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Kindling
Jan 12, New Zealand

so… as to our annual holiday… as far as galiano goes, gabriola too, i’m over them.  really, when i look out at the ocean here for five months of the year, i don’t find the gulf islands all that attractive.  too damn many trees! i am willing to be convinced otherwise though.

i think we would love the maritimes — but it takes so long to get there.  still… they are attractive.  as is newfoundland…
r.a.

Jan 13, Vancouver

OK, this is way crazy but have you ever thought of going to Fogo Island in NL?

Jan 13, Vancouver

We’d like a room with twin beds for Ruth Ann and myself, two old friends (since 1983) who holiday together annually in the Gulf Islands. But this year, given it’s RA’s 75th birthday, we’re splashing out and hoping to visit your little corner of paradise for three days.

Jan 14, Fogo Island

Thank you for your reservation. As promised, here is your Confirmation Number …

Warmest Regards,
Elaine & Ashley, Reservations

July 15, Fogo Island

A hand-written postcard from Ashley!

July 31, Fogo Island

We look forward to welcoming you to our Inn. May your stay with us be invigorating and life-affirming…

Our dining room offers amazing views through floor-to-ceiling windows of sunsets, storms, and the wild Atlantic Ocean. Fogo Island’s traditional outport cuisine is inspired by ingredients harvested from the island’s peaty soils, foraged from salt-sprayed shoreline and wild-berry patches, fished from local waters, and raised and hunted regionally. Our dining menu changes with Fogo Island’s seven seasons and is consistently a celebration of this place.

Our Crab Supper is a celebration of the bounty from the sea, with Crab, Cod au Gratin, and for those who prefer a roast of the day. This family style served supper is offered each evening beginning with cocktails at 7 pm, followed by supper at 7:30 pm. A wonderful opportunity to have a communal meal with other guests and experience local hospitality. There are limited spaces available and is by reservation only, if you would like to partake we encourage you to book prior to arrival.

To support local restaurants, we offer the option of dining at an island restaurant during your stay with us, this is included in your Full Board package…

Just 14 more days……

Warmest Regards,
Elaine & Ashley, Reservations

Igniter
Fired up even after a gruelling trip across the country, a night in St. John’s with only olives for dinner (they came with the martinis) and an early morning flight to Gander, the trip got even better when we met Dave.  A Fogo Island fisherman who’s also worked in Alberta, Dave regaled us with stories on the eighty-kilometre drive to Farewell, where you catch the ferry to Fogo.  His best line? “Some people I knew went away and you’d see them years later and it wez like they never knowed yeh—straw up their nose.”

“Strange & Familiar,” the story of how this Inn got built, will be playing in the theatre this afternoon. And at 5:30 you’ll want to go to the art show opening in the gallery—there’ll be local music too,” said Rosemarie, our assigned guide. “And good, I see you’ve signed up for the crab supper.  Now, did you want to go out to Little Fogo Islands tomorrow? Ian and Mike can only take twelve on the boat and the weather looks good…” All this before lunch (cod tongues) and getting the key (attached to a cast-iron cod tongue) to the Labrador Suite, #15.

Burning Brightly
Graciously sliding a plump leg of perfectly shelled snow crab on my plate, Marie said, “G-wan, take it. I’ve been eating it every night—Aubrey and I’ve been hosting the crab suppers since April 26,” she laughed. Seventy-nine nights of hosting crab suppers and yet these two invigorated the evening with such hospitality and storytelling you’d think it was their first time.

Since the fifteenth century, people of mostly English and Irish descent have been inshore fishermen on this small island. (About 250 square kilometres with a coastline of 9000-to-17000 kilometres, depending on how many inlets you count.) Deeming it too costly to provide services like electricity or running water, in 1967 Premier Joey Smallwood gave Fogo’s six thousand residents three choices: resettle, perish, or develop. Resilient, self-sufficient, proud and conscientious, you know their choice. Aubrey, one of fourteen children, told us how the islanders rallied together. They formed the Fogo Island Shipbuilders Co-operative, building longliners to access new species and fishing areas and create more jobs, in later years adding three seafood-processing plants. “It’s been such a success—even though I’ve been on its board for forty years,” laughs Aubrey. (He’s “one of the smartest men I know,” Zita Cobb told us the next day in the best speech I’ve ever heard. Zita’s the brilliant entrepreneur and Innkeeper of Fogo Island Inn—more on her later.)

