When you’re squid jigging, a Newfoundlander will tell you to peer into the water to see what’s happening as the squid is hooked. They’re messing with you. “You’ll end up with a face full of ink,” of the non-tattoo variety, says outdoor guide Duane Collins of Hare Bay Adventures. “People love it, though. It’s part of the experience.”
Squid jigging — fun though it is to catch a squid in a rowboat — probably won’t be the reason for your visit to the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. For many, the lure is to visit the real-life setting of “Come From Away,” the blockbuster Tony- and Olivier-award winning musical whose national touring company is in Boston for a Nov. 5-17 run. Or, it will be to experience the Michelin-starred, wildly sublime Fogo Island Inn. (Oh yes, we did! More about that later.)
“Come From Away” tells the story of Gander, Newfoundland, and five surrounding communities in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, when 38 commercial flights, four military planes, and 7,000 people landed in Gander (population 10,000 at the time), after US and Canadian airspace was closed. For five days, residents housed, fed, clothed, comforted, and befriended the “plane people" as they called them, who represented 98 countries. Long-term relationships and romance ensued. “People opened their hearts and homes to strangers,” Collins says. That Newfoundlanders responded this way was no surprise. “We’re known for being talkative and friendly.” Now, he says, “People come here to have their faith in humanity restored.”
Why Gander? In the 1950s and ’60s, before jet fuel made longer flights possible, “Gander was the crossroads of the world. All the planes that flew over the Atlantic stopped here to refuel,” says Abby Moss, guide for “Beyond Words," a tour that recounts the events. A local military base had cots, and a hockey rink was transformed into the world’s largest walk-in refrigerator, Moss says. “For weeks after the plane people left, you couldn’t buy a toothbrush around here.”
A ‘Come From Away’ itinerary
Nearly 20 years after 9/11, the story still resonates. “Three million people have seen ‘Come From Away’ on three continents with five different casts [so far]. Some of those people had never even heard of Newfoundland,” says Derm Flynn, who hosted six guests at his home in Appleton with his wife Dianne. Their lives are now devoted to all things “Come From Away,” including promotional appearances and hosting a tour called “Meet the Flynns.” The play’s producers bring a rotating cast of “real people” from Gander and surrounding towns to each opening, and the Newfoundlanders have become unlikely celebrities as a result, hobnobbing with the play’s cast and bold-facers like George Takei (Sulu from “Star Trek.”) An upcoming movie — if it’s successful — will take this to a whole new level, says Derm Flynn.
It’s an odd thing, they admit, to become a famous for simply doing the right thing, and Newfoundlanders are cognizant of the fact that 9/11 was a horrifying event and a huge loss for many people. Their role, they say, is to “remind people that kindness outlives evil anytime,” in the words of Dianne Flynn. Others echo that sentiment. “We’re preserving the story of what happened that day — that in the face of so much bad, there can be a beacon of good. We’re the flip side,” says retired TV reporter Brian Mosher, who’s portrayed in the play as “Janice Mosher,” a mash-up of himself and reporter Janice Goudie.
A “Come From Away”-themed visit to the province would include the Gander International Airport and the North Atlantic Aviation Museum (with its 9/11 exhibit, among other displays, popular with aviation buffs.) And there’s the official “Beyond Words” tour that examines the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001 (“People didn’t know why their flights were diverted, and if their families were dead or alive,” says Moss), and the events that transpired here. And it’s definitely worth the short drive to Appleton to visit with Derm and Dianne Flynn (“Meet the Flynns”) to hear their stories, and to see the memorial park that former Appleton mayor Derm spearheaded, built from money donated and raised for the effort. The park, site of an annual 9/11 memorial service, features a 16-foot piece of steel from one of the collapsed Twin Towers. The tour includes a taste of Newfoundland, with cod au gratin, and tarts filled with local berries (the province grows 34 varieties of berries), served in the Flynn’s dining room. And you can go with Duane Collins of Hare Bay Adventures to see Dover Fault, where real-life plane people Nick and Diane realize that they are falling in love.
