Fogo Island, Newfoundland, once a very isolated outlet at the edge of the Earth, has been enjoying greater attention in recent years, due in large part to a particularly striking contemporary piece of architecture – the Fogo Island Inn.
While the Inn reflects the four hundred-year-old vernacular architecture and design aesthetics found on the island, another perhaps lesser-known structure, located in the National Historic District of Tilting, has also hosted travelers from around the world looking to experience the Island’s distinct Irish culture and hospitality. The Shed, known colloquially as “Phil’s shed,” belongs to Fogo Island-born Maureen Foley and her husband Phil Foley.
Most days, Foley’s facility functions as an everyday workshop. However, it is also set up to entertain company when the opportunity suits, with ample seating and various knick-knacks and gewgaws hanging from the walls.
“This may sound funny, but our little shed has kind of become kind of popular,” says Foley, who also serves as school secretary for the community on the island. “Most sheds start off as a place where the husband works outside with his tools, but ours just kind of took-off in a different direction.”
Most have heard of the renowned Fogo Island Inn, the spectacular hotel at the core of the island’s appeal as a travel destination. Foley’s structure, and the shed parties hosted there, have also become an integral part of the island experience.
So, what exactly is a ‘shed party’?
“It’s the same as a house party, only it’s in a shed,” laughs Foley, who has catered to a number of noteworthy guests over the years, including dignitaries from Ireland and a Mayor of Toronto.
“The greatest challenge, for any destination, is to be able to express the specific local ecology and materials and the ways of thinking and doing that are of a place,” notes Melanie Coates, Director of Business Development for Fogo island Inn. “That is something that simply cannot be packaged for consumption. The Inn belongs to the community and when visitors come to Fogo Island, they are hosted by the entire community.”
As such, the Inn has turned to Community Hosts to welcome guests into their lives and orient them to the island.
“We have created a loose organization of Community Hosts -a subset of our community -who are key to this,” continues Coates. “They are not employees of the Inn -they are fishers, teachers, fish plant workers, nurses and others who live on the island. It’s a bit like getting connected with a friend-of-a-friend,”
Maureen Foley has spent most of her life in Tilting, and cherishes her role as a Community Host. She and her husband have been welcoming people to shed parties on Saturday nights for years.
“About five years ago, when the hotel was nearing completion, my husband Phil was working on its exterior,” she shares. “The contractor was from Toronto, and all of his workers were young lads from Ireland. Winter days are full of adventure here, but in the evening, there’s not much to do socially for young people. During the winter nights, you kind of make your own fun. So, they spent their Saturday nights at our shed.”
Soon after the Inn opened its doors, guests found their way over to the small shed.
“They just kind of wander in,” chuckles Foley.
The hospitality comes naturally to the 200-some residents of Tilting, one of ten communities on Fogo Island; the region was largely settled by pre-famine Irish immigrants.
“We are very proud of our Irish heritage…”
“Up until the 1960s, our community was much more isolated than it is today.. that is likely why we have maintained our Irish heritage and culture.”
Growing up in Tilting as a child, Foley recalls that life was slower and more insular than it is today; her parents never even owned a car.
“The warmth, welcome and overall openness of the people of Tilting, and Fogo Island, is second nature to all of us here,” she continues. “It really is a ‘win-win’ situation; visitors explore and learn about the local area and culture, and we make many new friends.”
Tilting will be the focus of Fogo Island Inn’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities this March, which will include a traditional Irish supper, explorations of the hiking trails used by the first Irish settlers to the island, and a visit to the community itself.
Although Foley’s shed is closed to visitors during the winter season, she is confident that guests will receive a hearty Irish welcome.
“There’s sure to be a get-together at the St. Patrick’s club, and there will likely be lots of music and dancing.”