Tag Archives: Newfoundland

Fogo Island, Newfoundland

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I made my way to Fogo Island off the North coast of Newfoundland in Atlantic Canada this summer (celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow just beat me to it); here are some of my thoughts and photos from the trip.

This small Canadian island of 2,500 inhabitants is creating quite a stir the past few years. And much of the hoopla is around this stunning structure, built partly on stilts. The Fogo Island Inn was designed by Newfoundland-born, Norway-based architect Todd Saunders. The five-star, 29-room, luxury ‘journey’s end’ has generated lots of jobs for locals and garnered international attention. It features a rooftop spa, library, high-end personal service, and luxe décor based on local traditions. Two words: book early.

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Behind a growing initiative to make Fogo a geotourism destination is Zita Cobb, a dot-com entrepreneur who retired early after making her fortune abroad and for the last decade has been dedicated to helping rebuild the island she left when she was 16. To encourage people to stay, she established the Shorefast Foundation – an organization committed to preserving the Islanders’ traditions and aims at rejuvenating the Island through the arts and culture.

Cobb is the client behind the now world-famous inn and a series of six artists’ studios (also by Saunders) scattered across the Island. These unique, self-sustaining, off-the-grid pavilions perched on the edge of the Atlantic provide visiting international writers and artists time and space to do their work.

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Residents are appreciative of the attention and the business, which has made a real difference to Fogo. It is helping to sustain, so far, a very particular and special social fabric. Frayed and weathered, it may be, but the colourful, vibrant and resilient communities of the Island continue to make their mark.

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Saunders Architecture has a portfolio of contemporary northern projects set against dramatic landscapes: simple villas and lookout points over Nordic fjords, e.g. Aurland Lookout. His work on Fogo is getting a lot of coverage: books, global film screenings, TEDx talks, and earning similar commissions, including new rural retreat homes in the western Canadian wilderness and seven small architectural ‘objects’ strung along a nature trail in Sweden. Perhaps for a next trek…

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The new app ‘DUET’ for the iPad features a 2 min video interview about what motivates Architect Todd Saunders and how it informs his design process:

A 1-minute teaser for the film: Strange and Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island.

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Newfoundland : small places and vacant spaces

newfoundland_scalvetNewfoundland is situated on Canada’s easternmost edge.

Affectionately known as ‘The Rock’, this coastal province is suffering Canada’s most severe fiscal and demographic crisis after some hard-hitting blows: a fishery collapse in the 90s, an oil-price slump and mounting debt. Dwindling populations are left in the small fishing outports that built it. The government of Newfoundland is seeking to close these places, rather than service them. It is offering cash incentives for people to abandon their homes. You can read about this here.

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But tourism has ramped up in the past few years, thanks in part to the Fogo Island Inn (more on that later) and to successful cinematic advertising campaigns beckoning travelers to make the trek. People are drawn to the capital’s (St. John) convivial folk music scene, to the villages’ vernacular architecture –in particular, the beautifully restored fishing rooms and saltbox houses, and to the province’s raw beauty: national parks, ecological reserves, ‘iceberg alley’, etc. Here are a few moments from my recent visit: 

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The New Founde Lande Trinity Pageant takes one back to the 1700s. Local actors and singers from the Rising Tide Theatre lead scores of visitors on a scenic walking tour of the Town of Trinity. Against the backdrop of historic merchant buildings, churches, and cemeteries they portray the daily lives, traditions, and hardships of their forefathers.

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Every summer and fall, the Town of Trinity’s Rising Tide Theatre presents a series of plays that reflect the history and culture of Newfoundland.

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Nestled on Northern Point is an otherwise unremarkable old twine shed named the “House of Commons” (aka Bill Piercey’s Store). But inside is a treasure trove of flotsam and jetsam of fishermen’s lives that speak to a time before the Internet. In this Dead Poets Society-like man cave, men young and old used to congregate on old chairs, tubs, and heaps of cod traps spinning yarns while the stove crackled. They discussed anything from water mains, hockey games, and everything a man may need for a fishing boat. It was also the setting for many heated debates over town matters or government affairs. The shed fell silent in 1986 when Uncle Bill Piercey passed away but you can almost hear their voices echo through the touching variety of artifacts lovingly left in place.

Intimate community places like this are hard to come by.

House of Common’s (Bill Piercey’s Store): “It is a place where men may meet, All through their weary lives; It’s a haven from the ocean, And a heaven from their wives.”

House of Commons (Bill Piercey’s store): “It is a place where men may meet, All through their weary lives; It’s a haven from the ocean, And a heaven from their wives.”

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Newfoundland and Labrador’s 2016 tourism advertising campaign included a television ad entitled Crayons.