A CBC variety show that ran from the mid 1960s for a decade and a lyric from the Newfoundland folk song “I’s the B’y”, All Around the Circle rings a bell for a lot of Canadians. This week, as part of my father’s visit from PEI, we went all around the circle backwards by starting in Moreton’s Harbour.
From Gander, turn left in Virgins Arm, off route 340 to work your way through the neighbouring communities on the way to Moreton’s Harbour. Each community offers beautiful views of islands, harbours and boats but alas, on this day, no whales or icebergs.
Driving into Moreton’s Harbour we noticed a community museum with the easily recognized historical sign sponsored by the Johnson Foundation. After a drive up all promising roads, we stopped at the museum for a visit. There is no fee, just a donation box, and you can purchase a $5 “Mug Up” if you’re in the need of a snack.
The museum offers a great collection of local artifacts and history. Moreton’s Harbour was a very prosperous community due to the fishing trade and the styles of clothing and furniture show evidence of this. Two summer students are working here and eagerly learning and sharing the local history.
The collection includes a lot of magazines and books documenting Newfoundland and Labrador history and politics and the news media from various decades.
From here we made our way to Twillingate and saw, at agreat distance, two icebergs. Dad’s binoculars where needed for a good view but the coin operated viewing glasses at the Long Point Lighthouse are also great. The viewing deck was very busy with tourists and locals checking for ice. There is also an exhibit about the Titanic housed near the lighthouse.
Crow’s Nest Café is a mandatory stop for a cookie or date square after an afternoon of driving and with much more to see. This place is always busy in a small café kind of way.
Twillingate bustles during tourist season. Bed and breakfasts, tourist homes, cabins and hotels offer lots of rooms in a small proximity. An overnight or two affords guests time to take in local theatre, music and whale or iceberg tours. Even when the bergs and humpbacks are scarce, the scenery and history of Twillingate and the sea make a tour worthwhile. Twillingate’s economy is also still heavily based on the fishery and it’s tourism is based on the fishery heritage.
Twillingate has a neighbouring community, Durrell, located just across the water. Each side of the harbour offers a different view.
Notre Dame Seafood fish plant was very busy with transport trucks and crab and fishing boats on the wharves. Punt, skiff, dragger, trawler; there are many different types of boats in Newfoundland based on the location, species and conditions. Boat building continues to evolve but the masters of the craft are rooted firmly in tradition, especially for small boats.
Driving through Durrell we see more accommodations, restaurants and boat tours and even Auk Winery. Featuring berry based wines, Auk has a great marketing plan with fun labels and names. Moose Juice anyone?
We arrived at the Durrell museum at closing time but still got a great view.
Heading towards Gander we watch for the signs for Doyle Samsone and Son Lobster Pool which features a dockside restaurant and great food. This is a cash only operation and at 6:15 on a Sunday night we got one of the two empty tables before the dining room filled and families had to wait for tables or eat on the deck.
Again, a mixture of locals, some others from an hour away in Gander, dine with tourists passing through or staying in Twillingate area. A shared order of fresh mussels, two orders of “the best fish and chips” my 73 year old father “ever ate”, a pasta with mussels and lobster and a couple of beverages was around $65 with a tip. We were too full to try the homemade desserts but did buy some local scallops to take home to cook.
Live or cooked lobsters can be bought from the lobster pool. We counted 38 crates of lobster floating and the bottom of the pool was full and even had cod swimming around the lobster!
Monday was our day of rest and scallops and charging electronics in preparation for the rest of the circle.
On the off chance that there’s still someone who doesn’t know, Fogo Island is located off the coast of Newfoundland in Notre Dame Bay. The nine individual communities are amalgamated into the Town of Fogo Island. With a current population of about 2 500, Fogo has resisted resettlement for decades.
This is dad’s third trip to Fogo Island over approximately 15 years so in addition to the drive to the communities, we’re looking for new sites to see.
Ferry service to Fogo is subsidized by the provincial government. The vessel is the Captain Earl W. Winsor, a former PEI to NS boat once named the Prince Edward. Dad did a thorough walk around the ferry taking pictures for friends in PEI who hadn’t seen her in years. We also made a visit to the wheelhouse to see the best view of Fogo and Change Island.
The first community off the ferry is Stag Harbour. Pretty with the mirror calm harbour, Stag Harbour is small and very quiet. No businesses open except for a newly renovated tourist rental home Oasis by the Sea . The local boys are working on “projects” to keep the playground fresh and clean or offer tourism brochures from the closed store. One little girl passes by on her bike.
