Located on Discovery Trail Route 230, just three hours from both Gander and the Argentia ferry is Bonavista, a small coastal town with a striking rugged shoreline. Immersed in rich history, the town was the landing place of Italian navigator and explorer John Cabot in 1497. And with its close proximity to rich fishing and sealing grounds, Bonavista quickly became one of the most economically important towns in the province.
Land Area, km2
Manufacturing, Accommodation and Food Services
As a major commercial centre during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Bonavista was a main focal point of fishery production with a population of 20,000 people. However, the collapse of the Northern Cod fishery in 1992 – the largest industrial closure in Canadian history, putting over 30,000 fishers and plant workers from over 400 coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador out of work – dramatically changed Bonavista’s local economy. While the town’s largest employer, Ocean Choice International Inc., now supports some 330 processing jobs, and the crab fishery supports many fishers, Bonavista’s future cannot solely rest on the fishery.
Tourism is increasingly an anchor sector for this community, providing new jobs and economic activity. With over 1,000 heritage buildings lining the town’s streets, the Bonavista Historic Townscape Foundation, along with private businesses, have begun heritage restoration initiatives over the past decade to attract new businesses and to entice tourists. Alongside the harbour is a full-sized replica of Cabot’s ship, The Matthew. The restored Ryan Premises – of historic fish-merchant fame – is now operated by Parks Canada. The Garrick Theater, one of the oldest surviving theatres in the province, has been renovated and now houses a multi-use, 200-seat theatre and meeting space.
In addition to the heritage attractions in Bonavista, there are a number of hoteliers and eating spots that cater to a variety of tastes. The Cape Shore Trail offers a spectacular hike over Bonavista’s rugged coastline, along with remarkable views of birds and whales (in season), culminating at the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse.
These attractions not only add interest for visitors, but increase its attractiveness for new residents as a place to lay down roots. The new Wellness Centre currently under construction by the town will create additional welcoming spaces for families. Despite these attractions, the town needs significant infrastructure work. A complete water upgrade for the town is needed, but there is no tax base to support infrastructure spending on the scale of upgrading that is needed.
While there is much to celebrate about the town’s gradual revival, Bonavista is facing workforce challenges. On top of skills shortages in both the trades and construction jobs, the fish plant’s workers are aging rapidly, leaving a large gap that will soon need to be filled. The local community has few training programs and the survival of those existing few may be in question. More training opportunities are needed for cultural tourism and specialty cooking at the local College of the North Atlantic’s Centre of Excellence. Training in the fishery and in trades is also needed in the area to supply people for the employment opportunities that do exist.
Without a vibrant and diverse workforce, without increased youth and skills development in its population, Bonavista’s economic and cultural growth may be hindered. While the tide has started to turn in Bonavista, there are plenty of opportunities and potential still to be tapped for the town to experience real growth.