An Inn for seven seasons

JOE BATT’S ARM, NL—On
Fogo Island, there are seven seasons, says Zita Cobb, visionary behind the Fogo
Island Inn, which opened May 15.

Summer,
which consists of July and August, is in her opinion the least interesting
season—it doesn’t have the same drama as the others.

September
and October are berry season, with 16 kinds of edible berries available on the
island.

November or fall is the time
of the big gales, when the island experiences the full force of the North
Atlantic.

December, January and
February are winter.

Cobb’s favourite season is
ice season in March, when pack ice comes down from Greenland, and behind it,
icebergs which last until June.

April and May are spring,
when plants come back to life and the snow retreats, and June is known as trap
berth month, when locals traditionally drew lots for fishing berths. “It can be
like spring or summer—it’s a very dramatic time,” Cobb notes.

“The local people think I’m
nuts—they say there are way more than seven seasons.”

The Inn has been creating
quite a buzz this summer, partly because of its appearance—a distinctive white
frame wooden building that juts out over the rocks overlooking the North
Atlantic perched on stilts reminiscent of the platforms the locals use to dry
their fish.

Another reason for the buzz
is the cost of the rooms, from $500 a night for the smallest room during low
season, to $3,000 for the largest room in the peak summer season.

As Cobb points out, those
rates are for two people, and include four meals a day at the Inn or at any
restaurant on the island.

Weatherwise, it’s been a
“magical summer”—the best Cobb has seen since she was eight years old.

And the Inn’s occupancy
rates have been “quite good,” according to Cobb.

“It was always our intention
to launch slowly since we have a new industry and new staff. The last thing we
wanted was to be open and jam packed, but we’re doing much better than we
thought we would be. “We’re growing and finding our legs, and we have
reservations into next summer.”

Cobb adds that more than
half of the summer guests “have left with an absolute passion to come back in
winter. We’re sometimes called the Riviera of Newfoundland because we have such
sunny winters. And we do offer a significant discount to returning guests who
come back within 12 months.”

The Shorefast
Foundation

Cobb grew up on Fogo Island,
did well in business ventures off island and came back with a vision that took
the form of the Shorefast Foundation, which she operates along with her
brother, Anthony. Funded by the Cobbs with help from government
initiatives, its mission is to provide cultural and economic resilience for
Fogo Island and the nearby Change Islands. It’s founded on the belief that
geography has inherent value and we as human beings, Canadians and
Newfoundlanders, need to maintain close, intimate relationships with the
natural world.

Preserving people in
their place

“Rural people have a
particular way of knowing that comes from the natural world, and the only way
to preserve it is to preserve the people in their place.”

“The most important thing
about the Inn is that it is owned by the Foundation, which is a charity, but it
belongs to the community. Surpluses from its operations belong to the
community. Nobody privately benefits. Certainly, it is Canada’s only
community-owned Inn.”

Community relations

The three-year, $35 million
project was built with these values in mind—even when those values drove costs
upward. Millions of dollars were spent to train local people and build up their
skill sets. The Inn was built as much as possible with local labour.

There is a carpentry shop
across from the front entrance to the Inn, where much of the structure and
furniture were made.

One of the criteria was,
wherever possible, to design and create the Inn using materials produced on
Fogo Island, and failing that, Newfoundland, Canada or traditional trading
partners. If none of those options were available, the materials must be
sourced from countries which have basic labour and environmental protection
legislation. Nails were a particular problem—in the end they came from France,
which drove up the costs.

The Inn is also leading edge
when it comes to use of solar heat, rainwater and fresh air. There are
wood-burning stoves in each room, along with windows that open. “It sounds
simple, but it’s complex to implement,” says Cobb. “Buildings today are
designed as closed boxes, where the windows don’t open. We want to give our
guests the basic things a caveman had—fresh air, wood-burning radiant
heat—something most properties can’t do. The only plastic in the Inn is
telephones—everything else is made from natural materials.”

Cobb has invited every
single household on the island to come to the Inn as a guest, including an
overnight stay, supper, breakfast and lunch. “They need to know what it’s all
about,” says Cobb, adding that there’s a bonus when islanders connect with
guests from away.

“These exchanges are where
the magic lies,” she says.

Survival
Cooking

Chef Murray McDonald of Fogo Island Inn.

Chef Murray McDonald of Fogo Island Inn.

JOE BATT’S ARM,
NL—Cooking fresh and indigenous meals is a challenge when your locale is a
rocky island off the coast of Newfoundland—even for someone who has travelled
the world and most recently helped open the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel
restaurants.

Chef Murray McDonald of Fogo
Island Inn calls it “survival food.” Diets for the early settlers in
Newfoundland consisted of fish, salt fish, salt meat, the garden and the root
cellar. If any of these elements were missing, they would starve.

“We don’t fly things in from
all over the world—we make the menu as local as possible. Every single piece of
protein on the menu is from Newfoundland except beef, which is from Prince
Edward Island.”

Last year, he and his staff
put up 900 bottles of preserves; they plan to preserve 1,200 bottles this year.

They serve cod tongues,
scrunchions, salt cod and lobster. A sample dish might consist of smoked caplin
(a local fish), crushed berries and toast. Pease pudding and cod are two
traditional Newfoundland dishes.

McDonald grew up in Deer
Lake on the west coast of Newfoundland, and he hearkens back to his
grandfather’s diet as inspiration for authentic Newfoundland food. “My
grandfather ate fish and chips on Friday, pea soup on Saturday, and on Sunday
it was Jiggs Dinner.” He describes the latter as salt beef, split peas and root
vegetables all boiled together in the same pot, similar to a New England Boiled
Supper.