Many houses in Stag Harbour were floated from the abandoned community of Indian Island. You have to know which ones through connections. I wonder if anyone has thought to tell the boys at tourist information to explain about this. Resettlement would be a good theme for this community. Even maybe a couple of story board signs located where the church once stood. I’ll give you a hint to look for big two story houses in some cases, perched high on the rocks.
We swing by Deep Bay and Island Harbour and marvel at the houses clinging to the rocks. Many people miss these communities or save them for the end and run out of time when touring the Island.
Communities are distributed around the perimeter of Fogo Island because they were established for purposes of fishing. Roads inland from these outports meet towards the centre of the island. The Kindergarten to Grade 12 school was built in the centre of the Island, closing tiny schools in each community. As the Island population declines and ages, the number of school aged children is also in decline. The large school now also houses the public library and neighbours the arena, hospital, RCMP, Town office and two new churches, more signs of consolidation.
Turning at the Iceberg Arena takes us across the Island to Shoal Bay. One of my missions this trip is to take a picture of pitcher plants, our carnivorous provincial flower, so we pull off opposite the Tower Studio and the boardwalk leads through many species of bog growing plants. Dad checks out the skids used for hauling out wood and notices the plastic glides added to the wooden runners.
We stop to see Winston and Linda Osmond’s Herring Cove Art Studio and admire Linda’s quilts and Winston’s paintings and prints. With one of many gardens on Fogo Island, Winston and Linda also make pickles and salsa and jams from ‘foraged’ berries. (Apparently foraging is more trendy than berry picking these days.) Winston is also selling fresh eggs of many varieties and pickled quail eggs.
Lunch at the Island Bake Shop is delicious. A small bakery offering traditional homemade cookies and squares, they also feature a limited menu and a small dining area.
Their chowder is a hearty mix of cod and potato and meant to fill you up. Huge, hot serving with homemade bread. This is a usual stop when leaving the Island to stock up the freezer at home. The small tv in the corner rotates the local calendar of events from the cable company and there is free wifi here. Sandwiches and dishes can be packed for takeout. Bellies full, we set sights for Tilting.
Tilting maintains it’s Irish heritage right down to the potato gardens and St. Patricks celebrations.
Big new houses are being built and old homes maintained as permanent or summer residences. Local committees have established walking trails and community museums. The Dwyer Premises is a house built in the 1800s and fishing stages that are open to the public with a guided tour. Our guide was pleasant, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. She was enjoying her work and had over 20 visitors the day before. She also knew to mention the other museums in Tilting. Very impressive young lady.
A stop at the park at Etheridges Point in Joe Batts Arm was enough to convince me dad might need an icecream. Homemade and featuring local favorites like partridge berry jam tart or blueberries, this hard icecream is served in a traditional store. Local artifacts adorn the shelves including ledgers and beehives of bills from distant history.
With dinner reservations at the Fogo Island Inn for 6, we checked into our tourist home, the Quintal House to settle in and relax a bit. A strollable distance from the Inn. and one house away from Nicole’s Cafe the Quintal House was convenient and lovely.
Dad has followed the media coverage of Zita Cobb’s reinvention of the Fogo Island experience. He’s read about it in the news media, on Facebook and watched videos and news stories. He also spent 30+ years working in building supplies so he likes looking at how things are put together.
We were just in time to get a guided tour. Starting with the crossing planks in the wooden floor where we stood in the foyer, some of the aspects of Todd Saunder’s design were explained. The Inn is a crossroads, the guide tells us as she shows us the floorboards laid to show where the two rectangular prisms intersect. Every chair and table in the Inn was locally made based on contemporary design inspired by local tradition.
Fourth floor saunas and seating areas will soon be joined by hot tubs hanging over the North Atlantic. Two icebergs in the distance distracted us from the lovely Sarah for a few minutes but she managed to collect us and show off one of the 29 guest rooms, complete with locally handmade furnishings and quilts.
Another great job by a tour guide. I have to wonder if the local boys are being talked into applying on some of these jobs hospitality jobs.
Our tour ended in the general area of foods and beverages so a drink was in order. With snacks including smoked capelin and moose jerky we visited with tourists from Georgetown, Ontario and discovered they were our housemates up the road. Visiting made us late for our 6:00 table but it was a relatively quiet Tuesday night and we eventually decided to dine at 7.
Dad was interested in seeing the Inn but I wasn’t sure how our dinner date would go. I forgot to ask if they had a menu “sans prix”. I should have known he was in for the full experience!
He quickly decided PEI beef or pork were options he could choose at home and wondered about the bones in the herring appetizer. Our phenomenal waitress Amanda explained the locally caught fish are filleted but some soft bones will remain and can be easily eaten. She also explained that the locally foraged caribou moss is naturally so alkaline it can be used to stuff chickens and then poison coyotes when used as bait “but we treat it here so you can eat it”. I’ll try that, says Ernie Davis and another rye…
I asked Amanda about seeing whales and without batting an eye, she told us she “knows a guy who knows a guy”. She described our steak tartar amuse-bouche with local wild and foraged plant elements and then she must have gone to call her guy.
