Gobsmacked in Newfoundland & Labrador

Lorna Crozier falls for Fogo Island (and her first iceberg)

Photo by Alex Fradkin courtesy Fogo Island Inn

We bite into 25,000 years of caught water and frozen light.

It’s a fist-sized chunk scooped from the Atlantic, a tiny piece of the iceberg looming beside our boat like a dream born in the most faraway region of an arctic mind.

Dozens of photos later (none can do justice), we turn our backs and chug towards Little Fogo Island where we land for a hike through an abandoned fishing village.

We oooh and ahhh over puffins darting from nesting holes in a rocky bluff when suddenly, behind us, there’s a low growl and then a thunderous boom as if we’re about to be struck by lightning.

The iceberg is breaking, great slabs toppling into the sea. Eight travellers in our boat, including my husband Patrick and I, whoop and clap.

There’s nothing like your first iceberg: its dangerous sparkle, its turquoises and emerald green, its spires and humps. It drifts out of the past and knocks you sideways with wonder as its chill breath touches your face.

 

icebergl

Photo by Alex Fradkin courtesy Fogo Island Inn

 

What is it thinking as it holds you in its crystal gaze? What message from the Far North does it bring?

Surely it has something to do with the warming of our planet. Unless we change our ways, icebergs—like other endangered species—will disappear, their huge memory melting away.

Our first sighting of Fogo Island Inn is as gobsmacking as our first encounter with an iceberg.

If the ocean and the rocks could put their heads together to design a cathedral built from wood, this inn would be it. If the future and the past collided—bam!—and here and now took shape before your eyes, this is what it would look like.

 

alexzzz

Photo by Alex Fradkin courtesy Fogo Island Inn

 

Nothing prepares you for its stern splendour in the village of Joe Batts Arm, or for the otherworldly beauty of the surrounding four studios that house artists from around the world.

The studios came first, though you’d have guessed that the inn, like an iceberg, had calved them—leaving pieces of itself scattered across the barren landscape.

 

fogoc

Photo by Bent Renè Synnevåg

 

The inn’s founder Zita Cobb, who also doubles as innkeeper, claims this extraordinary guesthouse is not special, it’s specific. It comes from island knowledge and skills, and it wouldn’t fit anywhere else.

Elongated and magnified, the inn is a re-imagined version of traditional fishing sheds with wharves on stilts stretching over the water.

In the village of nearby Tilting, writer Roy Dwyer, my guide for an afternoon (because the inn likes to partner guests with locals), takes me to a shed that he’s kept in good repair.

Here, on a long wooden table, his late Uncle Albert used to behead, gut and fillet cod. A practised fisherman, I’m told, could look at you and tell a story while he was working and never cut his fingers.

Roy’s uncle would then drop the prepared fish into a box of salt and the livers into a tall wooden barrel for the oil to ferment.

Years ago, this slippery yellow liquid was used to torment children like me with a daily dose. It also fuelled lamps and lubricated big industrial machinery in factories to the south. It was even mixed with ochre to paint the fishing sheds red, the same colour as prairie barns.

Roy makes a point of showing me a poignant image of his family’s way of life before the cod ran out.

Dragged from the hard-knuckled shore, a wooden punt lies on its gunwales, grass growing through the slats. “The last boat my uncle built,” he tells me. “I’ve been taking its picture every summer for seven years but I think this’ll be its last winter.”

That boat-building skill, perfected over hundreds of years, is what went into the building of Fogo Island Inn, but local knowledge doesn’t stop there.

 

fogo-room

Photo by Alex Fradkin courtesy Fogo Island Inn

 

Rooms are furnished with high-quality wooden designs—chairs and beds and tables and even wastebaskets—fashioned by those who once went to sea.

Then there are the skills of the village women. Beds enchant the eye with multi-coloured quilts, stitched with the names of those who made them. Hand-crafted cushions and pillows adorn the furniture, and braided rugs pool on the floor.

Even the hotel restaurant menu is a work of grassroots art. The back of it declares, “Like our culture, our food is intensely local. Pulled and plucked from the rocky terrain and the icy waters that surround us.”

 

Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland, Canada

Photo by Alex Fradkin courtesy Fogo Island Inn

 

My husband and I savour rhubarb soup with scallops and seaside herbs. We devour Greenland halibut with sea buckthorn and a traditional pudding called figgy duff. There are 16 edible berries on Fogo Island and the chef uses them all.

Later, snug in bed, I think of Roy’s aunt’s description of the best time in her life: the years her six children could all fit under the same blanket.

