Steven and I thanked our lucky stars that, months earlier, we’d been able to find ‘a room at the inn’ for two nights on Fogo Island as the island off the island of Newfoundland had become an in spot to visit. Although we didn’t realize it when we made plans to visit the island, national and international coverage had publicized the genius and philosophy of Fogo Islander Zita Cobb who was single-handedly responsible for the island’s resurgence. Want to see an award-winning five-star inn – check. Want to hike on amazing trails with nary a soul anywhere – check. Want to think you’ve escaped to Ireland – check. Want to check one of the four corners of the earth – check. Want indescribably rugged scenery – check. All that and more we found on Fogo Island that was more a place of mind and state of being. We were very thankful for the two nights but would have welcomed a few more to just escape.
Steven and I were excited to have another full day on Fogo Island, the largest island off Newfoundland and Labrador’s vast coastline. If you were to look at a map of Canada, Fogo Island is located almost as far east as you can get in the country. I read that if you were to travel north from the island, you’d reach Greenland!
We began our day at the Museum of the Flat Earth which was based in a small building in Shoal Bay, one of 11 communities on the island. The museum’s roots were in the 1970s revival of the Flat Earth Society of Canada and its location was near one of the corners of the Flat Earth, Brimstone Head, a prominent geological feature on Fogo Island. What a shame the museum had been permanently closed. As a tourism ad says, the flat earth theory is just foolishness, OR is it?!
In case you’re wondering, the other three corners of the earth are the Greek Island of Hydra, Papua in New Guinea, and, strangely enough, the Bermuda Triangle.
Painted on a rock in the community of Joe Batt’s Arm was one of the unofficial provincial flags which only showed the island of Newfoundland and nothing of Labrador. Fogo Island was represented on the flag by the smudge near the top right.
From Etheridge Point Park in Joe Batt’s Arm, we had a gorgeous view of the Fogo Island Inn we’d walked up to and around the afternoon before. The Nordic-style inn on stilts was reputed to cost $40 million CAD to build with the goal by islander Zita Cobb of bringing life back into the community. Though the inn was still a for-profit business, its profits go into an entity known as Shorefast, and return to the community. The inn thrives because of the island, and the island thrives because of the inn – what a heartwarming cycle in this day and age when so many people of means are only out for themselves.
Nowhere but in colorful Newfoundland had we ever seen such fun walking sticks. I wondered how many make it back or are ‘accidentally’ borrowed since they’re so pretty and make hiking such great fun!
If we could have found a rock like this one to buy, I’d have loved to! I did manage, though, to buy several equally colorful ones that are just a couple of inches high.
Locals say there are seven seasons here: spring, trap berth, summer, berry, late fall, winter, and pack ice.
We already had our own walking sticks so didn’t need to ‘borrow’ the colorful sticks while hiking Joe Batt’s Point Trail!
The inn’s 29 rooms were all designed with floor-to-ceiling sea-facing windows, ideal for end-of-the-earth gazing!
The area for the community garden on the trail had been donated by local residents.
A sign indicated it was Jane Tom’s Beach, not Jane and Tom’s Beach!
Further along was Mickey’s Beach.
Coopers Gaze was a hunter’s blind that had been erected where birds or wildlife normally pass. The ‘gaze,’ made by early hunters and used for generations, was made from nearby materials like rocks, turf, trees, or bushes with a wall made high enough to hide the hunter from his or her prey.
Long Studio was one of several ultra-modern artists’ studios that had been built by Zita Cobb in communities on the island to lure international artists to spend time on desolate Fogo Island. Feel free to accuse me of being old-fashioned but the Fogo Island Inn and the studio looked like both had been dropped in these remote locations by someone from another planet!
Black Duck Pond:
Another view of the inn:
The heather or gorse reminded us of the terrain in certain parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands.
A few rocks were needed to keep this bench from being blown away after strong gusts of winds.
The poetically-named Dribblin’ Brook:
Bottle Gulch was so named because it was so narrow like a bottleneck.
Bottle Gaze was another hunter’s blind.
This Labrador Tea plant was very high in vitamin C.
It was fascinating to learn that a culture much older than the Beothuk made camp and hunted along this shore over 2,000 years ago.
Archaeologists in 2003 discovered over a dozen meticulously crafted stone stools made by people known to archaeologists as ‘Grosswater Palaeskimo’ who once roamed the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland. The site where the tools were found was likely a camp where people worked on their tools to get ready to hunt the abundant harp seals present in the winter and spring.
