The most commonly accepted explanation for the name Ramea is that it is an anglicized version of Rameau and refers to the area's many inlets and waterways. Another explanation is that the name derives from the French for vetch, and refers to vegetation on the islands. In the nineteenth century census returns Ramea is also spelled Rameaux, Rameau and Rameo. The islands were known to Europeans as early as the 1500's. Portuguese fisherman called them Ilos Santa Anna, suggesting that they were first sighted around the feast of Saint Anne. French fisherman also frequented the area until they were expelled from the south coast by the Treaty of Utrecht which concluded Queen Anne's War in 1713. Captain James Cook charted the islands in 1766. "In this Harbor and about these Islands," he noted, "are many convenient places for erecting of stages and drying of fish and are well situated for the cod fishery". These features would encourage settlement in the nineteenth century. In 1818 American fisherman were given fishing privileges in the waters surrounding Ramea.
The first recorded settlers on the islands were two unnamed families noted by William Epps Cormack in 1822. Four years later, Judge J.W. Molloy sent a letter to W.C. Kippen at Ramea. Based on this evidence and the existence of early grave markers, Kendall and Kendall (authors of the book 'Out of the Sea') suggested that the first families were the Keepings and the Moores. Harbor Island, with its fine harbor and beach, seems to have been settled before the other islands. Twenty- nine people were living on the islands in 1836, engaged in the fishery and subsistence agriculture and supplied by either American ships or the south coast firm of Newman and Company. John Kendall, originally of Dorsetshine, and his wife Sarah moved to Ramea in 1864. By 1857 the population had reached 111. All of these settlers belonged to the Church of England. Many had come from White Bear Bay, which continued to be a "winter house" for many Ramea fishing families. Others were from Hermitage Bay or were employees of Newman and Company at Burgeo or Harbor Breton. Among the settlers were two merchants, Thomas Jeans and another man, possibly Henry McDonald. Northwest, Southwest and Harbor islands were soon occupied but there was no permanent settlement at Big Island, which lacked a suitable harbor. Supplies could be obtained from the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon or from the Nova Scotia vessels prosecuting the herring fishery.
After 1862 the firm of Clement and Company of Lapoile was the major supplier for Ramea. People had relatively easy access to medical care in Burgeo, where a doctor was resident as early as 1860. The first school opened in 1865, with Alexander Pitcher as teacher. In subsequent years the school opened when a teacher was available. By 1873 there were no resident merchants in Ramea. Fisherman experienced several poor years in the fishery, and the population dropped from 185 in 1869 to 141 in 1874.
In 1871, after Thomas Jeans had become a wealthy man, he sold his property to a man named George Penny, and he and his brother, John, started "John Penny & Sons" as a fish business.
George Penny was a very skillful and progressive business man, and within a few years, the enterprise became a prosperous and growing concern.
|He had saw mills set up in Grey River, White Bear Bay, and Ramea. He had a small ship yard erected in Ship Cove so that his company could construct its own fishing fleet. Among|
|the ships built in Ramea were the Cabot, Marie Penny, Rattler, Shamrock, and Vignette. The Rattler was a little steamship while the Shamrock was the first vessel on the south coast to be fitted with a gasoline engine. Penny also bought large foreign-going schooners to carry his company's fish to market in Europe, the West Indies, and Brazil. The most famous of these ships, the Edith Cavell, and the Faustine, would still be remembered by many of the older citizens in Ramea today.|
Gardening and sheep raising was important for many years, and in 1891, when the population had reached 236, the total yield consisted of 90 barrels of potatoes, 8 barrels of turnips, and 13 ton of hay. The record for the same year shows that there were 88 sheep, 2 cows, and 140 fowl on the islands. Farming activities in Ramea diminished with the beginning of the fishery on a year-round basis and ceased entirely with the opening of the fish plant in the early 1940's.
When George Penny died in 1929 his nephew, George Penny Jr. took over the ownership and business. He nursed the company through the depression of the 1930's and, in 1942, converted the business into a fresh fish operation. Fish for processing was at first supplied by individual owned boats and a small fleet of company owners. However, because of the increasing demand for fresh fish, the company began to acquire a fleet of modern draggers.
In August, 1949, George Penny was appointed to the Senate. Unfortunately, he died in December of that same year. His widow, Marie Penny, carried on the business and with the aid of her daughter Margaret, presided over its continuing expansion until her death in 1970. Mrs. Spencer (Margaret) Lake then assumed control of the company which continued to grow until 1981 when it was struck by the same problems that beset the fishing industry generally.
In 1982, John Penny & Sons, which had existed for over a hundred years and which had exerted such a great influence over the development of Ramea and the lives of its citizens, became a part of Fishery Products International (FPI).
During the 1960's and early 1970's the community prospered and basic municipal services such as water and electricity were improved. In 1968 a ferry began operating regularly between Ramea and Burgeo. Within a decade, however, catches of commercially important redfish and cod declined considerably. The processing plant reduced operations to six months a year, and once again some residents were obliged to leave. The fish plant was closed in the early 1990's, and in 1992 there was some doubt as to whether it would reopen. In 1992 residents of Ramea continued to rely on the cod fishery, despite the fact that stocks had become greatly reduced. Ramea maintained it's own churches, and schools, as well as a resident doctor, while most other services could be found in Burgeo.
On November 23rd, 1993, the already falling community suffered another tragic blow. St. Boniface All Grade School burned to the ground, luckily no one was injured but the damage had been done. Students were forced to attend classes in four different buildings. The Community Center, Orange Lodge, Church Basement, and St. Pats Hall were transformed into the classrooms. Students of all ages had to go from building to building for each class, in all sorts of weather. Four years of graduating classes held their graduation dinner and ceremony at the local club. Then, in February of 1997, after almost four years of fighting with the government Ramea had a beautiful brand new school.
There still is fishing in the waters of Ramea, but no where near the scale that it once was. The fish plant is an eye sore, that is in need of serious repair, and a facility that most people only use to reminisce about days to gone by. The once booming economy is gone, and the population is hovering around the 500 mark, about one third of what it was 30 years ago. But the residents of Ramea are proud, proud of a rich past, and some who still believe to be a rich future.