ROAD TO THE ISLES

A jour­ney along Canada’s eastern edge goes off-road in the best pos­si­ble way.

Elle (Canada) - - Escape - By Christina Reynolds

It’s like an­other world out here,” says Ger­ard Greene, as he care­fully steers our speedboat through the shoals of Lit­tle Fogo Is­lands, an ar­chi­pel­ago eight kilo­me­tres off the north­ern coast of New­found­land’s Fogo Is­land. No one lives at this out­port any­more—ex­cept the thou­sands of puffins, mur­res and other seabirds whose nests are perched along the clifftops—but a hand­ful of salt­box and bis­cuit-box houses and fish­ing stages, in var­i­ous states of dis­re­pair, are still propped up on stilts along the rocky shore­lines. Sev­eral have re­cently been re­vived with coats of bright paint and are be­ing used as sum­mer cot­tages.

On this sunny late-July day, with wisps of white clouds in the sky above and clear blue wa­ter be­low, it’s easy to see why most lo­cals, in­clud­ing Zita Cobb, the driv­ing force be­hind the nearby Fogo Is­land Inn, con­sider th­ese tra­di­tional fish­ing grounds a “sa­cred home­land.” They know th­ese is­lands well. Greene nav­i­gates through the “tick­les” (straits) us­ing a friend’s care­fully hand-drawn map, which seem­ingly notes ev­ery rock and shoal.

“It’s get­ting a lit­tle bit loppy,” says Greene, as we leave the shel­ter of the ar­chi­pel­ago and the wind and waves pick up. As the bow of the boat be­gins to smash down af­ter each wave, my mother, whom I’m trav­el­ling with, says she’s start­ing to feel “a lit­tle queasy”—the New­found­land ver­sion of “car­sick.” But be­fore head­ing back to the main is­land and the com­fort of Fogo Is­land Inn’s cozy hand­made quilts, she still wants to stop at the shoals above Round Head so we can try to catch a cod. We’re here dur­ing the few sum­mer weeks when some recre­ational fish­ing is al­lowed, and we can’t pass up the op­por­tu­nity to try what is ar­guably the most quin­tes­sen­tial of New­found­land ac­tiv­i­ties. While my mom stead­ies her­self by keep­ing an eye on the hori­zon, Greene, a re­tired teacher, shows me how to “jig the cod­fish” h

with a hook and line. He hands me a wooden spool at­tached to 45 me­tres of line, which I un­wind over the edge of the boat. I soon feel a tug. “I got one!” I call out. When the sil­very speck­led fish starts to thrash near the sur­face, Greene helps me hoist it into the boat. As it con­tin­ues to flop around, I can’t con­tain my ex­cite­ment about catch­ing a bona-fide New­found­land cod. Nei­ther can my sea­sick mother, it seems, as she leans over the side of the boat...in­di­cat­ing it’s def­i­nitely time to head back to shore.

Two days ear­lier, we had set out on this eight-day, 1,500-kilo­me­tre road (and ferry) trip from Gan­der to Deer Lake, tak­ing a cir­cuitous route to two of the prov­ince’s 7,000 is­lands—New­found­land’s Fogo Is­land, off the north­east­ern coast, and Labrador’s Bat­tle Har­bour, 300 kilo­me­tres north­west of Fogo. Both is­lands are home to iconic ho­tels that, while very dif­fer­ent in their mix of mod­ern and his­toric aes­thet­ics, are deeply con­nected to the land and its peo­ple—and even to each other through the gen­er­a­tions of is­landers who have lived and fished at both out­posts.

at Fogo Is­land Inn the next morn­ing, af­ter de­vour­ing warm berry scones that were de­liv­ered to our room be­fore we even got up, I feel as cheer­ful as our suite’s yel­low “get-your-feet-up” wooden set­tee. (Yes, that’s its of­fi­cial name, and it’s strate­gi­cally placed right next to the floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows over­look­ing the North At­lantic.) So I head to the inn’s nearby wood­shop for a chat with King­man Brew­ster, who moved here four years ago from Brook­lyn, N.Y., to over­see the con­struc­tion of the prop­erty’s cus­tom fur­ni­ture line, which per­fectly com­ple­ments the 29-room inn’s mod­ern­hand­made vibe. Through var­i­ous col­labs with de­sign­ers from around the world, the Fogo Is­land Shop has found a way to rein­ter­pret—and give a con­tem­po­rary twist to—the area’s tra­di­tional wooden out­port fur­ni­ture styles.