Aubrey had us leaning in to hear the frightening story of how he and Marie escaped death late one afternoon six years ago when he fell overboard and became entangled in their crab-fishing lines. “It was so stormy the ladder wouldn’t stay down,” Aubrey told us. Clever Marie. She fashioned a lasso from ropes on board, had Aubrey stick his leg in the air and tried pulling him in. No luck so she lassoed his other leg too and got him into the boat. They’d Maydayed for rescue and when help arrived, they wanted Marie to get nude and crawl in a sleeping bag next to Aubrey to prevent him from becoming hypothermic. ‘She’d hear none of that,” said Aubrey. Sitting next to her, I asked Marie how she knew what to do. “We’re trained,” she said. “It just came to me. And I didn’t get in the sleeping bag because we were in my boat and those guys didn’t know how to drive it.”

Our trip the next morning to Little Fogo Islands was glorious—as you can see.

“Based on what you want to see, I’ve paired you up with Roy for your island tour this afternoon,” Rosemarie told us. “He’ll be here at 2:30 after your lunch.”  (Poached cod and fries.) What a match. “I went to school by punt. There were no roads on the island then,” Roy told us as we began the tour in his home community, Tilting.

Roy taught mathematics at Fogo Island Central High, the first multi-denominational school in the province. “I taught Zita before her family moved away.” A storyteller, writer, fisherman, sealer, poet (and reciter of the full-length poems of Robert Service, Archibald Lampman, E. J. Pratt…) and hockey-player, Roy was a founding member of TRACS, the Tilting Recreation and Culture Society, so we weren’t surprised to hear that Zita talked to Roy before she started the Shorefast Foundation.  “I like to think she took some of my ideas,” he says.

“Bruce isn’t in but I know him. We can go look at his art,” Roy said, opening the door to a studio full of canvases and giving his approval for checking out Bruce Pasternak’s cool house.

Ruth Ann and I felt badly when Roy’s wife Christine called—it was nearly seven o’clock and he was still showing us around.

(For the record, I did not have cod for dinner. Lamb belly instead.)

Expecting to fill out papers for the car we’d reserved, I went to the front desk after breakfast (fish cakes and pickles.) No papers to sign—no need to even show my drivers’ license. “We don’t bother with all that. Here’s the keys.”

This is what you might do when it’s raining on Fogo. (1) See the Flat Earth Museum—“We’re more the question-everything variety than the fire-and-brimstone Biblical Flatlanders,” the young lady told us. (2) Go to Experience Fogo Museum, but unfortunately eighteen-year-old Robert will be away studying engineering. Where on earth would a kid walk out in the rain to welcome us with a handshake and give so much personality to a tour of old fishing equipment? Or have such eloquence? I was fascinated by a large chock— what they used on schooners to keep ropes tidy and organized. “Yes,” said Robert, “It’s the majesty of them that attracts.”  (3) Go to Winston and LInda’s place, the Herring Cove Art Gallery and Studio. (4) Visit the Marconi Wireless Interpretation Centre and hope you get Elaine as your guide. (5) Drive over to Inner Harbour and Seldom-Come-By. (“The Europeans on their way to Labrador to fish used to say ‘You’ll seldom come by such a fine harbour,” Roy told us.) (6) Go to Beaches Restaurant for cod and chips for lunch. (7) Ask Rosemarie what to do.

Flaming
Thankfully when we returned about 4:45, Rosemarie saw us coming in. “Zita’s giving a talk in the theatre at 5:15,” she said. If she wasn’t the world’s finest innkeeper, Zita could be running the world. You’ve probably read all about her because every major newspaper and magazine has profiled her story and brilliance. Only girl in a family of seven children. The cod so depleted that when her dad came home one day with one fish, he burned his boat and on July 10, 1975, they moved to Ontario. A career in fibre optics that allowed her to cash out a fortune and establish the Shorefast Foundation, which owns the Fogo Island Inn, six artists’ studios and fishing enterprises, like funding a way of catching cod that’s more humane and commands double the price of those caught in monofilament nets. “We’re turning money into fish,” she laughs.

“The Inn ‘s not special, “ Zita says, “It’s SPECIFIC.” She showed us an economic nutrition label for the Inn: 49 percent of the cost per night (which includes all food, the services of local guides, the use of a car if you want it and gratuities) goes to the staff compared with an industry average of 30 percent. Before the Inn opened to the public, she invited two people from every household on Fogo to a night’s stay, steak dinner and Joe Batt’s Arm breakfast. She uses cauliflower as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of everyone on this planet. Her actions are guided by this quote from E. F. Schumacher

Nature and culture are the two great garments of human life, and business and technology are the two great tools that can and will serve them.

And this one from economist Tim Jackson

The only way to attack the plague of unemployment is to build an economy based on care, craft and culture.

