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Bonavista, Newfoundland

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Date: 1700 [unknown]
Location: Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland, Canadamap
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Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), a freelance Venetian explorer, was contracted by England’s Henry VII to find new lands, and a sea route to the Orient. Cabot set sail from Bristol, England in his ship the Matthew in 1497. When Cabot first saw land he reputedly said "O Buon Vista" (“Oh, Happy Sight!”) giving rise to the name of the town and nearby Cape Bonavista. Cabot landed with "a crucifix and raised banners with the arms of the Holy Father and those of the King of England".

The land was inhabited, as the expedition found a trail leading inland, a site where a fire had been, and "a stick half a yard long pierced at both ends, carved and painted with brazil". The harbour was not ideal, eventually requiring the construction of several breakwaters. Despite this Bonavista became one of the most important towns in Newfoundland due to its proximity to the rich fishing and sealing grounds to the north of the peninsula.

The Spanish, Portuguese, French and English fished off Cape Bonavista during the 16th century, but the Spanish and Portuguese presence soon declined, leaving the French and English as the dominant powers. Tension between the French and English sometimes resulted in military action, including an unsuccessful attempt in 1704 by the French to burn the town. The French Shore, which had Bonavista as its eastern terminus, was established by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Fishing rights in the area continued to be a source of tension between the French and English.

In 1722 the first school in Newfoundland was built in Bonavista by Rev. Henry Jones.


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