New­found­land’s Fogo Is­land Inn of­fers lux­ury, sus­tain­abil­ity and so­cial en­ter­prise at the other edge of Canada by Char­lene Rooke

BC Business Magazine - - Contents - JDS

The lux­u­ri­ous Fogo Is­land Inn is worth a trip to the Rock

You may blink when you glimpse the Fogo Is­land Inn from the gravel ser­vice road: a pale slab float­ing like a rogue ice­berg on a stark chunk of rock about 16 kilo­me­tres off the north­east coast of New­found­land. Open the inn’s mas­sive red-knobbed front doors and the in­te­rior—and the wel­come to come-from-aways—is ridicu­lously warm. There’s a riot of colours on nubby tex­tiles, a pot-bel­lied stove, weath­ered wooden fur­ni­ture. The lobby smells of wood fire, clean hung laun­dry, home. I’m handed a hefty bronze room-key fob, cast from a cari­bou ver­te­bra found on the prop­erty. This is not your typ­i­cal lux­ury ho­tel.

The place is so re­mote it’s on the cover of the book Re­mote Places to Stay. But ob­scure it’s not: since open­ing in 2013, the inn has won global awards and been the sub­ject of an ex­cel­lent doc­u­men­tary, Strange and Fa­mil­iar, about its rad­i­cal ar­chi­tec­ture. It could only have been cre­ated by na­tive Fogo Is­land daugh­ter Zita Cobb, a busi­ness veteran with much more than com­merce on her mind these days.

Her aim is to re­vi­tal­ize the is­land’s econ­omy while cre­at­ing a world-class eco-friendly travel and cul­tural desti­na­tion. A Car­leton Univer­sity grad­u­ate who was an ex­ec­u­tive at fi­bre-op­tic pioneer

Uniphase Corp., Cobb cashed out at age 40, and sail­ing around the world didn’t amuse her for long. The 29-room, eco-con­scious inn and its sis­ter or­ga­ni­za­tion, Fogo Is­land Arts, are owned by the non-profit Shore­fast Foun­da­tion, which Cobb cre­ated as an um­brella for her dream. Art and com­merce go hand in hand, and to­gether, all their ac­tiv­i­ties cre­ate “a kind of heart­beat that gives nu­tri­tion to every­thing else,” she says.

The spinoff jobs and eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity are sub­stan­tial. Al­most every­thing in the guest rooms (ex­cept the Starck for Du­ravit heated toi­lets, pre­sum­ably) was made on Fogo Is­land: cus­tom wall­pa­per, rock­ing chairs, quilts (signed in stitch by their mak­ers; Rita Pen­ton crafted mine). These items, now made and sold in vin­tage build­ings re­stored by the foun­da­tion, are so pop­u­lar that fans or­der them world­wide (Gwyneth Pal­trow’s raves didn’t hurt). There are no TVS in the rooms, but At­lantic “tele­vi­sion,” end­lessly cours­ing out­side your sea­side win­dow, is mes­mer­iz­ing.

Ev­ery guest gets a tour of the is­land from a lo­cal: Fer­gus Fo­ley, a for­mer fish­er­man and re­tired “fish­eries cop,” is my guide. “When I first heard tell of [the inn] and saw the project in process, I thought the poor woman had lost her mind,” Fo­ley says with an Ir­ish-sound­ing in­flec­tion in his voice. “Many peo­ple on the is­land did.”

Now he’s a be­liever who proudly shows me Fogo’s sights, from its six com­mu­ni­ties of painted-wood

houses to 18th-cen­tury French can­nons to the lo­cal wire­less sta­tion (now a mu­seum) that got the Ti­tanic’s dis­tress sig­nal. Fo­ley points out the trail­head for Brim­stone, a rock for­ma­tion that juts out like a sphinx. I see the hand­ful of arch-mod­ern stu­dios (in­clud­ing that rad­i­cal white wedge you’ve seen in the Apple ads) that host writ­ers and artists from around the world. We say “hey” to Pa­trick, pro­pri­etor of a pop­u­lar “shed”—an ul­tra-lo­cal pub, with a cot­tage-like in­te­rior cov­ered in mar­itime mem­o­ra­bilia, band and hockey para­pher­na­lia, and Ir­ish flags. I won­der aloud if tourists ever stop by this lo­cal club­house: “Ev­ery­one’s wel­come,” Pa­trick de­clares.

If the idea of tak­ing a plane, a ferry and a drive to get to a luxe ho­tel in an ex­tra­or­di­nary wild place on the out­ly­ing edge of a con­ti­nent brings to mind a cer­tain for­mer log­ging com­mu­nity on Van­cou­ver Is­land, it will make sense that chef Ti­mothy Charles worked at the Wick­anin­nish Inn in Tofino be­fore com­ing to Fogo four years ago. As we walk the rugged shore­line, still dot­ted with snow in early sum­mer, Charles points out Labrador tea, sea­side plan­tain and ju­niper that the kitchen for­ages. When­ever pos­si­ble, he sources from is­land or New­found­land sup­pli­ers. “Ev­ery year we’ve been able to in­crease the amount of New­found­land prod­ucts,” Charles says. “Over time, this is grow­ing into some­thing re­ally spe­cial.”

Room and board are in­cluded in a stay at the inn (with the ex­cep­tion of liquor, but the Nova Sco­tia Ben­jamin Bridge Nova 7 rosé is to­tally worth the $16 a glass). Tip­ping-fa­tigued trav­ellers will be pleased that that’s in­cluded, too: all staff share in a tip pool cre­ated by 15 per cent of the prof­its. Each meal is spe­cial—from the early-morn­ing bas­ket of cof­fee and pas­try left out­side your door to thick break­fast pan­cakes with is­land crow­berry jam, ocean­side cook­outs at lunch and ex­tra­or­di­nary din­ners.

One night I or­der a the­atri­cal pre-din­ner cock­tail, its heavy crys­tal tum­bler smoked by a wisp of burning birch bark be­fore rose­mary-mud­dled bour­bon is added. My starter is crispy breaded cod tongues on braised fen­nel and cel­ery that looks like del­i­cate sea flora, a poached duck egg flood­ing the plate like a tidal pool. It tastes as re­mark­able as it ap­pears. The meal looks like some­thing you’d get at Noma in Copen­hagen and feels like the start of a unique New­found­land Nordic cui­sine.

Some­times tourism ends up de­stroy­ing what it’s meant to cel­e­brate, when too many peo­ple rush to en­joy unique ex­pe­ri­ences that quickly be­come com­mon and com­mer­cial. The inn feels just-right-sized, bring­ing new life to this re­mote speck of rock in the At­lantic, but not enough to change it from the fishing com­mu­nity it has been for more than 250 years. If this is what so­cial en­ter­prise looks like, book me for a re­peat visit.

IS­LAND HOS­PI­TAL­ITY (Clock­wise from left) Fogo Is­land Inn; the ocean-view din­ing room; one of the guest rooms; the inn`s dis­tinc­tive ar­chi­tec­ture makes a bold state­ment; busi­ness­woman Zita Cobb, who cre­ated the prop­erty

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