Amazing Hotels – Canadian sustainability at Fogo Island

Fogo Island Inn

Fogo Island Inn

Futuristic Newfoundland hotel Fogo Island Inn is a responsible business and one that benefits the community as well as the environment. A BBC documentary – Amazing Hotels – takes a closer look.

Fogo Island Inn’s angular Scandi-style shell looks otherworldly jutting out from the ancient landscape (formed 400 million years ago) just off the coast of Newfoundland. It’s a project – sustainable from inception – of island native Zita Cobb and has the community-rousing ethos, eco-friendly outlook and one-of-a-kind style is worthy of numerous awards (including being named the world’s Coolest Creative Hub in the recent Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Awards).

Though it fulfils the role excellently, it’s much more than a luxury stay; the inn stands as a statement of the revival of an entire cod-fishing community, previously left behind by industrial modernisation. Native son Todd Saunders’ take on Atlantic-Canadian outport architecture draws aesthetes and artists alike (despite the two-flight trip). Outside, it’s an essay in masterful minimalism; all glass walls and metal struts. Inside, it’s a treasure trove of folk crafts, from hook rugs and quilts made by a guild of local craftswomen to fine-dining made with locally grown ingredients. There’s an open dialogue with islanders too: guests interact with fishermen, boat builders and foragers on excursions. It’s a true celebration of the past with an eye firmly on the future.

Zita Cobb invested a lot of time and money to ensure the hotel’s roots are as deeply entrenched as her own. The hotel is effectively owned by the community; all profits fund micro-lending projects, including greenhouse workers who supply the restaurant, and workshops where furnishings are fashioned by local artists, some of whom run painting, still-life drawing or found-object collage workshops at the inn. Five stunning, light-filled studios have been built for artists to seek inspiration from nature at its most dramatic.

In construction of the hotel, locally sourced, sustainable building materials were chosen whenever possible, the entire steel frame is well insulated, rainwater from the roof is collected for use in toilets, laundry, and kitchen appliances, and wood-fired boilers and solar panels are used for hot water and underfloor heating. The result is a building which manages to stand out, yet remains distinctly of its Newfoundland home.

History is important, too. The hotel’s Shorefast Foundation, established by the team as a not-for-profit charity pushing for a secure economic future for the area, has been dedicated in preserving the tradition of boat building. In partnership with some local builders, a heritage collection of wooden boats is being frequently added to and there’s a boatbuilding programme with students and staff at the local high school to pass on their punt-crafting knowledge.

As part of the extraordinary everyone-pitches-in community ethos, there is a kind of island buddy system, where people from the local community are matched with guests of the Inn to help orient them during their stay. These lifelong Fogo Islanders give their insights into the area’s nature, culture and unique geography of one of Canada’s oldest European settled communities.

When it comes to growing ingredients, the soil is not particularly plentiful but is rich in nutrients – great for growing potatoes, turnips, and onions, in fact. Kitchen staff forage for native fruits and berries, and use traditional techniques to preserve fresh and pickled foods and they incorporate local salt cod into their ever-inventive recipes.

Fogo Islanders have long feasted on ocean-fresh fare, but to keep things sustainable in the face of dwindling fish stocks, local fishermen have turned to ‘cod potting’. It’s a way of catching cod where fishers harvest live fish, bleed them at sea without harm to other species and with negligible environmental impact to the sea bed. They receive significantly higher prices for cod caught in pots from traditional inshore fishing grounds as opposed to more rampantly commercialised methods.

Rather than a mere hotel (albeit a wowing one), Zita Cobb and her team have created a social enterprise with the inn at the heart of it – a revolutionary business project which effectively saved a community that once stood on the brink of extinction. Fogo Island Inn trades in inspiration – as its hospitality model could transform communities all over the world, we, for one, hope people take notice.

Blog by Mr and Mrs Smith


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