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Fogo Island, Newfoundland: August 7-11, 2023

Updated: Jan 16

We stayed at the extraordinary Fogo Island Inn. The Inn was built 10 years ago by Fogo native Zita Cobb. Fogo residents who aspire to education beyond high school must leave Fogo. Ms Cobb went "away" for university and a career. She made a lot of money and returned to Fogo to help her community. Along with her brothers she established Shorefast, a non-profit organization, from which all profits are returned to the community. She hired architect Todd Saunders born in Gander, Newfoundland, to design and build artist studios and the Fogo Island Inn. It took about 5 years to build the Inn, and they have just had their 10-year anniversary. No tipping is allowed as all employees share in the profits from the hotel and restaurant.

In an effort not to compete with local restaurants on Fogo, the Inn (which is full board) will pay for your meal if you are out and about and eat elsewhere. The Inn will also pay the entrance fee for house museums in town.

Fogo Island, an island off the island of Newfoundland, has an interesting history, and we learned some details talking to locals from the Fogo community. Local community members (usually retired persons) guide guests on tours of the island or on boat tours of the little Fogo Islands. The local guides share their first-hand knowledge while taking guests on these tours.

Our first tour guide was Ferg. He is from Fogo and once worked in the fisheries. He took us in an open boat tour of Little Fogo Islands. We saw so many seabirds: Atlantic Puffins, Razorbill, Arctic Terns, Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant. Little Fogo Islands are breeding sites for Puffins and other birds. Puffins dig burrows for their nests. We docked on one of the larger Little Fogo Islands and took a short hike to the other side to sneak up on puffins. We were soon spotted and most of the Puffins flew off in a puffin frenzy.

Newfoundland has quite a few native berries that I've never heard of. On this little Fogo Island, Ferg introduced us to Bakeapples. Strangely, the berry did have an apple flavor, and if one added cinnamon it would taste almost like apple pie.

No longer do people live year round on the Little Fogo Islands. A few summer only fishing structures clinging to the rocks remain. The structures sit on "shores" which are beams or timbers propped against a structure to provide support. The shores look like precarious support, but they allow the structure to move and adjust as the waves come in. Fishermen use the structures for landing their boat and cleaning and storing their catch.

When there was a year-round community on Little Fogo Islands, they built a church. St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church, 1867, is still maintained and there are occasional services.

We boated past a long-line fishing boat looking for cod. Stopping nearby, Ferg noticed a large cod swimming at the surface so he pretty much plucked it out of the sea and into our boat. The cod looked fit except for a small abrasion. Ferg theorized that the fish had just escaped from the fishing boat.

From at least the 17th century, Basque, English, Portuguese, French, Dutch and Spanish fishing boats made seasonal expeditions to Newfoundland. In the 18th century fishermen decided Newfoundland/Fogo Island weren't too bad of places to live with all the abundant marine life, timber, and the seal population, and it was much easier than commuting from Europe. The 20th century super trawlers depleted the cod stocks, and Canada imposes a moratorium on cod fishing in 1992. Ferg said that once cod was depleted, residents discovered snow crab. Before depletion, cod had been eating the crabs. Cod is coming back and there is limited fishing allowed both commercially and for subsistence. Additionally, Fogo Island has snow crab, salmon, and lobster fisheries.

In the afternoon, Mary took us on a car tour around the area. Mary was born on Fogo Island and grew up in Tilting (an Irish-Catholic neighborhood). She showed us the house she grew up in and the neighborhood. She went to Catholic school as schools at that time were separated by religion and by towns. The first integrated regional high school opened in 1973 followed in 1987 by an integrated elementary school. There were no roads on Fogo, no electricity, no running water. She said Fogo Island until 1985 was much the way it was when it was first settled in the 18th century.

Mary said there were 50 kids to play with right on her street. She numerated who lived in which house and how many children were in each family. There are about 10 separate communities on Fogo Island. They were settled and separated by religion, country of origin, and occupation.

In Tilting and possibly all of Fogo Island, if a broom stick is propped against the door it means that 1) no one was home, and 2) if you need something, come on in.

Houses that belonged to fishing families normally consist of three structures: the dwelling, the store, and the stage. The dwelling is, of course, where the family lived. The store is where the salted/dried cod were stored. The stage is where the boat was docked and where cod was gutted and dipped for a period of time into a salt solution. A wooden platform called a "flake" connected the stage to the store. The flake was where the salted cod was dried before being stored.

The Store and the Stage and Flake

Before Fogo got electricity and running water, if you had a need to pee in the middle of the night you used a chamber pot. According to Mary it was mostly women/children who used chamber pots. If a man needed to relieve himself in the middle of the night, he headed out to the stage to do so. Outbuildings have white dots on them that serve as a homing device when it is dark or foggy.

Mary took us to a viewpoint for a good view of Fogo and Brimstone Head. The Flat-Earth society selected Brimstone Head as one of the four corners of their flat-earth theory.

We also walked around near one of the four Artist-in-Residence studios sponsored by Shorefast. Each of the four has a different style. Three are on the ocean and one is located on a lake.

The next morning was quite rainy but that didn't stop us from joining a hike on Joe Batt's Arm Trail along the coast to the Great Auk. At the trailhead we visited the Deep Cove Fishing Stage museum.

The museum docent is showing us a merchant's ledger book for 1923. He showed us that his father's name is in the ledger. His father was a fisherman. The system of exchange on Fogo Island was a barter system. Each fisherman would take his salted cod to the merchant who would then set the value for the catch. A credit of that amount was entered next to the fisherman's name. When the fisherman needed to buy something, the merchant entered the amount of the purchase. Fishermen were never cashed out because the balance at the end of the season was either a negative or even balance. You can see where this is going. The merchants were wealthy and lived in big houses. Fishermen merely survived from one season to the next with no cash and owing their soul to the merchant who had valued the catch.

The last Great Auk sighting was in 1852. The Auk population began to decline in the 1500s when it was hunted in great numbers for the European fish markets. In the 1700s men corralled the birds by the thousands to harvest their down feathers. The Auk, a flightless bird, lived mostly at sea. They became vulnerable on land where they mated.

The statue was donated by the Lost Bird Project in an effort to recognize the tragedy of North American birds that were hunted to extinction.

On one rainy afternoon we watched Strange & Familiar, a documentary on the Fogo Island Inn. At first sight, the Inn's structure seems very odd for this place. But, the inn uses many of the architectural features that the homes of fishermen used such as the "shores" propping up part of the second floor. It appears to cling to the rocky shoreline as the stages of Fogo do.

Fogo Island Inn

In designing the interior, historic wallpapers, quilts, furnishings, and colors and patterns were drawn from homes in the surrounding area. In the continuing thread of giving back to the community, 200 quilts were ordered for the hotel's 29 rooms and for the gift shop. Furniture was handmade in designs similar to those found in Fogo at the furniture workshop created for that specific purpose.

The hotel's restaurant sources 80% of their food from Fogo Island. They pickle, preserve, ferment. We had moose (there are no moose on Fogo), cod, all we could eat snow crab, salmon, scallops, lobster. The appetizers and entrees are super innovative, delicious, and beautifully plated like the Zucchini Snow Crab Appetizer.

Staying at the Fogo Island Inn was an unforgettable experience and perhaps, for us, a once in a lifetime experience. It is a place to linger and learn. It is a place where history is remembered.



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