In recent years, the provincial government and concerned locals have each taken a keen interest in preserving the place, and it's clearly benefiting from a revival; the shooting of the Hollywood film The Shipping News (based on a novel about Newfoundland) in a nearby village in 2000 greatly helped raise the area's profile, too. Many local homes have recently been preserved, and a good number have also been made over as bed-and-breakfasts.
Several buildings are open to the public as provincial historic sites, two others as local historical museums. Most are open from mid-June to early October, then shuttered the remainder of the year. Allow about 3 hours to wander about and explore. Remember that, on days when the popular local historic pageant is held, a flood tide of visitors overwhelm the little town, making parking and rooms scarce and meals difficult to obtain. Come when it's quiet.
Start your voyage into the past at the Trinity Interpretation Centre (tel. 709/464-2042) on West Street, open 10am to 5:30pm daily from mid-May through very early October. Here you can purchase tickets, pick up a walking-tour map, and get oriented with a handful of history exhibits. Entry costs C$3 per adult and child age 13 or older. This ticket also admits you to the Lester-Garland property and the Hiscock House, which keep the same seasons and hours as the interpretation center.
A minute's walk away is the brick Lester-Garland Premises (tel. 709/464-2042), often the first stop on Trinity travelers' itineraries. Here you can learn about the traders and their times. This handsome Georgian-style building is a convincing replica (but it was only built in 1997) of one of the earlier structures. The original was occupied until 1847, when it was abandoned; it was eventually torn down (to the horror of preservationists) in the 1960s, but some of the building's hardware, including some doors and windows, were salvaged and warehoused until the rebuilding.
Next door is the Ryan Building, where a succession of the town's most prominent merchants kept shops. The grassy lots between these buildings and the water were once filled with warehouses, none of which survived. The Rising Tide Theatre (tel. 888/464-3377 or 709/464-3232) is architecturally styled after one of the warehouses (an imagination is helpful in envisioning the others). The 255-seat theater is a good stop if you enjoy the arts, and offers a surprisingly full card of dramatic productions from mid-June through the fall. Performances here are top-rate, and well worth the admission cost; that's remarkable in such a remote outpost.
A short walk away, just past the parish house, is the Hiscock House (tel. 709/464-2042), a handsome home where Emma Hiscock raised her children and ran a shop after the untimely death of her husband in a boating accident at age 39. The home has been restored to appear as it might have in 1910, and helpful guides in costume fill in the details and demonstrate skills from the past. Again, the combination Trinity ticket gets you in here for C$3 per adult from mid-May through early October; children under 13 enter for free.
The Trinity Museum on Church Road (tel. 709/464-3599), in a late-19th-century home, contains more than 2,000 everyday artifacts that one might have seen in Trinity a century or more ago; operated by the local historical society, it's open from mid-June through mid-October, 10am to 5:30pm daily. The fire pump housed in an adjacent shed dates from 1811 and is intriguing.
Also nearby is the Green Family Forge Blacksmith Museum on Church Rd., just beyond handsome St. Paul's Anglican Church. Costumed museum staff teach you about an industry that was essential here during the early 18th century. The smith and museum here are open the same season and hours as the museum.
Tours & Shows -- An entertaining way to learn about the village's history is from the unusual Trinity Pageant, which lasts throughout the months of July and August. Once a day, local actors lead a changing audience on a walk through the village's streets, acting out scenes from the past. For dates and tickets, contact the Rising Tide Theatre.
Also recommended are the 2-hour historical walking tours of Trinity led six days a week (no tour Sunday) at 10am by Kevin Toope (tel. 709/464-3723). Kevin, a local who was born nearby in the village of Ireland's Eye and grew up in Trinity, has put together an informed and entertaining walk through the village he knows so well. After his tutored loop around the winding streets, you'll come away with plenty of fascinating facts that bring the town to life. The tour costs C$8 per adult; it's free for kids.
The Ryan Premises National Historic Site (tel. 709/468-1600) opened in 1997, with Queen Elizabeth herself presiding over the ceremonies. Located in downtown Bonavista, the site is actually a photogenic grouping of several big white clapboard buildings at the harbor's edge. For more than a century, this had been the town's preeminent fish-salting complex, where fishermen sold their catches and bought the sundry goods needed to keep their boats and lives functioning. Michael Ryan opened for business here in 1857, and his heirs kept the business going all the way until 1978.
