The town of Bonavista can be found on Newfoundland’s east coast, on the Bonavista Peninsula— a geographic region named for this historic settlement. It is believed that the site of Bonavista is where the legendary explorer John Cabot made his very first North American landfall. In 1497, after two months at sea, Cabot’s arrival would mark the first point of contact between European explorers and the Island of Newfoundland. Appropriately, the place name Bonavista is often accredited to Cabot. Upon sighting from afar, this landmass, Cabot exclaimed: “O Buona Vista,” in jubilation at his discovery. This became the longstanding name of what would eventually become a new European settlement.
With confirmation of ‘new’ lands and bountiful fishing grounds, it wasn’t long before seasonal fishermen arrived to exploit the local fishery. As early as the 1500s, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese fishermen would visit the region to fish for cod off of Cape Bonavista. Although the overall vicinity offered poor shelter and boat anchorage, Bonavista eventually became one of the most important towns in Newfoundland.
For decades leading up the Provincial moratorium on cod, this community operated as a major commercial centre. Evidence of its once-flourishing economy is preserved at the Ryan Premises, a National Historic Site maintained by Parks Canada. This heritage fishing premises has been restored to offer a look at what a large fish merchant's operation would have once looked like.