Roy’s relatives sound a lot like mine. A pioneer woman, who could have been my Saskatchewan grandmother, once wrote in her diary:

“We had to make the quilts fast so our children wouldn’t freeze. We had to make them beautiful so our hearts wouldn’t break.”

 

Room 25

Photo by Alex Fradkin courtesy Fogo Island Inn

 

I’ll never forget this place—the scent of ocean blowing through our bedroom window as my husband and I drifted off to sleep, warmed by the artistry and care of the hard-working folk who live here.

On this island off Newfoundland’s eastern coast, history slides into the 21st century as smoothly as icebergs glide past her rocky, wind-scoured shores.

 

*Writer Lorna Crozier was hosted by Toque & Canoe’s partners in tourism. This story was not reviewed or edited before publication. If you’d like to read more of Lorna’s travel stories for Toque & Canoe, check out Sidney BC by the Salish Sea, A Poet in the Great Bear Rainforest and Exploring Light’s Birthplace.

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  1. Rhonda Ganz commented:

    I’ve been waiting for Lorna Crozier’s poetic take on Fogo Island ever since she sent out tweets to whet my appetite for longer descriptions of her trip to Newfoundland. Thanks for the article and photos. This armchair traveller has fallen for Fogo too.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Rhonda. Thanks for reminding me that tweets matter. They were fun to write–much like writing poems.
      Warmest, Lorna

      Reply

  2. Julia McArthur commented:

    Gobsmacked is the word! The combination of Lorna Crozier’s magnificent prose and the amazing photographs make this the most inviting article. What a fascinating place and people!

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Julia. The Inn is a great way to start or end a trip to Newfoundland, one of the most unique places in Canada. I loved travelling from my island in the far west to this very different sea-bound place. What a country we live in!
      Warmest,
      Lorna

      Reply

  3. Leslie Uyeda commented:

    I have read about Fogo Island before, but this article by the great Canadian poet Lorna Crozier gave life to the sounds, sights and smells of the place, planting a deep longing in me to experience the island myself. Crozier, Fradkin and Synnevåg have shown us how to celebrate our magnificent country. Thank you T & C!

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Leslie, can’t you see a piano in one of these artist’s studio, and a composer, namely you, being inspired by this very different ocean?
      I’d love to see you there.
      Warmest,
      Lorna

      Reply

  4. Arleen Pare commented:

    Thanks, Lorna, for your beautiful article about Fogo, and Newfoundland. I was there last year, in Trinity East, not on Fogo, and was amazed, as you were. All its dangerous sparkle; it is all so remote. I met a woman who asked where I was from and when I said Victoria, she unabashedly said that she’d never heard of Victoria. Near Vancouver, I said. Where’s that, she said.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Arleen. Your comment about the woman not knowing where Victoria is reinforces the need for sites like Toque and Canoe. The editor’s mission is to make Canadians familar with Canada. Boy, do we need it!
      Warmest,
      Lorna

      Reply

  5. Katharine Smithrim commented:

    I wish Togue and Canoe would send me to Zita’s Fogo Island Inn! Thanks for this piece by Lorna Crozier. I’ve sent it on to five people this morning.

    This made me weep: “We had to make the quilts fast so our children wouldn’t freeze. We had to make them beautiful so our hearts wouldn’t break.”

    Reply

  6. Rena Upitis commented:

    Every one of Lorna’s pieces that I’ve read on this wonderful blog is inspired, and each is better than the last. I can’t wait to taste my first iceberg, to see the “cathedral built from wood” that is the inn on Fogo Island. And the messages here — what local can be, as we contemplate what it would mean for the ice to continue to melt — are the most powerful of all. The cod is already gone. Let’s help live in ways that the destruction stops there…

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Rena. Thanks so much for your kind words. I think you’d have a lot in common with Zita, who envisioned the Fogo Island Inn. You, after all, built an inn, too, and one that’s meant to foster creativity and a closeness to the land. (Wintergreen Studios outside of Kingston, Ont.) I’d love to get you and Zita and the folks at Toque & Canoe together. Strong visionaries who are changing the world.
      Warmest,
      Lorna

      Reply

      • Rena Upitis commented:

        Oooooh! I love, love, love the idea of meeting Zita. Wouldn’t that be something? There is a way to make that happen, I’m sure. And we have two great places where we could meet — Fogo Island and Wintergreen. Why not?

        Thanks, Lorna. You’ve set the wheels in motion…

        Reply

      • Rena Upitis commented:

        Just had another thought… I hear by the grapevine that Zita sometimes travels to Ottawa. Surely there’s an opportunity to talk about art and inn keeping … Zita, if you’re reading this, I’d be delighted to tell you all about Wintergreen Studios. Lorna seems to think it’s a good idea for us to meet, and every one of her ideas seems delicious and inspired to me!