Like every Fogo Islander we met, she’s forthright, eloquent and self-assured—she makes you want to be a better person.

Embers
Fogo Island gets its name from the word fogoi, fire in Portuguese, probably because of the fire that consumed the island for three weeks in the 16thcentury. The Spanish word for fire, fuego is used in English as a slang term for something “excellent” with the phrase en fuego expressing something “on fire,” or “performing extremely well.”

Ruth Ann and I are en fuego about the Inn, the island and the people.

In a world where travel is becoming more homogenized, fabricated and insincere, what Zita calls  “a flattening of joy from the rampant corporatism and consumerism,” Fogo Island stands alone: an authentic, genuine and profound experience. Reluctant to turn in our cod-tongue key, our own tongues were wagging, wishing we’d booked a longer stay than the three-night minimum. Zita says twenty percent of the Inn’s guests return…and next year is a big birthday year for me…And they know how to keep the fire in your belly for Fogo Island Inn. A few weeks after our visit, we received a gift card for our next stay and a letter (signed “Until next time”) that closed with this poem  by E. J. Pratt from Newfoundland Verse, 1923

Tide and wind and crag
Seaweed and seashell
And broken rudder…
And the story is told of human veins and pulses
Of eternal pathways of fire
Of dreams that survive the night
Of doors held ajar in storms

Photo Credits

The wonderful photo of Zita was taken by Clothesline Media. The dining room photo is from Fogo Island Inn’s website. Ruth Ann took the picture of Roy and I.

Navigation

In two videos, Banff Centre has released speeches Zita made there in September 2015, which are linked here and here.

Carleton University, Zita’s alma mater, published this article: “Reimagining Fogo Island: Zita Cobb’s Inspiring Journey.” Joseph Mathieu, June 2, 2017.

Even CNN, one of the premium world travel sites, has published articles on Fogo Island Inn, the latest May 11, 2018, by Nick Johnson: “Fogo Island: Newfound beauty in Newfoundland.”

While not about Fogo Island specifically, Mark Critch’s article “Small Province, Big Heart”  in The Globe and Mail on Saturday, October 6, 2018, shares our sentiments.

Fogo Island Inn has an outstanding website.

After reading Emma O’Kelly’s article “Zita Cobb’s Perfect Day on Fogo Island” published in How to Spend It,(April 14, 2018)  it’s clear Ruth Ann and I have a lot left to discover on Fogo Island.

Even National Geographic has done a story on Fogo Island Inn:Hadley, Alena. “Fogo Island Inn: It Takes a Fishing Village.”

 Here’s a link to the Shorefast Foundation Zita started.

And here’s a short YouTube on Shorefast’s artists’ studios.

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22 replies
  1. Avatar
    Marsha says:

    I have read about Fogo Island Inn for many years in various travel articles. Now I know someone who has been! Thanks for sharing about the Inn and island. Really enjoyed.

    Reply
    • Spice
      Spice says:

      I can see you and George at FII—George would love the camaraderie of the people, much like he did in Ireland…and the Cinque Terra, and Osoyoos…

      Reply
    • Spice
      Spice says:

      We’re now in Berry Season (Sept 1-Oct 31). Next is Late Fall (November). Then Winter (Dec 1-Febr 28). March is Pack Ice Season. Spring is April 1-May 31. Trap Berth is the month of June. And Summer is July 1-August 31. EVERY season beckons me back. Imagine NY Eve there (a little like ours together at Lake Louise perhaps?) And Spring to see icebergs. The locals we spoke to all told us Berry Season was their favourite.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Veda Hotel says:

    I enjoy your posts and pictures. My son in law is from Newfoundland and we have had some fun and interesting trips to the Rock. Never been to Fogo Island and your stories and pictures have inspired us to go.

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Barry MacLeod says:

    The only thing more colourful than the scenery are the Newfies, their way with words will put a smile on any face, a different world and it’s people.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Ruth Ann says:

    ahh, my travelling friend, this is wonderful. thanks for writing about our favourite — both place and people. and thanks for making the suggestion in the first place. and thanks too for 35 years of friendship. happy thanksgiving!

    Reply
  5. Spice
    Spice says:

    Revise your list is my suggestion, put Fogo Island at the top of places to go, and when you return it will likely be at the top of your Favourite Places I Have Been list..

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Reid Pauley says:

    Great story Gloria….didn’t get to Fogo Island but Newfoundland is near the top of my list of favorite places I have visited.

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Pat & Dallas says:

    Wow – who would have even considered going that far to such a remote place….great story and insight into a place almost no one has heard of. Plus posting this at 6 AM your time…….

    Reply

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