Bonavista lives up to its name; it’s one of the most scenic places we’ve been to. It’s a fishing town that has had boom times and now is hanging on by its toenails. Some buildings still show the wealth that used to be here and others are about to tumble into the sea. It’s location on craggy cliffs overlooking the sea is picturesque. We had to be grateful that the rain has stopped, but most of the day most of the scenic views were obscured by fog. I’ve also been wearing my parka. The forecast for tomorrow is no better. Bummer!
Nevertheless we made the best of it, traveling around the town and environs, learning about the good days and bad from its warm and welcoming residents. Folks who chose to live here today love the place and it shows. In many ways they miss the days when cod was king and the money poured in - at least it poured in to the fish merchants. But greed, stupidity, poor planning, etc. lead to overfishing and in 1992 a moratorium was put on cod fishing. The fishermen were obviously out of a job, but so were all the folks who supported the industry. We heard a wonderful talk from a local woman who worked in the cod processing plant for ten years and now is employed by Parks Canada at the Ryan Premises Historic Site. It is a 19th century mercantile complex with buildings that still smell like the salty fish housed there.
Our guide was one of a thousand workers who gutted, boned and prepared the cod to be salted and dried. She began the work at 16 and had no education, which was typical of town folk then. When the cannery closed she and her neighbors were devastated. Those that had the wherewithal left and the population of Newfoundland plummeted. She took advantage of government programs and finished high school with a small stipend. Her daughter was of college age when she was ready to go to college too, and they went together as room-mates. In her youth the Ryan company bought the fish, paid for the processing and got most of the profits. Fishermen went into debt buying food and clothing from the company store and the money they earned from the fishing paid the debt from the previous year, but did not provide for the following winter months and they went into debt again. A vicious cycle. Cod fishing was dangerous, back breaking work. Once the fish were brought ashore, gutted, and salted, they were laid out on wooden platforms to dry on huge platforms made of logs. There is still a nostalgia here for the days when there was more money to be made here, but I couldn’t help feeling that the people who live here now are much better off.
We also visited the Matthew Legacy, which is a building that houses a replica of the fifteenth century boat John Cabot sailed here when he claimed the “New Founde Landes” for Britain. The ship was built for the 500th anniversary celebration, which was attended by Queen Elizabeth. The Matthew was small and most of the crew slept in the hold on top of the goods that were transported. Life was hard then, too.
While no one knows for sure how Mockbeggar Plantation got its name, the term plantation used to mean a domicile that was totally self sufficient. The first home on the property was built in 1733 and the family that began living there in 1939, donated it and all its contents to the province. It shows what live was like during the Depression and we were welcomed there by women in period attire who fed us finger sandwiches, dessert and tea. This was because an arts festival is going on here this week and made us feel most welcome.
The Bonavista Lighthouse was build in 1841 and had a unique look with a square two story wooden structure built around the masonry tower painted with wide red and white stripes. Instead of the typical fresnel lens that other lighthouses have, it has six copper reflectors with silvered interiors and oil lamps with high powered wicks. The nearby rock formation known as the Dungeon is a sea cave with two entrances and a collapsed roof, carved by the incessant wave action.
At the end of the day a local official dressed as the town crier, came to the campground and screeched us in. This ceremony made us all honorary Newfies and involved drinking screech (rum) and kissing a cod. A good time was had by all.