Finance fishing boats

Armchair travel: people define the place called Fogo

An award-winning hostel and wild, remote surroundings may be the inspiration, but it turns out what really defines a place is the community.

You have to be intentional to get to Fogo Island affectionately called far from afar i.e. Newfoundland. There’s a little piece of land beyond the northeast arm of Canada’s youngest province – that would be Fogo, a place where time seems to have stood still for centuries and somehow c is the case.

But don’t be swayed by the charm of old-fashioned fishing villages, abandoned stages (sheds) and rowboats floating on a creek. This place is innovative and forward-thinking, with radical ideas to keep the 2,100 souls who remained after the fishery closed in 1992 (some 6,500 lived there then) able to earn a living, raise families and …to stay at home.

Take Joan Penney, 65, who, along with 13 siblings, was raised in Fogo, and where she stayed to raise her own offspring. Penney says that after retiring from the island’s health resort, she began working at the inn, offering guests a visit to her kitchen for a taste of the island through a session of making jams.

“I love talking to people; it’s a perfect job for me,” said Penney, who chats with visitors over a cup of tea while donning a cap and apron to boil blueberries or partridges. that she picks near her home.

Like most families on the island, Penney’s was devastated by the cod moratorium. His fisherman father died at age 52, leaving behind a young family. Penney’s husband and son fish, and now even his daughter has left St. John’s to take to the water too.

“With the fishing co-op, she can go on a little punt and fish for crab and cod. You have to be tough to survive here,” Penney said with conviction. “Dear, we’re all here for the long haul.”

The way forward is led by Fogo native and entrepreneur Zita Cobb. The eighth-generation Fogo Islander is a visionary, drawing foodies, hikers and tourists from around the world to her project; the curiosity of the island on stilts, since its opening in 2013.

The eerie Fogo Island Inn – an X-shaped block perched atop craggy rocks overlooking the North Atlantic – is an impressive architectural feat. But more than that, it’s a majestic example of what Fogo Island is all about: remote yet welcoming; a physical statement of this place’s desire to boldly move forward with original thinking.

A stay at the contemporary Fogo Island Inn is pricey, marketed to those with time and money. But the 29-room boutique inn is as unpretentious as the islanders who host it. Everything from the quilts on the bed to the architecture and design (including the paint in shades of Fogo Island green and the old-fashioned wallpaper like in the long-built wooden houses everywhere on the island) is carefully selected; the same goes for the basket of scones and dawn coffee delivered to your door each morning. Hospitality is what it’s all about here – and it comes naturally to everyone you meet on Fogo Island and at the Inn.

Although Cobb left Fogo some 15 years ago to study and work in business and finance, she has returned to establish the Shorefast Foundation, a social enterprise that aims to build cultural and economic resilience on the island. of Fogo. The Fogo Island Inn is a focal point for the foundation; a business made by and for islanders – people like jam maker Joan and her ‘community host’ sister Marie, one of the few on call to introduce visitors to Fogo and regale themselves with stories of life on the island. ‘island.

When we visited in June, 69-year-old host Marie pulled into a local ‘shed’ along the driveway – no one home, no problem. Each owner on the island has a shed – a place next to the house where people can visit or play music without having to take off their shoes. In our case, it also made a handy stop in the bathroom. These encounters are typical on Fogo – a way of being at home that feels like you’re visiting your grandmother in her kitchen for a cookie and a cup of tea.

The award-winning lodge is also partly credited with bringing artists to Fogo; those vying for residency in seaside dwellings for inspiration from rocky shores. The hostel’s needs have also meant an influx of designers, furniture and textile/quilt makers to Fogo, creating products for the hostel and a sense of place, Cobb says, joining the patchwork of small communities. of the island into a cohesive group working towards a common goal.

Fellow Cobb Islanders have long been keen to adopt a model for how a place can rebuild and thrive. The fishermen formed the Fogo Island Cooperative Society in 1967, a community enterprise through which the island’s economy was reinvigorated. Different communities on the island are assigned a catch – shrimp, crab, etc. and turn it all into a cooperative. Global demand for crab has driven this market up and down, but the stability of the co-op has meant work and a livelihood for these fish people for 50 years.

It’s the beauty of Fogo that prompted photographer Paddy Barry to find work here too. When he’s not bringing guests and luggage to their rooms at the inn, or returning them to the ferry docks at the end of their stay, the St. John’s native explains to visitors why the potholes have not been filled this year, (they will be when an election looms, he says) and how the island desperately needs a resident doctor, now that the last of them is retired.

“It’s important for the survival of the place, to have a doctor living here,” he said.

They work there. And, if it’s like finding a life beyond fishing, the determined residents of Fogo Island will find a solution to this dilemma soon enough.