JOE BATT’S ARM, Newfoundland — At first glance at a map, you wonder if this little fishing hamlet on a remote island off the northern coast of Newfoundland, is playing a gag on everyone.
After all, Canadians are discovering amusing ways to celebrate the Toronto Blue Jays’ return to the playoffs for the first time in 22 years. The CN Tower in Toronto is lit in blue lights, and a famous coffee chain is selling Blue Jays doughnuts.
So why couldn’t a little town on Fogo Island change its name to honor the team’s biggest star, Jose Bautista — a.k.a. Joey Bats.
Perhaps the island residents who watched Game 5 of the American League division series saw the dramatic pose that Bautista struck after hitting a mammoth three-run home run. He chucked his bat defiantly toward the Texas Rangers’ dugout, his left arm remaining shoulder high, parallel to the ground and curved like the cove that defines the shape of this town.
The name could also refer to Joey Bats’s cannon of a throwing arm that he unleashes from right field.
It’s a natural. Draw up the papers, a quick proclamation at Town Hall and voilà: Joe Batt’s Arm.
Who would notice in a country with towns named Saskatoon, Stoner, Skookumchuk and St. Louis du Ha! Ha!
There is only one problem.
“It’s not named for him,” said Edmund Decker, a 72-year-old retiree and former fisherman who was born on Fogo Island. “The name is over 200 years old. But Bautista is a great player. Wouldn’t it be nice if the boy’s from home.”
“The boy,” in Newfoundlandese, is pronounced “buy” and is a common refrain used to describe a male of virtually any age.
So, no, Joe Batt’s Arm is not named for Joey Bats and his bat-wielding or fireballing arm.
“But we like to have fun with it,” said Rita Penton, a volunteer at the local post office. “There was a funny thing on YouTube after he threw his bat and it said, “Joey Bat’s Arm.”
Quite a coincidence. Imagine a town in upstate New York called Joltin’ Joe’s Leg, or a Vermont town called Big Papi’s Fist.
But if Joe Batt’s Arm it is not named after Bautista and his mighty arm, then where did the name come from? On the eve of Game 6 of the Championship Series, with the Blue Jays on the brink of elimination against the Kansas City Royals, we had to know.
“You’ll never find out the true story of Joe Batt’s Arm,” claimed Dennis Adams, a 74-year-old retired fisherman. “I’ve been trying for the last 74 years, and I haven’t found out yet.”
The most accepted version of the story involves a poor, wretched sailor named Joe Batt, who was said to have served aboard ship for one of the most famous seafarers, Captain James Cook, in the mid-18th century.
When Cook was charting Newfoundland, Batt was somehow jettisoned overboard — whether tossed or jumped as a deserter is in dispute. Batt ended up on Fogo Island and was said to be very popular with the locals.
But Joe Batt, unlike Joey Bats, was poor and shoeless. He stole some shoes, was arrested and sentenced to 15 lashes. But the townfolk liked him so much they stormed the magistrate’s office and rescued him. They all went off happily together to the nearby cove with a shoreline shaped like the arm of a person drinking a pint of lager, known in these parts as an arm, and they named it after Joe.
It is unknown how long Batt remained there, or if he ever threw anyone out at third base.
Joe Batt’s Arm is said to have been settled in 1685. The early settlers were joined by others from the West and North of England and many Irish. Most islanders seem to have inherited distinct characteristics of certain Irish accents, including pronouncing “th” as “t” and pronouncing words like “decided” as “duh-soyded.”
And of course, “The buys.”
Adams and his brother, Benedict, said they were descendants of scalawags and thieves on the run from British authorities. The brothers discussed many aspects of the history and culture of Joe Batt’s Arm while at their house along the arm (or inlet). A medium-sized fishing vessel, full of holes, sat on stilts nearby.
“That’s where we caught all our fish over the years,” Dennis Adams said.
They offered two passers-by pieces of potent salt cod drying on racks next to the building, just down the road from the Fogo Island fish plant and co-op, and demonstrated how they cure it. Cod was once so plentiful, Benedict Adams said, that they could stand on shore and scoop them up in nets. Today there are restrictions.
“We’re allowed to catch five pieces a day for five days,” Dennis said. “But we’re not allowed to wait one day and catch 25. You figure it out.”
Benedict Adams said that today the boats haul a lot of mackerel, shrimp and Atlantic Snow Crab.
In addition to the abundant fishing, Joe Batt’s arm is also the home of the recently built Fogo Island Inn, a modern, environmentally friendly luxury hotel with a stunning view of the North Atlantic that is dotted by icebergs in the spring. The hotel and the island are accessible by ferry, like the workhorse, M.V. Capt. Earl W. Winsor, or by helicopter.
Joe Batt’s Arm is not the only unconventional named town on Fogo. South of Joe Batt’s Arm is Seldom, and next to that is Little Seldom and then Seldom Come By. Next to Fogo Island is Change Island, (no, it was not originally called Changeup Island).
There are also many towns in other parts of Newfoundland with similar names: Cobbs Arm, Aaron Arm, Goose Arm and Coney Arm.
On New World Island just west of Fogo Island, there is Too Good Arm. It just has to be named after the Mets pitching staff.