Local oral traditions and artifacts dating to the 1800s were also proof of the presence of early settlers. Continuing the tradition of earlier cultures, this area has remained popular for hunting seals and birds, fishing, berry picking, and hiking.
I didn’t understand why this had been named Little Grapes Cove as there were no grapes around.
In the distance was Long Studio.
Fun hiking signs!
After a not very easy slog, we finally reached the end of the trail and The Great Auk sculpture by Todd McGrain which had been installed at Joe Batt’s Point in 2010. It intentionally faced its counterpart in Iceland!
Photos of Joe Batt’s Arm:
Near Joe Batt’s Arm was the community of Tilting which was first a station for the Engish and Irish migratory fishery in the early 1700s. After it was permanently settled in the 1720s, Tilting became a predominantly Irish community in the 1770s and very rich in its Irish heritage, culture, and traditions.
Many organizations have been formed in the community to develop and maintain its Irish heritage. Tilting’s connection to Ireland helped it to become a National Historic Site and the province’s First Provincial Registered Heritage District.
I climbed Sandy Cove Hill to see the Blessed Mary safeguarding Tilting.
As in so many communities in Newfoundland, it was reassuring to see flags supporting Ukraine.
Behind the Dwyer House in Tilting were its flake and stage – terms I’ll describe later.
This Tilting house had been built in the traditional saltbox style.
St. Patrick’s Parish was established in 1840 after Irish Roman Catholic families migrated from Waterford to Fogo and settled in Tilting. Its Irish Cemetery was the largest outside of Ireland!
Though the exterior of the 200-year-old Lane House and Museum looked like any other typical, two-story Tilting home, it had originally been constructed as a small ‘hall and parlour’ plan dwelling but possibly with a small, upper floor or loft. At some point in the late 19th century, a second story with a ‘center hall’ plan was added. Peaking through the window, we saw that the interior was marked by a unique feature, a semi-circular staircase. Like so many other cultural centers on Fogo, it was closed.
Notice the shamrock!
Irish flags in Tilting were not uncommon. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that many locals spoke with an almost uncanny Irish dialect that made us wonder whether we were even still in Canada!
In an old saltbox house in Joe Batt’s Arm was Mona’s Quilt and Jam Shop which also sold some beautiful local rug hooked items, knitted socks, and antiques.
I found a lovely sculpture there in the shape of a whale’s tail made from a caribou antler that is a great reminder of our time on Fogo Island.
After all that hiking and exploring, a stop at Growlers Ice Cream sounded like the perfect reward! You may remember that a growler was a specific-sized iceberg.
We didn’t realize until later that Growlers was part of the Shorefast charitable entity created by Cobb to help people on the island.
The flavor on the right was Partridgeberry Jam Tart, unlikely a flavor that can be found anywhere else in the world! I read that 26 different kinds of edible berries on the island can be found in almost every Fogo Islander’s freezer.
As every other museum or place of interest on all of Fogo Island was closed until the season opened goodness only knows when we were pretty darn excited to find the Punt Premises in Joe Batt’s Arm open!
The guide explained that punts were now mostly used for punt racing instead of fishing which was their original purpose in these waters. He said that boat builders may have been illiterate but they could still make punts to exacting measurements.
Like the punt themselves, each boat builder on Fogo Island was a little different and used various scale models. There was no formula that worked for all punts but most were between 12 and 17 feet in length depending on what they were built for.
Cod fishing was the lifeblood of the islanders and they looked for them up to six miles offshore. If the wind was with them a sail was necessary. The guide stated that the island was 21 miles long and 9 miles wide. Builders traveled to the interior of the island to cut down wood for the punts which was hauled back by horses or dogs.
It wasn’t an easy life for the oldtimers as sick people had to be taken by boat to Twillingate to reach the hospital before one was built on Fogo Island for the 2,500 islanders, according to the guide.
He demonstrated tapping in holes to caulk the punt to seal the seams before painting. The most common material was spun oakum. Sadly, punt-making was mostly a lost art.
When we went outside, the guide told us the board was used for drying cod as the air baked the boards so the air could come through.
We then walked into the 100-year-old stage where the fish were cleaned and cut in half with a splitting knife on the table. The stage was last used 50 years ago.
The guide mentioned that regular fishermen had a quota of 8,000 cod each fall while recreational fishermen could only catch 5 fish.
For some reason, the ‘right-shaped’ rock was needed to anchor the punts but the guide didn’t explain why.
Back in the flake, the guide showed us what was used to skim off the cod liver oil. I remember having to take that miserable medicine as a child!
