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A Room with a View

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I write this from a stunning perch almost as far East as you can go in Canada. Ahead of me is the Atlantic Ocean touched by a hardy, austere landscape. A few saltbox houses hang on to the rock. All is calm. I can only imagine this scene when 160 km/hr winds lash the shore and the people, as strong as their surroundings, huddle in their houses -- when snow moves sideways and visibility is nil.

This is a place of stark beauty and in the beautiful dining room with gorgeous oiled floors, heated from below, I am sure I could be witness to this environment in any weather -- a visitor from space in a wonderful cocoon, indoors yet outdoors.

It is early in the morning and I am the only person here, save the staff who discretely stack an array of wonderful goodies on a table behind me. All I have to do is roll over and there are partridgeberries, blueberries, yoghurt, homemade butter, sourdough bread, power bars, "healthy muffins" and an array of tempting marmalades. It is a rough life at the Fogo Island Inn.

Until a few years ago, I had never heard of Fogo Island and new even less about Newfoundland except for the occasional reference to "Newfies" who form the butt of many Canadian jokes. Then along came a woman who has brought Fogo Island from obscurity to the world map -- techie who made good and is now doing good in her place of birth.

She has built a small arts mecca, Fogo Island Arts, a not-for-profit organization that provides artists from around the world with a residency program in studios to die for, designed to be off-the-grid. Each one is unique, amazing looking, with beautiful views of the ocean, perched on rocks and near a small community on Fogo Island. It must be an amazing experience to work in one of them, with views like the one I have now, cozy in all weather and nothing to worry about except your art.

She has also set up the Shorefast Foundation that uses a social entrepreneurship model to work with people of the island, help grow the economy and foster social resiliency. And now, Shorefast has completed the Fogo Island Inn, a spaceship that landed on Fogo, built with local materials and employing many local people. The surplus from the operation of the Inn go back into the community. It was designed by Todd Saunders, another Newfoundlander who now lives in Norway. He has created wonderful spaces that frame the surrounding views of the ocean and rocks that surround the Inn. It is an ambitious piece of architecture in which every effort has been made to create a sustainable building, using as much local material and labor as possible. I wish I could take the views home with me when I leave today.

But sustainability is an elusive beast and still poorly understood. This hotel is an ambitious and possibly very expensive experiment. I can only applaud the efforts of the founder, Zita Cobb, whose vision it was to create this and to build a social enterprise around it. Like what Frank Gehry's museum in Bilbao did to a region that was not on anyone's radar, this will transform Fogo if it endures. I certainly hope it does and I would love to come back and hang-out here for a few days every now and then, drink in the scenery, eat the good local food and refresh my brain.

Ron Dembo,
Fogo Island Inn, Fogo, Newfoundland, July 2013

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