I have a not-so-secret dream to live in Bonavista someday. I want mornings on a front deck with a comfortable chair, a cup of coffee, and a good book. I want a little garden out back where I can grow veggies (or attempt to). I’d like ocean views and a quiet small-town life with just enough excitement to keep me from getting lonely.
Every time I come back to the Peninsula, I fall a little more in love. I grew up in an extremely remote part of Newfoundland, so I’ve always been under the impression that rural Newfoundland is dying out. But in some small pockets of the island, like Bonavista, people seem to be thriving.
Me and Sean headed out there this weekend to take advantage of the last few weekends of summer. Normally I spend my time in Trinity or Trinity East, but this time I wanted to stay elsewhere. Here are a few things to do in Bonavista.
Walk, bike, or drive around town
My favourite thing about Bonavista is the abundance of heritage homes that are being restored and reimagined. While St. John’s seems dead set on tearing down the city’s gorgeous pieces of history, Bonavista is doing everything it can to preserve history.
The result? Beautiful, bright and colourful English-style homes with high peaks and dreamy gables, restored to their former glory dating back to the 1800s. The entire town looks like a movie set–but unlike Trinity, Bonavista isn’t just a summer destination. There’s a bustling (yes, bustling) population of nearly 4,000.
Take it in, especially near dusk. The sunset is something to behold as you wind your way through lanes, over canal bridges, and along streets resembling something out of an old Victorian novel. If you can, snag a lounger on the lawn of the Captain’s Quarters and watch the sun go down.
Explore Church Street
Church Street is the main commercial drag in Bonavista, and each time I’ve visited over the past 2 years, there’s been something new to check out.
Walk into Sweet Rock Ice Cream and you’re instantly hit with a wave of sweet, sweet, chocolate-scented goodness. Don’t be stingy on the one scoop of ice-cream; opt for two scoops of cookie smash, in a waffle cone, preferably. Thee ice-cream is all dairy free! Not that dairy would stop me.
They also make ice-cream bars, which I didn’t realize until I had already left.
After ice-cream I ended up at a new cupcake shop in town, called Moreish. I tried a chocolate cupcake (surprise!), and although it was tasty, half a cupcake would have been just fine for me. The sugar made my face hurt. On the other hand, they have fun, unique Newfoundland-themed cupcakes, including Jam Jams flavoured (cookies stuffed with, well, strawberry jam).
There are a few kickass gift shops along the street as well, including East Coast Glow, a cosmetics company specializing in natural products (including harvested iceberg water). It’s the kind of fancy soaps you can expect to find in rich folks’ homes, but it’s slightly affordable.
Now, there’s a lot of gift shops and galleries around Bonavista that aren’t sitting on trendy Church Street, and I promise you that you’ll find some awesome handicrafts in all of them. Sometimes the most forlorn looking buildings in Newfoundland hold the greatest treasures. Trust me on that one.
Eat and Drink
Yeah, so I covered a bit of eating above. But let’s pretend food is in a different category in this case. Mmk?
The Boreal Diner is one of the newer restaurants on Church Street, and I’ve enjoyed several good meals there in the past, including an epic brunch. It has a higher-end feel to it, which is surprisingly lacking in Bonavista. Plus, there’s a Broken Books used bookshop upstairs, which automatically makes it a win for me.
Mifflin’s Tea Room is another unpretentious setting for classic Newfoundland homemade eats.
I’m told the locals also like to party at Walkham’s Pub, more commonly known as “the pub.” You can always go bar hopping between both, I suppose. They’re like 10 feet apart.
The Garrick Theatre
Let’s just take a moment to appreciate that a town with a population just over 3,000 people has one of the most modern theatres in the province. I’m not kidding! I learned through my work at the festival that the technology at the Garrick beats out even the Arts and Culture Centre here in St. John’s.
Their selection of movies is small, but often glorious. Plus it’s not just cinema–there’s live music, theatre, public lectures, and more. A lot of local musicians and performance troupes come through here. You’d do well to check their schedule.
Visit Ye Matthew Legacy
I have slowly been hacking away at the historical sites in Bonavista with each visit. It’s not that I don’t appreciate their magnificence, it’s just that Newfoundland heritage has been so thoroughly beaten into my skull, sometimes I just get sick of it. Small doses work best, for me.
But the Ye Matthew Legacy interpretation site is well worth the visit, especially since it’s only $7 a pop. Back in 1997, to commemorate 500 years since John Cabot landed in Bonavista, a replica of his boat (The Matthew) sailed across the Atlantic from England to Bonavista. The QUEEN was there!
Now, in its place you’ll find a really nicely assembled interpretation room full of interesting facts and tidbits about John Cabot’s journey. And then you can step onto the Matthew replica itself. It’s hard to believe it survived the voyage.
Other historical sites of interest: the Mockbeggar Plantation, and the Ryan Premises. I hope to visit those two on my next voyage, but they both cover the fishery and merchant history of the area.
Visit the Lighthouse and the Dungeon
It’s not really a dungeon. It’s a massive, gaping hole in the ground at the cliff’s edge, out on the Bonavista Cape near the lighthouse. In Dungeon Provincial Park, to be precise. The Atlantic rushes in and out of the Dungeon with fierce energy.
The road is dicey, but the dramatic coastline is well worth the broken car parts. Sea stacks, arches, and angry waves all make for some killer Instagram shots. Plus you’re likely to be greeted by a roaming horse wander over to your car to say “hi.”
Also, spend some time scanning the coast. Me and Sean counted a pod of at least six whales near us at one point.
As for the lighthouse, its stark red-and-white contrast to the surrounding barren landscape makes for one of those wow-worthy moments you’ll want to have a camera ready for. Depending on how busy things are, you may be able to meet the lighthouse keeper. Pack a little picnic and enjoy the view of breaching whales on the horizon.
Hop on a Boat Tour
It’s been an absolutely epic year for whales, my friends. I don’t know what we Newfoundlanders did to deserve such a wonderful summer, but even the whales are celebrating with us.
I haven’t completed any whale watching tours out of Bonavista or anywhere on the peninsula, actually. But I’ve been following Trinity Eco-Tour’s Facebook feed all summer to watch their epic wildlife video captures. If you can, opt for a small group tour on a Zodiac. It’s well worth the extra moolah.
The Bonavista Peninsula is making a name for itself in the arts world, and if you’re visiting this summer, the Bonavista Biennale is taking place until September 17th. It’s a celebration of contemporary artwork from Canadian-wide artists, with their exhibits showcased in various locations all over the peninsula. It’s a bit of commentary of how we can use traditional spaces to highlight art, and it’s magnificent.
You can download their map from the website, or pick up one at just about any tourist spot. A lot of the exhibits are also incorporated into the area’s must-see attractions, like the puffin colony in Elliston and the Ye Matthew Legacy in Bonavista, so you can easily visit a few. Enjoy!