Burgeo has a rich history of nearly 500 years. It is believed by some that the area was discovered by the Portuguese and given the name Virgio; this subsequently over time became Burgeo, possibly a British pronunciation or adaptation. It should be honorably mentioned that before the Europeans came to the area that indigenous peoples such as Dorset Eskimos and Beothuck Indians frequented the many bays of the local archipelago and adjacent mainland. Another native American peoples, the Micmac Indians (although not indigenous to Newfoundland) were fishing and hunting in this part of the island for several hundred years. They originated from mainland Canada, possibly Nova Scotia and/or New Brunswick. In 1756, Captain James Cook who was surveying and exploring the local islands experienced a solar eclipse. In recognition of this astonishing event he named one of the isles Eclipse Island. The 1790s saw the first influx of permanent settlers who made a living fishing the inshore waters mainly for cod. In the early years Burgeo was in essence several smaller pocket communities that were growing and it was inevitable that they would merge and become one. The Town of Burgeo was officially incorporated in 1950.
The first Anglican and Methodist churches were built during the first half of the nineteenth century to serve the fast growing religious population. Reverend Blackmore was the first Church of England clergyman to be stationed here. It was during this period that we see the first public (church run) school(s) opened. The Catholic Church was built and donated to the small catholic community in the 1960s by Margaret Lake; a local business woman originally from Ramea.
The mid-nineteenth century was a proud and poignant time for Burgeo. It was during this time that the Newfoundland government took the initiative to establish several professions here. Mr. Morris was the first doctor to set up practice helping the vulnerable and isolated folks on the south coast. Magistrates and teachers were some of the other employable fields that appeared on the scene during this period. Incidentally, it was less than a century later before the first hospital was built (Burgeo Cottage Hospital in 1935 and was later replaced by a more modern facility the Calder Health Care Centre in the early 1990s). This new hospital was named in honor of Doctors Ann and Mike Calder who aided the local sick and injured for most of their professional lives.
This town has been in the fishing industry for most of its existence even beyond 1992, the first year of the infamous cod moratorium. The first fishing merchant to setup an operation here was a Mr. Cox sometime in the early 1800s. Later there were others such as Newman and Co., Clement & Co., and Burgeo & Lapoile Exports Ltd. established by Robert Moulton. In the 1940s a modern fish processing facility was built in the Short Reach and Burgeo heralded in a new period of growth that continued unabated for the next five decades. During the 1950s, Spencer Lake started a large fishing enterprise located at the same site as the 1940s operation. It was in 1971 that the FFAW saw the tides turn here in the town of Burgeo. No more would the fishplant workers work under less than favorable conditions. This partly resulted from the help of a charismatic and articulate person, Father Des McGraw. This union with its new momentum began to spread provincially and has become a major entity influencing fishery related decisions and policies in our province.
1962 saw the arrival of the famous and controversial author, Farley Mowat and his wife Claire. They took up residence here for nearly five or six years living a simplistic lifestyle like the local people who were oblivious to a more modern world. The following book titles were written by the formerly mention authors - A Whale For The Killing, The Boat Who Wouldn't Float, and Outport People. These books had Burgeo and local residents as their backdrop. Around 1967, the infamous shooting of a whale (Moby Josephine) by some locals caused Farley to become bitter with a select few. Because of the bad publicity the town got on national and international TV, Farley and the people of Burgeo became estranged. This tension would cause Mr. Mowat to leave a town that he loved dearly. After living here for about 5 years the Mowats packed up and sailed away.
The town of Burgeo and its neighbors relied and depended upon a daily coastal boat and ferry service. These boats traversed the south coast from Port Aux Basques to Fortune disembarking at every inhabited port. This was for the most part a life line to the outside world for these isolated communities. 1979 saw the town and region become connected to the rest of the province by a 146 km road more commonly known as the Caribou Trail. Since that pivotal year we have seen the town of Burgeo modernize in an astounding fashion embracing technology with a fervor not unlike the larger urban centers of mainland Canada.