The roads of Fogo Island are empty this morning. The weather forecast is calling for high winds and 50 millimetres of rain: a daunting amount of precipitation even for seasoned coastal dwellers. The drive to Fogo Island Inn is accompanied by the kind of wind that cuts across, under, and around a vehicle, rocking it in a way that unnerves the uninitiated but goes nearly unnoticed to those who frequent these routes. The staff at Fogo Island Inn are talking about getting a guy named Noah on the phone… “we might need an ark,” they joke.
“There’s a sense of home throughout the entire journey of getting here.”
Ernst Hupel is staying in room 23. He belongs to a group of people the Inn has affectionately named “permanent visitors:” those who live away but find some sense of home on Fogo Island, whether they own property or not.
“Even the security agents at the airport know me now.”
“There’s a sense of home throughout the entire journey of getting here,” he notes, “from the time I pick up the rental car in Gander to the time I drive off the ferry… even the security agents at the airport know me now.” Ernst first came to Fogo Island to consult on the interior design of Fogo Island Inn: “I was invited to the Island to take a look at what was happening here at the Inn and see if I could help out… that’s where it began.” Citing deeply considered sourcing decisions and the responsibility felt by all to do right by the place and community, Ernst notes that “this project challenged everything I knew about design… everything in the Fogo Island Inn is here for a reason.”
“This project challenged everything I knew about design… everything in the Fogo Island Inn is here for a reason.”
After several years of travelling back and forth between Ottawa and Fogo Island for both work and pleasure, Ernst couldn’t ignore the pull any longer. He purchased a home in Joe Batt’s Arm; this weekend, it’s occupied by a group of 8 women he knows from Ottawa.
“Purchasing a home was a personal investment, and it’s really changed my life,” he says. Still known as Hewitt House after its original inhabitants, the house had been owned by Shorefast and needed significant time, money, and energy to restore. With resources financial and otherwise needing to be directed elsewhere, Shorefast made the rare decision to sell. But the sale came with conditions. “I needed to do the work to the home in the first year so that the house was actually being restored and not just sitting there,” Ernst recalls, “because having a house sitting empty does nothing.” And if he ever sells the home? “Half of its increased value would be donated back to the people of the Island.”
“Purchasing a home was a personal investment, and it’s really changed my life.”
Ernst sets out from the Inn to visit Hewitt House. Undeterred by the inclement weather, he decides to walk. “The wind today feels like a warm hug,” he insists amidst bright red, late fall blueberry bushes swaying violently in the multi-directional breeze.
“I don’t feel like I own this house… I’m just taking care of it.”
Arriving at the house soaked through but still smiling, Ernst greets the rambunctious group as he tosses his muddy pants in the dryer and dons a borrowed pair of pyjama bottoms. Settling into the living room to laugh and joke with his houseguests, it’s clear that Ernst finds great joy in sharing the home. Indeed, he remarks, “I don’t feel like I own this house… I’m just taking care of it.”
“I want this house to really represent the love and the responsibility I have and feel for the Island and the community. I want this house to be a tool for others from away to come with family and friends and to hopefully see even just a glimpse of what this place has done to me.”
“The hospitality that is so natural here is so foreign for so many that don’t live in a place like this.”
What the place has done, in part, is created a second home for Ernst, his family, and his friends. “Every time I’m here, someone will say, ‘when are you coming home again?’ The hospitality that is so natural here is so foreign for so many that don’t live in a place like this.”
It’s precisely this genuine sense of belonging and welcome that attaches people to the Island. Ernst recalls a family vacation to the French Riviera that followed a Fogo Island visit several years ago. His eldest daughter, a young teen at the time, had remarked, “I wish we could go back to Fogo Island because it was more real.”
“I wish we could go back to Fogo Island because it was more real.”
As a “permanent visitor,” Ernst plans to do his part to hold on to that authenticity. His wish for the Island is simple: that it remains a place conducive to living, working, and belonging. “I hope that people will be able to live here and make a decision to live here and be able to work here and raise families and really carry on what has been here for hundreds of years.” AR