We begin the day as two tourists doing a thorough job of Newfoundland. Twillingate tops the brochures: “A veritable hot spot for theatre and iceberg viewing.” The name alone has us pumped with anticipation!

Our resolve is firmly on track - until the T-Junction. Turn left and we’ll be just in time for tea and, hopefully, a slice of partridgeberry pie. Ah, but risk a right to “Farewell and The Ferries” and who knows what adventures lie ahead?

Minutes later we are ensconced in the bowels of “The M/V Captain Earle W.Winsor” bound for Fogo Island.

I’ve taken to heading for the bridge on Newfoundland ferries, ignoring signs banning nosey tourists. Where better to learn the dirt on an unplanned destination?

Our nimble helmsman spins his wooden wheel through 15 kilometers of shallow channels, tickles (narrow waterways), small islands and ragged reefs on the 40 minute crossing to Stag Harbour.

Fogo Island is home to an odd enclave of Irish Catholics who came for the cod and salmon. Twenty four kilometers long and fifteen kilometers wide, it is the largest of Newfoundland’s offshore islands.
Today, 3500 hardy souls from 11 communities catch crab, turbot and prawns and grow root crops in the good soil at Oliver’s Cove.

“If you need a room in Tilting b’ye, you’d best be headin’ for Foley’s Place,” says Cyril Burke, Ferry Master, with a noticeable twinkle in his eyes. (We’re already on first name terms – this is Newfoundland). “They do a good job. Tell ‘em I sent you, eh!”

We drive through Little Seldom to Seldom-Come-By, and up across the scrubby center of the island where services are sensibly located. Need a 7/11, gas, a feed of Chester’s Fried Chicken, pizza or a pint of suds? The McKenna family has it all sewn up under one large roof.

Then, it’s back down to the coast, past pretty Shoal Bay, to Joe Batt’s Arm. Late afternoon sun has turned white painted clapboard houses into the colour of butter. A couple of icebergs drift languidly by as if out for an evening cruise.

Lines of firewood dot the roadside. Beside each perfect stack, a home-built sleigh waits to be loaded, hitched, and hauled by snowmobile when winter strikes. It takes 6 cords to heat a home and a wood cutting permit runs $6. In these parts “You’d rather steal a man’s wife than his firewood!”

Tilting, with a population of 247, is getting a new sewer line, so the road to Foley’s Place is chewed up. Big trucks and lengths of pipe seem out of place in this remote outport where brightly painted buildings ring the harbour.

We find it easily enough. Everyone knows The Foleys. Gerard Foley is The Mayor. He’s married to Darlene, his high school sweetheart from Joe Batt’s Arm. Much of Tilting belongs to two families, The Foleys and The Burkes. Cyril Burke, our new best friend is Ferry Master and Assistant Mayor!

The front door is wide open. A couple of fruitless knocks and we head inside. A computer. A TV. A stereo – All the comforts of home. The note says: “If no one’s around, call this number.” It’s father’s day and ‘His Worship’ is out fishing at the pond with his son.

“Choose a room b’ye and I’ll be back sometime. The woif has made scones – Help yourself.”

The immaculate B&B was built by Darlene’s relatives. New owners later “launched” it up the hill using horses and a sled. Two years ago she and Gerard bought the place and launched it back to its rightful spot by “the pond” – The inner harbour. (In Newfoundland, any enclosed body of water is a ‘pond’).

Back then, houses were constructed with stout foundations ready to be launched or towed by boat to a new job in a different outport. There was no plumbing, wiring or fences to worry about. You can’t drive a fencepost into rock!

Portuguese fishermen settled the island in the 1600’s. The French came and left, preferring to move up the coast. The British constructed seasonal buildings to process their catch before sailing home to a less harsh winter.

The first Irish “planters,” full-timers, arrived at Tilting in 1752. Sheep now graze among the headstones in Newfoundland’s oldest Irish graveyard.

Parks Canada recognized the unique culture and dialect of this community and, in 2005, Tilting was designated a National Historic District. Twine stores, fish flakes, (platforms where cod was dried and salted), stables, and fishing stages, have all been restored and repainted.

With only a couple of B&B’s and a nondescript motel, don’t expect a tourist mecca. Fogo Island is the perfect place to write a novel, romance a lover or just chill out.

Next time we’ll hike Turpin’s trail and check out the gardens at Oliver’s Cove. We might even make an offer on that 4-bedroom house for sale on the ship’s notice board. You couldn’t buy an outhouse for $15,000 back home!

Now if we boot it back to the ferry, we might even make tea and a slice of partridgeberry pie, or even a bakeapple tart, in Twillingate. I wonder what’s playing at The Cameron Hall Theatre tonight?



by Robert Mellin



Copyright © 2010 Andrew G.P. Renton All rights reserved.