        Reply

  7. Tina Biello commented:

    Share this article far and wide. Thank-you Lorna for bringing us right there and for reminding us ‘unless we change our ways, icebergs—like other endangered species—will disappear, their huge memory melting away.’
    You’re tweeting!!! Fantastic news.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Tina. Well, I’ve had a bit of help with my tweeting. I promise I’ll try to do better with that.
      Best,
      Lorna

      Reply

  8. Luba Lyons commented:

    Again amazed by Lorna’s beautiful description of this amazing paradise that I have never had the pleasure to see, yet! Thanks for the amazing photos and so wetting my appetite.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Luba. My appetite is “whetted” when I remember the food at the Inn–in the morning, before the breakfast in the dining room, each room received a wooden basket with home-made juice and some scrumptious bit of baking like a scone or a muffin. And a thermos of coffee. They really spoiled us.
      Yum.
      Lorna

      Reply

  9. Nancy Trueman commented:

    Lorna such beautiful descriptions of the area! I can almost feel the strength and sounds of the iceberg which is definitely an awesome and surreal experience. That Newfoundland hospitality and warmth in the running of the Inn so reflects the kindness and friendliness of the Eastern Canadian residents. Having experienced that in visiting my PEI relatives makes me want to visit this part of our country as soon as possible in the next few years. Exquisite photographs and prose. Thank you for sharing this magnificent part of our country.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Nancy. Zita Cobb, the visionary behind the construction of the Inn and the studios, wanted to do something worthwhile for the island where she grew up. She thought, “What are Newfoundlanders known for?” The answer was their warmth and hospitality. So, how could she channel that? The answer was to build an inn where people from all over the world would get to experience that. It works!

      Best,
      Lorna

      Reply

  10. Carol A. Stephen commented:

    Lorna Crozier’s description of the iceberg reads very much like a poem, and came within a hair of helping me hear it, feel its breath, taste its white. And I pictured a white ice whale, and the fate of both the ice whale and the other whales as the sea changes and the North slowly melts.

    Lorna, you painted it so well, I almost felt as if I was in the boat too. But I wasn’t and for that I am rather jealous right now! — Carol

    Reply

  11. Barbara Pelman commented:

    Oh, the longing, the beauty–to sleep under quilts that were built fast and beautiful. Surrounded by the work of local artists, with the sea and the icebergs as company. How gorgeous. You have made us all treavellers–in our imagination, perhaps in our boots and backpacks. Will look up the other articles too. Thanks so much, Lorna, for your words to make important things come alive again.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Barbara. My beds are covered with quilts made by my two aunts. They look like the ones in the Fogo Inn.
      Warmest,
      Lorna

      Reply

  12. Carol A. Stephen commented:

    I didn’t comment on the Inn, but what an amazing place that is! How wonderful to go to bed at night with the ocean just beyond the window. And to be surrounded by such beautiful locally crafted furnishings. It sounds like a wonderful environment for writing or even just for dreaming. — Carol

    Reply

  13. Janice Falls commented:

    Ever since I first read about Zita Cobb and Fogo Island I have longed to go there. As a maritimer, I’m susceptible to the beauty of the sea and its raw coastline. Lorna’s article has done nothing to dissuade me from my longing, in fact, I have a fantasy of writing, perhaps one perfect poem, in one of the exquisite studios. Thank you Lorna for bringing Fogo Island closer to home so I can share it – Canadians need to know about this piece of heaven!

    Reply

  14. Susan Wismer commented:

    Lorna’s article and Alex’s photos come about as close as they could get to bringing back for me the smells, the taste, the feel, the sounds and the sights of that beautiful and wondrous piece of Canada we call Newfoundland. Fogo Island Inn sounds amazing – I would love to go there someday.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      When you get there, Susan, they even have specially designed pajamas. They think of everything.
      Warmest,
      Lorna

      Reply

  15. Melanie Craig-Hansford commented:

    Lorna Crozier has described a piece of heaven. What an amazing place to replenish one’s soul. Thanks for this wonderful blog about a place I hope to see one day. There is nothing like the Atlantic at your doorstep to remind us that we are small and weak and insignificant by comparison…..humbling.

    Reply

  16. Bob Chelmick commented:

    And there I thought Fogo couldn’t get more magical. Leave it to Lorna and her brilliant prairie sensibility. Inspired and inspiring.
    And the best line is her Grandmother’s – “We had to make the quilts fast so our children wouldn’t freeze. We had to make them beautiful so our hearts wouldn’t break.” Oh my.