After the cod spent three days on the flake to dry, they were weighed on this scale which was accurate to the ounce.
As I was curious to know how many people visited the punt premises a day, the guide said about 15-20 and more in this Come Home year which was the travel promotion to welcome Newfoundlanders that had moved away to return for a vacation. It was only after giving the guide a sizeable tip for spending so much time with us out of what I had thought was the ‘goodness of his heart,’ that we learned the premises were also part of Shorefast which meant he was a paid employee. For some reason, there had been no information or signage on any of the Shorefast businesses to indicate they were part of the charitable arm.
Our last stop in Joe Batt’s Arm was the Fogo Island Inn Shop although the signage only indicated it was the Excel LOL 143 which stood for Loyal Orange Lodge. The shop sold ethnically-sourced products that were all made on the island for the inn’s 29 rooms. A store employee mentioned that Shorefast ensured all its employees made more than a living wage and that each item had an ‘ecological nutrition label.’
All the furniture in the inn was made from birch that had been sourced from New Brunswick and Quebec. The punt chair cost a mind-blowing $5,900 even though these figures were still Canadian dollars. Each of the inn’s rooms had one of the chairs!
The puppy table, designed to be placed anywhere in a home, cost $750 plain or $950 if painted. Its unusual shape arose so that nothing would be wasted. Note the cutout was used upside down on the other side!
The king-sized quilts which were made by 20 quiltmakers on Fogo Island and the adjacent Change Islands were sold for the ‘princely’ sum of $5,500 each depending on the style. A twin-sized throw was ‘only’ $1,500. The employee said the quiltmakers worked either collectively or individually in their homes to supply quilts for the inn.
All rooms at the inn had one of the Get Your Feet Up with a hand-knitted cushion that was modeled by the employee who had been very open to answering all my questions. The seat could be yours for merely $8,800! The shop didn’t have a lot of items to purchase as it was more of a display of items that could be special-ordered to your own specifications.
The former lodge from 1902 still had its original floors.
The magazine’s cover story featured Zita Cobb and her Shorefast philosophy for improving the lives of the islanders. When the inn was being built, the island’s population was 2,200. The employee mentioned that there were just 29 rooms so that the island wasn’t overrun with too many guests. She added that Growlers, Punt Premises, and the inn were all money-making enterprises and part of Shorefast that then gives money back to the community. She pointed out that Punt Premises operated because Cobb wanted people to understand the community’s fishing heritage.
Across the road was The Workshop where the inn’s furniture was crafted. As it was a Sunday, it was closed.
The stunning view from The Workshop:
Another of the artists’ studios:
The studio was accessible by this footpath.
In the distance was Brimstone Head, one of the four corners of the earth according to the Flat Earth Society.
At Experience Fogo, a group of re-created buildings, we learned more about the importance of the fishing industry to the province and Fogo Island especially. For nearly all of Newfoundland’s recorded history, its main catch was cod and Fogo Island was settled and developed because of the cod fishery.
After it was discovered cod could be made more durable by salting it before drying, the split and boned cod was often laid out on raised wooden platforms called fish flakes. These were first recorded in Newfoundland in 1623. By the 19th century, the structures were a common sight on the island with people of all ages helping to spread, turn, and collect the fish from their flakes.
These two large cauldrons were barking pots that were used to preserve the cotton twine in cod traps. The tanning or ‘barking’ also made the nets invisible to the cod. A mixture of ‘bark’ or pitch was added to saltwater, then boiled for hours before the traps were immersed in the pots and then hung onto poles to dry.
One of the most familiar buildings connected with the fishery industry in Newfoundland was the stage. They were normally built near the shoreline, atop or adjacent to a wooden wharf. The stage building was a mini factory for fish production: after the offal was removed, and the body placed on the splitting table, the fish was washed, salted in bins, and placed on the flakes to dry. In the off-season, stages were used to store gear and nets.
The stable re-created here was a reminder of the time when Fogo Islanders kept horses who were the automobiles of their day, towing carriages, pulling plows, and carrying heavy loads like wood. Cows were prized because they provided meat and dairy products but providing winter feed was often difficult. Smaller animals like goats, sheep, and pigs were also kept and were an advantage because they required less food. Now, very few of these animals remain, and the stables that housed them are a thing of the past.
After driving to Fogo Head at the end of the island, we spotted the larger Barnes Island and the tiny Western Tickle Island.
