Big Tancook Island was settled in the late 1800’s by German and French immigrants who brought with them many traditions and skills still used on the island today. These settlers farmed the fertile, pristine land, growing cabbages for sauerkraut and various other vegetables and fruits to sustain themselves. Some of the current island residents use heritage seeds from these very first crops; cabbage, tomato and spinach to name a few. The island is also covered with apple trees, many now wild and uniquely hybridized. In the fall there is always an abundant harvest for anyone who desires a scrumptious apple crisp or sweet apple pie.
Eventually, some of the settlers took to the bountiful North Atlantic Ocean to fish cod, haddock and halibut to sustain themselves, to trade or to sell. Whaling was also an important part of the island’s history. With this came a need for seaworthy vessels and up until the late-1900’s, hundreds of “Tancook Whalers”, “ Tancook Schooners” and then cape island boats were built and used on the island by incredibly skilled craftsmen.
Occasionally, these vessels and their crew were employed by rumrunners and there were several secret rum stashes on the island back in the day. Some of these hiding spots, in old foundation walls or in mossy beds deep in the woods, are still visible to this day. And there are certainly a few island kitchens today that keep a bottle of rum on hand for any visitor who wishes a sip along with a story or two about the good ‘ole days.
Today, the island’s main industry is lobster fishing in cape island boats and many residents still have beautiful vegetable gardens. There are even a few people who continue to make traditional Tancook Island sauerkraut.
Though times have changed and many of the ways of doing everyday things have become modernized, you can still catch a glimpse of days-gone-by in the Tancook Island Museum at Wishing Stones Gallery. Martha Farrar, who moved to Tancook from the United States with her family in 1978, started collecting old island artifacts and eventually created the museum. On display are ‘things’ the islanders made and used perhaps 150 years ago; farm and fishing equipment, tools, household items, clothing and shoes. All are pieces of island history, many with a story behind them. Visitors to the island describe the museum as a “gem” and a “wonderful preservation of island life as it used to be”.
The current island residents take pride in the island’s history and, while there have been many newcomers over the years, the island maintains many of its traditional ways and its simpler, wholesome lifestyle.
~ Hillary Dionne, “Wishing Stones Studio and Gallery”, Big Tancook Island
To learn more about Big Tancook Island, please visit