Newfoundland to Mark 1497 Arrival of Favorite Son Cabot

Reed Travel Features

BONAVISTA, Newfoundland -- The legendary journey of John Cabot, who in 1497 set sail from Bristol, England, bound for Asia but was destined to land in the New World, will be celebrated here and in towns throughout Newfoundland and Labrador this summer.

The 500th anniversary of the voyage of Cabot aboard the Matthew will kick off 46 days of celebration with the June 24 arrival of a replica of the ship here.

The ship will be escorted by a flotilla of hundreds as it enters the harbor where, 500 years ago, Cabot declared, "O! buona vista." (Cabot was a Genoan named Giovanni Caboto; it was his English patrons who dubbed him John Cabot.)

In all, the ship will call at 17 ports along the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts, touching off scores of celebrations lasting through Aug. 9.

"In each port of call, there will be the landfall ceremonies with a historical reenactment, an entertainment component and fireworks," said Gillian Marx, marketing coordinator for Cabot 500 Celebrations, which is operated by the Newfoundland Department of Tour-ism, Culture and Recreation.

The festivities will kick off for real on June 12, when both St. John's and Bonavista will hold a symposium examining the voyage. Organizers have promised the event will be "thought-provoking, informative, lighthearted and controversial."

The five-day program will focus on three themes: the Cabot voyages to America, the North Atlantic world in the 15th and 16th centuries and the lasting impact of the European arrival.

Native-American leaders have been invited to offer their perspective on the impact of the European migration.

Besides all the activities planned for the anniversary celebrations, the Newfoundland and Labrador region is rich in natural attractions.

"It's outdoor, soft adventure and wildlife," Marx said of regional tour offerings.

"It's very pristine land. We have approximately 10,000 miles of coastline and a total of 500,000 people in this province."

Another big attraction is the annual "iceberg parade" off the coast, during which 'bergs towering 250 feet above the water and weighing up to 300 million tons melt slowly away on their float south to the Gulf Stream.

The parade, which is as unpredictable as nature itself, usually starts in March, peaks in June or July and ends in the fall.

Marx said that perhaps the biggest tourism draw in the region is the mix of European cultures that have anchored themselves here.

"The lifestyle has very much sustained itself in terms of culture and heritage," Marx said. "We're celebrating 500 years, and there are still portions of West Country [the East Coast of Newfoundland, named for the West Country of England] where you hear Elizabethan English, and the Irish accent you find on the southeast coast is thicker than you'll hear in Ireland."

On top of that, there is a sizable French-speaking population on the west coast, she said.

"The dialects in Newfoundland alone are a story," she pointed out, illustrating this with a saying locals use to poke fun at their own pronunciation: "People drop their 'h' in 'Olyrood and they pick it up in Havondale."

Going back even further than the English, Irish and French cultures are the remnants of a Norse presence.

"On the tip of the great northern peninsula [at L'Anse aux Meadows] is a Viking settlement that's almost 1,000 years old," Marx said.

Sounds like another great reason to throw a party.

For more information about the Cabot celebration, contact (800) 563-NFLD.

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