    Thank you Toque and Canoe!

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Bob. Ah, the “prairie sensibility.” I think the only thing that comes close to it is Newfoundland’s. And certainly Cape Breton’s, which you’ve come to know so well.
      Warmest,
      Lorna

      Reply

  17. Lloyd Brown commented:

    Hi Lorna, Thank you for your article on your recent visit to Joe Batt’s Arm, my boyhood home. My father and I fished on the grounds around Little Fogo Islands. I played in the tidal pools behind the hotel, and lay in the summer sun on the warm stones of Wester Shore. Your article brought back many pleasant memories.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Lloyd. How great to be able to call Joe Batt’s Arm your home! I hope you get to back there often.

      Warmest,
      Lorna

      Reply

  18. Rona Shaffran commented:

    Fogo Island is a place I have had on my must-visit list ever since I read about Zita Cobb’s plans. Her concept for the inn and her vision immediately captured my imagination. Lorna, your stunning prose poem paints a most vivid and enticing portrait. I am counting the days until I can get to Fogo!

    Warmest, Rona

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Rhona. I was so impressed when I heard about Zita and her way of giving some back to her community. It made me wonder what the rest of us can do in our home towns.

      Best,
      Lorna

      Reply

  19. Callista Markotich commented:

    Joe Batt’s Arm – how earthy a name in which such an ethereal beauty is found…. Can such a place exist? Well, Lorna says so, and the pictures attest, otherwise it could be an exquisite fantasy!

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Callie. If you keep read comments above, you’ll find a note from Loyld who grew up in Joe Batt’s Arm, proof that it exists. If it didn’t, we’d have to make it up.
      Best,
      Lorna

      Reply

  20. Margo Farr commented:

    Ah, Lorna. Your descriptions evoke such a deep feeling of your extraordinary experience. I long to be there and feel that in some small way I have had a brief journey there myself. Thank you for sharing your words and the photos that accompany and enrich them.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Margo. The photos are amazing, aren’t they? I tried with my iphone but I’m not very good. What I love about Toque and Canoe is their ability to find the perfect photograph to pair with the writing.
      Warmest,
      Lorna

      Reply

  21. Mary Corkery commented:

    Thanks Toque and Canoe. Lorna Crozier brings Fogo Island right to my heart in crazy smartass Toronto. The iceberg, quilts and their stories, the art, the tastes. People I’d love to meet. I can almost hear the silence at night – in my dreams. Fogo Island added to bucket list!

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Mary. One of the things I loved about my Fogo Inn experience was that they pair a local with a guest. So you’ll get a chance to meet and hear the stories of someone who knows and loves the island.
      Cheers,
      Lorna

      Reply

  22. Nancy Pagh commented:

    “We had to make the quilts fast so our children wouldn’t freeze. We had to make them beautiful so our hearts wouldn’t break.” The amazing photos in this article first drew me in, but Lorna’s magnificent description of her Fogo Island experience, and the strong people there, kept me rapt. What a beautiful depiction of a place that takes our imagination and heart back to essentials. Thank you!

    Reply

  23. Mary McGovern commented:

    Thank you Lorna for a wonderful description of a wonderful spot on the East Coast of Newfoundland .
    Your trip and story of this magical spot has resulted in me putting Fogo Island on my Bucket List , and look forward to meeting Zita who had great courage and a vision for the place of her birth Well done :;

    I will look forward to my trip . You have wetted my appetite to explore the Eastern Province to see the beauty of the Sea and hear some wonderful stories

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Yes! Toque and Canoe’s goal is to get Canadians to see Canada. It shows us through its travel pieces what a marvellous country we live in. Let’s get Westerners to see Atlantic Canada and those who live there to travel all the way to B.C. to dip their toes in the Pacific.
      Warmest,
      Lorna

      Reply

  24. Inge Israel commented:

    Kudos to Toque and Canoe for sharing with us this beautiful description of Fogo Island Island seen here with Lorna’s sensitivity, clarity of vision, deep insights and love of nature.

    Who could resist her invitation to bite into “25,000 years of caught water and frozen light”?

    Thank you, Lorna! And thank you to Toque and Canoe!

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Inge. Global warming became a palpable issue for me when I met that iceberg. We have to do whatever is necessary to make sure our grandchildren can see an iceberg!

      Best,
      Lorna

      Reply

  25. Susan Alexander commented:

    Okay — now I MUST go to Fogo Island. Newfoundland has been on my bucket list for eons but this place is magical – icebergs and puffins and handmade quilts. Lorna Crozier makes it crackle into life — and with Alex Fradkin’s photos — I almost feel like I’ve been pulled into another world.
    Time to start saving for a big trip! Maybe when I get there it will feel like I am coming back.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      And Susan, you can even take one of those hand-made quilts home. Our own beds can be warmed by the skills of those Newfoundland women.

