to address the challenges that are specific and unique to Fogo Island.
Shorefast’s wildly imaginative approach to philanthropy stems from the Cobb siblings’ deep love for (and subsequently, understanding of) the place to which they belong. They are also well aware of the shifting world beyond Fogo Island — climate, technology, politics, trade, culture, all tangled up together — and how the impact of these global issues can overwhelm a small place, just as the fishing industry did in the 60s. How can a rural community keep up with the times and grow without losing its soul and identity? How can we, as human beings of a certain place and time, stand ground against forces beyond our control while maintaining our integrity and sense of spirit? The answer, Shorefast might suggest, can be found in their name:
A shorefast is the line and mooring used to attach a traditional cod trap to the shore. It is a strong symbol of Fogo Island’s cod fishing heritage, and we chose this name because it symbolizes a belief in the importance of holding on to community and culture and in the power of authentic connections between individuals, their communities, culture, and place.