Trudeau visit brings attention to Fogo Island’s winter activities

[Caribou on the ice in Deep Bay, Fogo Island, on Easter weekend/PHOTO: Diane Davis]

News that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family were spending the Easter weekend in Fogo Island could be a boon for local tourism operators, who have been working to promote the remote Newfoundland and Labrador island as a year-round destination.

Janet Denstedt’s Fogo Island properties for her business, The Old Salt Box Co., were booked for Easter weekend before the prime minister’s visit was announced, she said. But the visit could have a longer-term effect for tourism on the island with a population of 2,300.

“I find that I get more reservation requests through the week. The weekends are often quiet for people calling or emailing,” Denstedt tells Yahoo Canada News. “But this past weekend I felt that we did get more inquiries than I normally would on a weekend.”

The business’ Facebook page was also busier than usual, Denstedt says. She can’t say for sure if the Trudeaus’ visit is the cause for that, but she’s happy to see a spotlight put on the island during a typically quiet time of year.

“I think his visit to Fogo Island was an awesome thing for the island and the whole area, especially the fact that he came in the offseason,” Denstedt says. “That might help promote more people to think about visiting the area year round.”

[Fishing boats during the off season over Easter weekend in Island Harbour, Fogo Island./PHOTO: Diane Davis]

As far as Easter destinations go, the Trudeaus chose one that’s more remote — and colder — than the southern trips many Canadians take at this time of year. Fogo Island is the largest of the islands that lie off the shore of Newfoundland, but it’s still pretty small: only about 25 kilometres long and 14 kilometres wide. Located 13 kilometres from Newfoundland’s mainland, Fogo is accessible only by air or boat.

Beothuk aboriginals lived on the island for centuries before European settlers came, surviving largely on salmon and seal. Fogo means “fire” in Portuguese, so it’s likely the island got its name from 16th century explorers and fishers from that country. It was first settled in the 18th century, and the accents and traditions of its English and Irish settlers are still seen in Fogo’s present population.

Fogo Island has become better known in the past few years thanks to the efforts of businesswoman Zeta Cobb, who has invested considerable financial resources into the island of her birth. In particular, Cobb spearheaded the Fogo Island Inn, a luxury hotel that has won several international hospitality and design awards.

A low-key visit

The prime pinister’s social accounts were largely inactive over the weekend, so it appears that his trip was a quiet one. 

“I spoke to a friend and they saw his children around, but I haven’t heard many people say they’ve seen Justin,” Denstedt says. “The [Fogo Island] Inn is very good at protecting people’s privacy when needed. It’s sort of nice that he has some peace and quiet.”

But the Trudeaus did get a chance to enjoy some of the island — according to a source who requested anonymity, the family went ice fishing and attended mass in Joe Batt’s Arm on Easter Sunday

And though the island is most popular with visitors in the summer months, there is still plenty to do at this time of year. The Trudeaus could have seen seals, now that the pack ice is in, or the herd of caribou that live on Fogo, part-time resident Diane Davis tells Yahoo Canada News. 

“Besides beautiful weather out there, there were church services and skidooing and even a Poker Run that visitors might have gotten involved in if they were on the island,” says Davis, who runs a blog about the island. “There are lots of accommodations to rent and it’s a great spot in the winter.”

Online reaction

The Trudeaus kept a low profile, with no selfies or shots with the prime minister to be found online yet. But the reaction from Newfoundlanders on Twitter was still considerable.

The overall reaction was one of excitement and pride that the prime minister was spending time in the province.

Some residents joked about their famous visitor, and Newfoundlanders’ reaction to the trip.

“So @JustinTrudeau and his family are in Gander en route to Fogo. I guess that’s one way for us to get a new Fogo ferry that works #nlpoli,” tweeted Mark Critch of “This Hour Has 22 Minutes.”

“Its 6:35 and so help me God if Fogo dropped the ball and Trudeau ISNT being handed his post Jiggs cup of Tetley we have FAILED as a province,” tweeted musician and stand-up comedian Cahhrles.

Others took the opportunity to discuss politics.

“Nice to have a PM that knows Canada doesn’t end in Halifax,” tweeted Newfoundland and Labrador MHA Paul Lane.

“.@JustinTrudeau isn’t Fogo stunning? You and @HunterTootoo have its future and livelihood in your hands. Please make the right decisions,” tweeted Dwan Street.

And some questions the wisdom of visiting Fogo Island during a time when it is definitely not yet spring on the island — there’s still considerable snow on the ground, and the average March temperature on the island is -0.2 C.

“You really need to question a leader who spends his holiday on Fogo Island in March month,” tweeted Sheldon Pardy.

But Denstedt hopes the Trudeaus’ visit help people realize that the island can be a great destination at any time of year. 

“Everybody always thinks they have to go on holidays in June, July, August,” Denstedt says. “But the island has something all year round, and we just need to make sure people are aware of that.”