Fogo Battery was a temporary battery erected in 1779 but only maintained for five years when its ordnance was withdrawn. It was rebuilt in 1812 and maintained for three years during the War of 1812.
As it was getting late and we were getting tired, we never envisioned climbing Brimstone Head but the trail looked easy and so alluring.
I’ll leave you with this last view from Brimstone Head of Fogo Island as it captured a piece of our hearts for its stark beauty, quiet solitude, and a way of life championed by Cobb, a woman of great foresight, imagination, and caring for a once-troubled community.
Next post: Back on the island’s ‘mainland’ and heading south toward Gander and Terra Nova National Park.
Posted on September 25th, 2022 from our home in Denver’s western suburb of Littleton, a day after Hurricane Fiona wreaked havoc on Newfoundland’s southwestern coast after pummeling Puerto Rico. Our hearts are with the people in both areas as they struggle to rebuild their lives.
- What a wonderful post saluting the unique beauty of Fogo Island, made famous by the creative ingenuity of Zita Cobb, a formidable force in social entrepreneurship. And, Annie, as you may know, Zita was educated at Carleton University and made her fortune at the Ottawa-based high tech startup, JDS Fitel . xo xo Lina xo xo
11 thoughts on “6/18/22: Unforgettable Fogo Island!”
Fogo Island feels magical to me, Annie, after reading your posts and looking at the photos. I would love to transport myself to that Long Studio for a few months and enjoy all the six seasons (even the one referred to as pack ice) and the beautiful hikes in the area. The story of the regeneration of this remote island is truly encouraging and heartwarming. Interesting that you mention Ireland and The Scottish Highlands – as I read your opening paragraph about Fogo being a place of mind and a state of being, I immediately thought of certain places in The Highlands, especially, Corrour which I would describe exactly the same: remote, very moody weather, and soul-soothing.
As a MacDonald by birth, I was struck, Leighton, by your also thinking parts of Fogo Island reminded you of the Highlands. If we make it back to Scotland one day, I’ll have to look up Corrour as soul-soothing sounds positively idyllic. Thanks for reading this lengthy post.
Fogo Island is spectacular, it does remind me of the Scottish highlands. As I have mentioned before, I have watched a program about the hotel and thought it would be amazing to stay there. I am so glad you managed to get a room at the Inn.
Ouch for the price of the furniture.
I mistakenly left you the impression we stayed at the very ritzy Fogo Island Inn – no, that’s far too rich for our blood! We were only looky looks there and admired it from the exterior. We were incredibly lucky to find the basement room at Peg’s Place in the community of Fogo when we began looking about 3 months in advance.
Just catching up on this as you posted while I was away, but I was too interested in Fogo not to make sure to come back to it 🙂 I love the ethos of the Inn and although I agree it and the studios look alien in that landscape I have to say I like them. I’m a fan of sleek modern design and the contrast with the rough rocky scenery is very effective imho. As for the quilts, they are fabulous and I can just imagine the work that goes into them!
Thanks for coming back to the post after your own travels. As I hope you appreciated when reading the post, I was struck by Cobb’s ethos with the profits from the Fogo Island Inn and the other properties going into Shorefast.
While I do also enjoy sleek modern design, I wasn’t as much a fan as you of its place in the very rocky Fogo Island outcrop, however.
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Oh yes, I certainly understood your appreciation of the ethos of the inn 🙂 And I know the designs wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste in that setting – I suspect they’re quite divisive!
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Well Annie, until a few minutes ago I didn’t know a thing about Fogo Island. Now I feel like I’ve been there. What a fascinating place. Thanks so much for taking us along. ~Terri
Fogo Island and the rest of the island of Newfoundland is unbelievably gorgeous. If you and James ever have a chance to tour this little piece of heaven off Canada’s eastern coast, I heartily recommend it in Gallivan, Terri.
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Hi Annie. I just picked up on news of your nasty fall via Phil & Michaela. What a horrid experience and very painful I’m sure! I do hope you’re on the road to recovery? Thinking of you 🤗
Ah, thanks Sarah for noticing it. Yup, certainly more than we bargained for when we embarked on the trip to Central America. Not out of the woods yet with a stress fracture of the left tibia 10 days ago added to the femur fracture.
Have a very large inbox to wade through when I have more time – most are starred emails recounting your exciting travels this fall I will get to when I can! Continued fun and safe travels to you both.
If I’ve learned anything from this accident is to encourage everyone traveling away from home to take out medical evacuation insurance. We’ve always done so and it certainly came in handy when I had to be evacuated from Guatemala 4 days post surgery.