I tell Brew­ster about how, ear­lier in my visit, I was pok­ing around some 1940s-era fish­ing stages in nearby Tilt­ing, when I got to talk­ing with Ed Greene, who in­vited me across the street to see his fa­ther’s tra­di­tional salt­box home. (It’s per­haps no sur­prise that, in this small com­mu­nity of 2,700, Ed is a cousin to Ger­ard, who took us fish­ing.) In­side the low-ceilinged house, my eye is im­me­di­ately drawn to a sim­ple brown-painted wooden set­tee in the kitchen, an orig­i­nal it­er­a­tion of the larger-scale piece back in my suite. I also spot the sig­na­ture “F.U. green” paint colour on the wall, named af­ter the minty hue used in the prov­ince’s old Fish­er­man Union gen­eral stores; a slightly sub­tler shade can be found on the walls of the li­brary back at the inn. I ex­plain to Brew­ster how lovely it was to dis­cover th­ese con­nec­tions first-hand. “You can see how easy it is to get knee-deep in the work,” he replies. His sen­ti­ment echoes that of Cobb, who per­son­ally in­vested mil­lions of dol­lars to build the inn through the non-profit Shore­fast Foun­da­tion. For her, it’s a way to pre­serve the iden­tity of the is­land, en­cour­age eco­nomic growth and in­vest in the place where she grew up. Since its com­ple­tion in 2013, the inn has put Fogo Is­land on the map as an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned des­ti­na­tion.

To make the most of our fi­nal spare mo­ments on Fogo, my mom and I get back in the car and head for Lion’s

Den, where a 5.5-kilo­me­tre loop­ing trail of­fers pic­ture-per­fect views of the jagged coast­line, marshes and ponds. The sun is out, and hun­dreds of bloom­ing pur­ple pitcher plants, the prov­ince’s of­fi­cial flower, line the trail. We even hap­pen upon a lo­cal berry picker, who shows off his pre­cious haul of early-sea­son bakeap­ples (also known as cloud­ber­ries). This is­land, like the inn it­self, has all the in­gre­di­ents needed to fully en­joy a slower pace of life. If only we weren’t be­holden to things like ferry sched­ules....

back on the main­land, and back on the road, we head up the western edge of New­found­land’s North­ern Penin­sula and catch a ferry across the Strait of Belle Isle to Labrador. Here, we fi­nally get a taste of the “pea-soup” fog the prov­ince is fa­mous for. The Red Bay whaler’s cabin where we spend the night is so fogged in we can’t re­ally sit­u­ate our­selves. “It’s been weeks since we’ve seen the sun,” owner Mar­i­lyn Bri­dle tells us, ex­plain­ing that the hazi­ness is un­usu­ally in­tense for July.

In the morn­ing, the fog has (some­what) lifted, and we more fully ap­pre­ci­ate its power when, to our amaze­ment, we dis­cover our view out to a gar­gan­tuan rusted ship and a blue-tinged ice­berg just 50 me­tres out in the bay. But even be­fore we set off for the day, th­ese en­chant­ing sights be­gin to re­cede again. While I can imag­ine how dif­fi­cult it must be to live with this kind of weather long-term, as a vis­i­tor I’m quite mes­mer­ized by the oth­er­worldly white­out magic of it all.

Now the only ma­jor thing still left on our road-trip must-see list (cod: check; ice­bergs: check; fog: check) is a moose. My mother has her sights set on see­ing at least one of the 115,000 that (ap­par­ently) over­run the prov­ince. But, with 89 kilo­me­tres of fogged-in gravel road still to cover be­fore we reach the dock in Mary’s Har­bour, where a pas­sen­ger ferry will take us to Bat­tle Har­bour, I’m okay with skip­ping a moose en­counter right now. (Sadly, with noth­ing larger than an Arc­tic fox on the isle and no moose sight­ings dur­ing our fi­nal drive to Deer Lake, my mother was, sur­pris­ingly, out of luck.)

The tiny is­land we’re head­ing to is com­pletely walk­a­ble, and no ve­hi­cles are al­lowed; it feels good to ditch the car for a few days. As the aptly named Ice­berg Hunter ferry cuts through the Labrador Sea to­ward the his­toric fish­ing com­mu­nity, it de­liv­ers on its name: There are sev­eral build­ing-size hunks of ice to gaze at on the hori­zon. We ar­rive on shore just in time for a home­spun lunch of cod cakes and coleslaw, and the meal pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to meet the hand­ful of like-minded guests who have trav­elled so far to stay at this un­usual Na­tional His­toric Site. It’s the only one in the coun­try that has been re­born as a sum­mer get­away, com­plete with a quaint five-room inn and an eight-room mer­chant house, as well as five guest cot­tages—and what is likely the re­motest spa on the con­ti­nent. (Sim­i­lar to Fogo Is­land Inn, where any prof­its are re­in­vested in the com­mu­nity via the Shore­fast Foun­da­tion, this place is man­aged as a non-profit through a char­i­ta­ble trust.)

