Hiking Lion’s Den on Fogo Island in Newfoundland tickled us pink. Being there with Clare and Keenan. The wind and sun and uphill climbs reddening our cheeks. The panoramic vistas—ocean waves crashing on granite shoreline, tussocked barrens, royal-blue ponds and small forests alive with birdsong breathtaking. The history, detailed in signage and photos, fascinating. And the tickles… On our 28-point rating, Magellan and I give Lion’s Den 24 boots—it’s that incredible.
We learned a new definition of tickle in Newfoundland:
tickle n OED ~ sb1 Nfld ‘narrow difficult strait’ (1770-); DC 1 a, b esp Nfld (1770-); see SEARY 141-2; cp TICKLE a. A narrow salt-water strait, as in an entrance to a harbour or between islands or other land masses, often difficult or treacherous to navigate because of narrowness, tides, etc; a ‘settlement’ adjoining such a passage…
Lucrative fishing here on the edge of the North Atlantic attracted Irish and English families, likely from around Conception Bay, to settle here. How lucrative? Records for 1874 show that 40% of Fogo Island’s inshore catch came from fishermen in their dories and motorboats from the four settlements along this hiking trail—4,280 quintals that year, the equivalent of 482,000 kilos of fish!
Of the four “tickles” on this trail, Eastern Tickle, settled in 1857 by fifteen families, grew to be the largest with a population of 107 people, a fish plant, even a school built in 1900 that operated in the summer for students from kindergarten to grade six. In 1911, there were 17 students, about the same number as in the one-room North Invergordon schoolhouse where I spent grades one through four. The older students in Eastern Tickle walked three kilometres or rowed the “tickle sea highway” to school in the town of Fogo.
What intrigued us about Eastern Tickle is a family plaque listing names that included “George Alfred Elliott 1862, Bill Downer 1868-1946, Margaret Anne Downer 1872-1967, Eliza Elliott Lewis 1900-2002” and the words “Argentina Patagonia”. What was the connection between this little settlement and Patagonia?
Seeking bigger adventure, in 1886 Bill Downer left Eastern Tickle. Years went by, he didn’t return and people thought him dead—but he had shipwrecked in Patagonia.
Bill, now a buckaloon (man of some importance), returned to Eastern Tickle in 1914 and fell in love with Margaret Anne Elliott, a widow with three children. They married and the new family moved to Patagonia from where Eliza, one of Margaret Anne’s children, regularly sent postcards to those they’d left behind. Her correspondence became the focus of the documentary, “Letters from Eliza” and the book, Lands of Fire. In the documentary, Eliza is shown celebrating her 100th birthday—her love of Eastern Tickle clearly as strong as ever.
Shoal Tickle, the smallest community and the first to be abandoned, could have been called Leyte—only families with that last name settled there. In the 1930s the Leyte’s relocated, floating their houses out on barges to the neighbouring communities of Fogo, Tilting and Joe Batt’s Arm. The same thing happened in the other three outports, which is why you don’t see any ruins, just faint depressions in the land where homes once stood.
Walking the trail clockwise, the first community we came upon was Locke’s Cove. The main family here seems to have been William and Jane Pomeroy, who had at least six children and operated a freighting business, providing the merchants of Fogo with fish, seals and oil harvested by themselves and others, as well as transporting goods for merchants. In 1865 William mortgaged the family’s property (to buy a bigger boat?) for 147 pounds 10 shillings and 4 pence—equivalent to$32,000 today.
The four of us would have liked more time to explore Lion’s Den, the most remote settlement, but the trail so intrigued us that we’d stopped a lot, and our bellies were clamoring for a much-anticipated lunch at Bangbelly Café (it did not disappoint.)
Lion’s Den is nestled in a snug cove sheltered from the heavy seas. It was the first community to be settled and the farthest away from the town of Fogo. The 1836 census shows 22 people in 4 families. “Coaxing vegetables from sea-washed gardens,” residents in that first year harvested 76 bushels of potatoes (1930 kilos), storing them in root cellars you can almost discern, even today. The signage says they also harvested 15 quintals of fish (1500 kilos). The population never grew to much more than 50 people in families with last names that included Best, Dwyer, Hellings, Leyte, Luke, Moore and Osmond. As in in Eastern Tickle, the people of Lion’s Den voluntarily resettled elsewhere around 1945.
Clearly there’s something special about this place when a 100-year-old woman who left when she was 13 years old still harbours such fond remembrances. I don’t have 87 years left to hold onto the memories of Lion’s Den trail, but for the years that remain, this Sunday in June will hold tight.
Magellan and Spice Hiking Rating:
Varied scenery (Moving) water Some challenge Summit payoff
Wildlife Solitude Surprise/unexpected delight
Coish, Della. Tales of Fogo Island. Gander: Economy Printing, 1999.
NL GenWeb Community History Notre Dame Bay ~ Fogo / Twillingate District Fogo Island Communities
Pomeroy, Ross. “Locke’s Cove Legacy, Pomeroys of Fogo Island.”
Robinson, Andrew.“Newfoundland feeling like home to Argentinian teen with ancestors from Fogo Island.” Saltwire: July 23, 2021.