Chef Murray MacDonald visited our table after appetizers and checked on our meal. He watched and listened as our plates were served and described by Amanda. Friendly and confident, he told us the local gardens are a bit behind last year so menu changes will happen next week as new produce is available. He’s just trying to see if I can come three months in a row!
Dad also asked if his drink would counteract any ill effects of treated stinging needles used in the Juniper Torched Halibut entrée and was assured it was the only remedy Amanda had heard of. This girl owned the dining room that night. She was personable and fun but also all class and professional. She read our table perfectly and matched and enhanced our good mood. She described each dish with pride and confidence.
The dining room is supported by 18 foot stilts and faces the ocean with two story windows floor to ceiling on two sides. We watched punt racers training for the upcoming Fogo Island Punt Race. They rowed at a fair clip!
Dinner was delicious. We tasted off each other’s plates and as we waited for dessert I caught a glimpse of spray out of the corner of my eye. Then something black. Could be a rock….and then, thar she blows!
Although they looked like pepperflakes in a picture, it felt like the whales were there just for us. They were feeding near the surface and put on a lovely show. Dad’s binoculars served us well once more. We saw tails and fins and even the Inn staff were excited to watch from the dining room. There’s a great picture on the Fogo Island Inn Facebook page that does the whole experience justice.
We were eventually lured back to our seats by the serving of the deconstructed partridge berry tart and my rhubarb three ways with goat cheese icecream. A dessert drink with homemade ginger syrup rather than gingerale polished off a great day and a delicious meal.
We waved goodbye to the Inn mascots, Make and Break and headed out to the tourist home for a good sleep.
After breakfast we took one more run around the harbour in Joe Batts Arm to admire the view and check for icebergs.
One last stop at the Wind and Wave Craft Guild building before leaving Joe Batt’s Arm. The Guild has over 40 members from Fogo and Change Islands. I’m not sure of the membership rules but judging from the quality, I suspect work is juried to keep consistency and quality. The Guild members made quilts and mats for theFogo Island Inn. Summer and winter quilts for each room for the King sized beds that can be split into two singles. That’s a lot of quilting!
In addition to quilting, rug hooking, knitting, crocheting and wood working are also featured. Turned bowls, French style rolling pins and mixed wood cutting boards are some of the great wooden pieces. Caribou antler is featured as handles on knives and wine stoppers. Heritage rugs are studied and the traditional patterns are being hooked again as well as new designs reflecting icebergs and whales.
Finally we are headed to Fogo or Fogo Proper as some say to distinguish the town from the island with the same name. We got a glimpse of a bigger berg around Barr’d Island but couldn’t find a road (or driveway) to give us a good view.
Fogo, Twillingate, Morton’s Harbour, all around the circle!
Fogo was a fishing capital for hundreds of years. Merchant families ran and ruled the economy. Dad had already visited the Bleak House Museum on previous trips so we just drove by while I tried to find a elusive big iceberg. Bleak House is a former merchant home and runs successfully as a community museum. Artifacts are numerous and of the place. Past Bleak House we found ourselves at the Fogo Battery and the foot of stairs leading to great trails—if you’re into that.
We aren’t. but enjoyed the view even if the small iceberg in the distance was only faintly visible.
By 11:30 we’d worked our way up to the new Fogo’s Wireless Interpretation Centre.
Perched high on one of the many hills in Fogo, this museum is very new and beautifully done. Story boards and glassed displays show the importance of wireless communication to the world and Newfoundland’s role in transmitting messages from Europe to America. Of course, the irony lies in that there is no internet signal available here and telephone signals are sketchy on Fogo Island. This also the case in Heart’s Content, the landing point of the first transatlantic cable.
The museum was staffed by two young girls who offered a tour but we just looked around. As we wandered, they were meticulously cleaning floors, windows, etc. No wonder everything looks so new! Again, a donation box rather than a set fee is the way to show appreciation for such a beautiful facility.
We also met Andrew Shea, a former Mayor of Fogo and a retired teacher. He was delivering a Calendar of Events taking place in Fogo. Demonstrations of traditional skills are done for a small fee. He was planning on teaching a lesson at the one room schoolhouse that afternoon.
A stop at the Island Bake shop on the way to the ferry and our circle was almost complete. Smooth sailing to Farewell and an hour’s drive home and our adventure was over. Nothing left but to consolidate pictures from two tablets and two cameras and write a post.