In the com­mu­nal din­ing hall, I’m seated next to fel­low guest Jean Claude Roy, who tells me about how he fell in love with New­found­land when he first came from France for a visit in 1966. In the past few years, he has be­come Bat­tle Har­bour’s un­of­fi­cial res­i­dent artist, spend­ing sev­eral weeks oil-paint­ing here each sum­mer. He now lives in the prov­ince seven months a year in an on­go­ing ef­fort to “paint ev­ery com­mu­nity in New­found­land.” (He has al­ready pub­lished Fluc­tuat Nec Mer­gi­tur, a 480-page vis­ual mono­graph of his New­found­land paint­ings, and he’s about to fin­ish a sim­i­lar col­lec­tion for Labrador.)

Af­ter lunch, Jan­ice Walsh, a lo­cal vol­un­teer from Mary’s Har­bour, gives us a tour of some of the orig­i­nal build­ings, which date back to the late 18th cen­tury, when this was a ma­jor hub for com­mer­cial cod, seal and salmon fish­ing. Be­cause of all the salt that was used here to pre­serve the fish, some of the wooden store­houses and ar­ti­facts feel brined. You can even smell it in the air. Walsh, whose great­grand­fa­ther came here with Baine, John­ston & Co., one of the orig­i­nal mer­chant com­pa­nies, vis­ited this com­mu­nity when she was a young girl, and to­day she has a sum­mer home here. “Most of the peo­ple who work here have a con­nec­tion to this is­land,” she says. h

Later, I head down to the is­land’s wash house, where fish­er­men used to clean up af­ter get­ting off their boats. Lisa Walsh (no re­la­tion to Jan­ice), founder of the or­ganic lo­cal beauty line Indi­gena Skin­care, based out of Top­sail Beach near St. John’s, has trans­formed the space into the rustic but relaxing Wash House Spa. As she treats my face with fer­mented blueberry and dried lam­i­naria (kelp) ex­fo­liants, a sea-veg­gie mask and Labrador tea cream, she tells me about how she hand-gath­ers many of the bakeap­ples, par­tridge­ber­ries and other in­gre­di­ents for her small-batch prod­ucts. “I love snorkelling for sea­weeds!” she says, like it’s a to­tally nor­mal thing to col­lect your own al­gae. “The wa­ter is freez­ing cold, but it’s great for my cel­lulite,” she quips. She’s busy the day I visit—a float plane full of guests from the nearby Rif­flin’ Hitch fly-in fish­ing lodge has ar­rived so they can en­joy an af­ter­noon of fa­cial mas­sages and body scrubs (plus lunch and a his­toric tour). Walsh is quickly be­com­ing the prov­ince’s go-to guru on lo­cally sourced beauty prod­ucts. (She also now sup­plies Fogo Is­land Inn with its in­room ameni­ties.)

The next day, Peter Bull, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Bat­tle Har­bour His­toric Trust and some­time tour guide, of­fers to take us across the tickle to hike around Great Cari­bou Is­land, but in­stead we opt to spend more time ex­plor­ing the land we’re al­ready on. We leisurely climb around the “gulches”—big breaks in the cliffs where the sea rushes up—wan­der past a First World War-era Mar­coni ra­dio sta­tion and search out the rusted wreck­age of a small plane that crashed in 1976. We also spend time look­ing at in­tri­cately carved head­stones in the old ceme­tery—and just breath­ing in the Labrador Sea air. We’re not too wor­ried about what we don’t get to. There will be time to­mor­row.

On our way back to our room at the newly ren­o­vated inn, we come across Roy paint­ing one of his pleinair scenes. For this one, he’s fo­cus­ing on a dirt road in the fore­ground with salt­box houses in the dis­tance. “Some­times it is so foggy you can only see three build­ings,” he says, ex­plain­ing that the sum­mer fog is dif­fer­ent from the spring fog. There’s no fog at the mo­ment, but the sky is over­cast, of­fer­ing him an­other mood to cap­ture. “I could paint here for three years,” he says. There re­ally is some­thing about New­found­land and Labrador that makes you want to linger. I’m not in a hurry to hit the road any­time soon ei­ther—other than con­tin­u­ing my stroll down the one in the paint­ing. n

A ren­o­vated sum­mer cabin in Lit­tle Fogo Is­lands (be­low); Fogo Is­land Inn and a pink ver­sion of the “get-your-feet-up” chair in a guest room (right)

A road sign for part of the high­way that con­nects some of New­found­land’s 7,000 is­lands; the Lion’s Den trail on Fogo Is­land (right)

Some of Bat­tle Har­bour’s pic­turesque scenery; the is­land’s mer­chant house (right); two of the ice­bergs spot­ted from the Ice­berg Hunter (far right)

Jean Claude Roy paint­ing

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