FOGO ISLAND, Canada—In order to enjoy the incredible calm of the ocean and the shining coolness of the pack ice stretching into infinity, we left our hotel window open, facing the Atlantic Ocean at Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island, Newfoundland’s largest island.
The islands in the distance looked like humpback whales, their top half covered in fog.
Then sometime in the night, the wind must have come. By morning, almost all the thick pack ice had been pushed away and what remained was a string of magnificent, solitary icebergs, stretching into what appeared to be infinity. As early morning progressed, the horizon changed tone and color continually.
The idea of infinity seemed fitting, as we were just a few miles from one of the four points of the earth, as purported by the local Flat Earth Society, whose museum we had visited. And as Zita Cobb, the founder of the Fogo Island Inn—where we were witnessing nature at its best from our window—reminded us, “All the best things are at the periphery.”
I asked an island resident when the idea of Fogo being a corner of the earth came about. They explained that centuries ago, British sailors considered neighboring Brimstone Head as the end of the earth, as it seemed the most remote part of the globe from their point of view.
We trekked to the top of Brimstone Head on the same day as our glorious morning wake-up and returned from that corner of the earth unscathed, not having fallen off the edge. However, we were wetter for the adventure, as the weather had turned upside down—in fact, the day was a summary of the seasons of the year. The weather here changes so quickly here that every day can easily have up to four seasons.
Helping Islanders Flourish
Fogo Island has truly outstanding, resilient inhabitants, their toughness having been tested for centuries. All the islands off Newfoundland and Labrador have undergone massive changes. Fogo, however, stood up to the resettlement plans of the Newfoundland government back in the early 1960s, and the population refused to be moved.
Yet even well-known resident Zita Cobb’s family finally gave up. She recalls the day when her dad found the biggest nail he could and nailed the gate to the yard shut, stating, “We are not coming back.” Why? His full day of fishing had netted him one single codfish.
Fast-forward 30 years, and Zita did come back after deciding to do her best to help islanders “flourish as a people at home.” She is not naïve. She wanted to interact with others to see who the islanders were and invited designers from other lands to work with local artisans, master shipbuilders, carpenters, and jacks-of-all-trades.
The result is her stunning Fogo Island Inn, a 330-foot-long by 30-foot-wide ultra-modern building, looking for all the world like a stylized ship, now permanently anchored and overlooking the ever-changing waters near the village of Joe Batt’s Arm, in front of Seal’s Nest Islands.
Fogo Island Inn
One thing is certain: The island benefits big-time from the development—70 people work at the inn and countless others work as craftsmen and guides as part of the Shorefast Foundation. Euro-designed, traditional furniture graces each room, and since this is a boutique hotel, all items can be bought. It’s one of the few places I’ve visited where I loved the labeling. Each Shorefast product has an “economic nutrition label” that explains exactly where the earnings end up going.
Many of the products are both strange and familiar. One example is the Bertha chair, a beautiful unfinished wooden armchair that is based on the barrel chair made by cutting an old barrel in two. Nearby, we had seen an old barrel chair at the Olde Shoppe Museum on Change Islands.
The inn’s architect, Todd Saunders, sees the traditional Newfoundland saltbox house as the perfect design. As a native from nearby Gander, he was fully acquainted with traditional Newfoundland housing and living spaces long before he made an international career as an architect in Scandinavia. In hindsight, he says he waited for years anticipating Zita Cobb’s phone call.
Today, along with the ultra-modern inn, four of Todd’s art studios grace the landscape of volcanic rock here. True to the nature of this remote island, the studios are totally off the grid, being equipped with wood-burning stoves, solar-powered electricity, and compost toilets.
“If we’re not careful, our favorite paths will be paved over, and we will all be shopping at big box stores,” said Zita, whose initiative has been wildly successful and put Fogo Island on the global tourism map.
“We had to have visitors come for us to see the beauty of our landscape,” said Regina, a local resident.
Bruce Sach is a veteran travel writer based in Ottawa.