      Best,
      Lorna

      Reply

  26. Pia Archibald commented:

    What a wonderful article on Fogo Island. It evoked such powerful images of our own travels in Newfoundland – the breathtaking landscapes, abundant wildlife and resilient, fun-loving people. We didn’t make it to Fogo Island last time. Now I want to go back.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Pia. Stay tuned for another article, which will be posted soon, that I wrote about the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland. I couldn’t get over the delight in the stories of those “fun-loving people.”
      Best,
      Lorna

      Reply

  27. Ruth McKinney commented:

    The Fogo Island Inn has been on my bucket-list since it first opened. The extra level of breathtaking beauty, that Lorna Crozier’s words have added, made me realize I need to grab that bucket and take it there asap to scoop up some of that fabulous place. The fact that Newfoundland is the only province I have never visited means there are a lot of other things I need to see too. Looks like next summer’s plans are already moving forward. Thanks Lorna.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Ruth.
      Good for Toque and Canoe for pulling us all together and making us want to travel in our own country.
      Cheers,
      Lorna

      Reply

  28. Judith McAuley commented:

    Fogo Island was the highlight of my 3 week trip to Newfoundland. I also met Roy while staying in Tilting and he signed two of his books for me. The tundra-like landscape made for incredible hikes. I can’t wait to go back.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Judith. Roy is a Newfoundland treasure, isn’t he? I’m so glad you got to hang around him too.
      Best,
      Lorna

      Reply

  29. Jack Whyte commented:

    Speaking of gobsmacking… Another object lesson in creative thinking and astounding imagery here. I’ve just come back from several literary conferences, where people like me mumble and bumble on about the Craft of writing. Then I come home and try to capture the essence of a legend in a 250,000-word novel, while Lorna Crozier does it casually, succinctly and with astonishing precision, conveying breathtaking images, time after time, in single, pithy sentences. Brava, Lorna! And bravo, Toque and Canoe, a truly wonderful and brilliant site that demonstrates precisely why Canada has been chosen as the world’s prime tourism destination in 2017.

    Reply

  30. Charles Guo commented:

    This is really beautiful, my friend. Thank you for asking me to read your this article and I really appreciate with so many splendid pics. Hope we could me soon in your house in Canada to see ur Terra-Cotta Warriors. Miss u a lot:)

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Well, Charles, you just helped me navigate through a poetry festival in China. I wanted you to see a bit of what makes Canada special. I hope you can make it here one day.
      Warmest,
      Lorna

      Reply

  31. Ryan @ Butiq Escapes commented:

    We just started offering trips here to clients after I spent my first 5 days here at Fogo Island. The Inn is a world delight and I honestly wasn’t prepared for what a unique place it is. I dream of the hot chocolate at night while watching the sunset..I’ll have to wait until next year.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Ryan. And now we can drink hot chocolate and watch the sunset in the Fogo Inn’s special pajamas! Does it get any better?
      Cheers,
      Lorna

      Reply

  32. maggie commented:

    loved reading this. my maternal grandmother was born on Fogo Island and she told us many stories about it while i was growing up. i have been thinking about going there for years, and you might have just given me the little push i needed.

    thanks for this

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Maggie. How wonderful that your grandmother was born there. I bet she knows the people I mentioned in my article.

      Best,
      Lorna

      Reply

  33. Greg Zinter commented:

    What a find! One of Canada’s greatest writers waxing poetically (she can’t help it) about some of Canada’s greatest treasures. And with photography to match. What’s not to like? Fogo Island is now in my future and the Toque and Canoe is now on my list of frequently visited websites. Thanks Lorna.

    Reply

  34. Jane Johnston commented:

    I can only think Fogo Island summoned Lorna as her fitting
    poetic voice. The land, language and exquisite photography
    have me happily spell and island bound.

    Reply

    • Lorna Crozier commented:

      Hi, Jane. Some places really speak to the heart, don’t they, even if we were born far away. I certainly felt that way about Fogo Island.
      Warmest,
      Lorna

      Reply

  35. Susie Whelehan commented:

    Lorna. Lorna. Lorna.
    Fogo. Fogo. Fogo.
    Yes! Yes! Yes!
    Reading your review is the next best thing to being there.
    Congratulations Toque & Canoe for having Lorna write for you.
    And the photos are breathtaking as well.
    We all win reading this.
    Thank you for the beauty.

    Reply

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