Squid jigging and seal flipper pie
It takes some doing to get to Newfoundland-Labrador, the most easterly part of North America. There are no direct flights from Boston; most connect through Halifax, Nova Scotia. This 156,649 square mile province is actually closer to Ireland than it is to Manitoba, made up of the island of Newfoundland and its larger mainland portion, Labrador (they’re separated by the strait of Belle Isle.) It’s a unique part of Canada—it was the last province to join the confederation, and electricity didn’t arrive in some areas until the 1960s. “Our history is different, and our language is different,” says Collins, reflecting the isolation of the island and residents’ ancestry from Ireland and England. Some towns have quirky names like Dildo (Jimmy Kimmel is its unofficial mayor), Happy Adventure, and Jerry’s Nose. Local foodways include cod tongue, seal flipper pie, and toutons (a type of fried dough.)
Outdoors lovers find a wonderland of trails in the coastal boreal forest, good birding, and fishing for trout and salmon. And of course, there’s squid jigging. Collins takes people out to do it as part of a rowboat tour of Hare Bay. Squid are attracted to light and colorful beads — no bait is used to catch them. Squid jigs are beads attached to rollers, with prongs at the ends — squid latch onto the prongs and you crank the rollers to bring them in. Squid season runs from late July and early August into the fall, typically to December, Collins says. He’ll show you how to cook and clean the squid; locally, “people stuff it and eat it,” he says.
Unlikely locale, awesome inn
So. You’ve come this far, and spent some time with local folk, and immersed yourself in the region’s rainy, caribou-dotted beauty. What’s next? If you’re looking to splurge, for a good cause, consider a visit to Fogo Island, the largest island off the coast of Newfoundland (about four times the size of Manhattan) and home to the acclaimed Fogo Island Inn. Reachable via ferry, Fogo Island is one of the four corners of the Earth, according to the Flat Earth Society.
With a population of fewer than 2,500, the island is a timeless landscape known for blue icebergs — often seen from late April until July — puffins, and whales. Ashore, red buildings on stilts, called stages, are relics of salt cod fisheries, and share the rocky coastline with colorful heaps of crab pots.
Nobody outside of the province had really heard of the island until six years ago, when the Fogo Island Inn opened. Open year-round this year, the 29-room, five-star inn was designed by Newfoundland-born, Norway-based architect Todd Saunders for the Shorefast Foundation. While some inns have a charitable component, the Fogo Island Inn is the charitable part, conceived by Fogo Island native and social entrepreneur Zita Cobb. One hundred percent of the profits from the inn go to Shorefast to support its charitable programs. Employing 200-plus people, the inn was built to ensure Fogo Island’s economic and cultural survival. Built mainly of wood, the inn includes a library and a small theater, plus saunas and two hot tubs on an outdoor rooftop deck. Furnishings are a mix of old and new, and most were made on the island (those cool chairs!) Local artisans are responsible for the colorful quilts and floor mats in each room as well. Soaring walls of windows make the ocean a design element; abundant wood and woodstoves add a warming touch.
Guests typically stay for three nights, and visits include a three-hour tour of the island, led by a “Community Host”, a Fogo Island native. The driving tour will include the historic district of Tilting (more Irish than Ireland, they say), Brimstone Head (where you might see whales and icebergs in the distance), and four artist-in-residence studios owned by the inn, also designed by Todd Saunders. The old Anglican Church is now a concert space for the Shorefast Foundation. Guests go on berry-picking excursions, hike over miles and miles of trails that lead to abandoned villages and hilltop panoramas, and pop into Waves & Wind quilt shop, a co-op of 75 artists.
With a starting rate of $1,975 Canadian (about $1,500 US) for two, this isn’t a budget getaway, but that includes all meals (excluding alcohol) and gratuities. The menu, by executive chef Jonathan Gushue, relies on what’s local and seasonal (no surprise); a recent fall dinner menu featured choices such as moose soup, barley and snow crab porridge, and confit of turbot with fennel and brown butter shrimp.
As you dine under fanciful chandeliers woven from fishing line, with sweeping views of the sea, you’ll realize you’re someplace special. That’s a feeling that repeats itself over and over in Newfoundland.
For information about the region, visit www.newfoundlandlabrador.com. For the Fogo Island Inn, go to www.fogoislandinn.ca. To arrange a tour with Hare Bay Adventures, visit www.harebayadventures.com. To learn more about the “Come From Away” story, contact www.beyondwordstour.com. To connect with the Flynns, go to MEETtheFlynns on Facebook.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org