The spiffy restored complex no longer houses fish nor commerce, but instead an art gallery, museum, gift shop, furniture exhibit, an exhibit on the importance of cod and seals in Newfoundland's history -- even a little theater space hosting musical performances, talks, and other events. It's a pretty remarkable little concentration of culture for a place so far from population centers. An hour or two here goes a long way toward helping you make sense of the rest of your visit to this singular island.
The site is open daily from mid-May through mid-October, 10am to 6pm. (They'll often open it up during the off season for a long-distance traveler, too, so call if you're coming.) Admission is C$3.90 adults, C$3.40 seniors, C$1.90 children, and C$9.80 families.
On the far side of the harbor is the beautiful Mockbeggar Plantation (tel. 709/468-7300). Named for an English seaport that shared characteristics with Bonavista, this white home was once occupied by prominent Newfoundland politician F. Gordon Bradley. It's been restored to the way it looked when Bradley first moved here in 1940, and features much of the original furniture. With a few telltale exceptions (such as the carpets in the formal dining room), it shows a strong Victorian influence. There are also a restored cod-liver oil factory and carpentry shop to hold your interest; tours are available if you want one. The house is managed as a provincial historic site, with an admission charge of C$3 for adults and children 13 and older; that ticket also gets you admission to the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse. The home is open to the public daily from mid-May through early October, 10am to 5:30pm.
A replica of the Matthew (tel. 877/468-1497 or 709/468-1493) -- the ship John Cabot sailed from England to Newfoundland in 1497 -- floats in Bonavista's harbor all summer. This compact ship is an exacting copy, based on plans of the original ship, and it was built here by local craftspeople. (Don't confuse this with another Matthew replica, which crossed the Atlantic and sailed around Newfoundland in 1997.) That big white shed on the waterfront is a striking boathouse, where the ship is protected through the long winters; an interpretive center is also housed within. Occasional performances on the wharf or at the center provide a context for your tour of the ship, which is a sort of floating museum. (Because it's an exact copy, this craft doesn't have an engine or any modern safety devices; it can't leave the dock.)
The ship is open from mid-May through September, daily from 10am to 6pm (to 9pm on Fridays). Admission is C$7.50 adults, C$6.75 seniors, C$3 children ages 6 to 16, and C$17 per family. There's also a coffee shop inside the boathouse.
Just North of Town -- The attractive Cape Bonavista Lighthouse (tel. 709/468-7444) is located about 6km (4 miles) north of town on the rugged point that marks land's end. Built in 1843, the lighthouse is essentially a stone tower around which a red-and-white wood-frame house has been constructed. The keepers' quarters (the lightkeeper and his assistant both lived here) have been restored to their look in the year 1870; you can clamber up narrow stairs to the light and inspect the ingenious clockwork mechanism that kept six lanterns revolving all night, every night, between 1895 and 1962. (With the help of the keepers, that is: It took 15 minutes to rewind the counterweight by hand, a job that needed to be repeated every 2 hours all night long. Talk about tedious.) The light served mariners for more than a century until its role was eventually usurped by an inelegant steel tower and beacon.
The lighthouse is open daily from mid-May through early October from 10:30am to 5:30pm; admission is C$3 per adult, free for children 12 and under. (This ticket also gains you admission to the Mockbeggar Plantation historic home.)
Below the lighthouse on a rocky promontory cleft from the mainland is a lively puffin colony. These stumpy and colorful (and endangered) birds hop around the grassy knob, taking flight into the rough sea winds. They're easily seen from just below the lighthouse; bring binoculars for a clearer view, but don't disturb them. Red-footed common murres dive for fish, too, and whales are often sighted just offshore. You might even catch sight of whales and puffins through your binoculars at the same moment -- with beautiful icebergs just out of frame.
Nearby is a statue of John Cabot. Although no one can prove it, long-standing tradition holds that Cape Bonavista was the first land spotted by the Italian explorer (who was working for the English) in 1497. The statue is located in Landfall Municipal Park, right next to the lighthouse, where you'll also find picnic tables and a quiggly fence, a traditional Newfoundland windbreak made of vertically woven whips or saplings.
En route to the lighthouse you'll also pass a turnoff to Dungeon Provincial Park. The park is almost 2km (about a mile) down a gravel road (through cow, goat, and sheep pastures); at the end of the gravel, park your car and then follow a short trail to a punchbowl-like cavity perhaps 45m (50 yards) across. Thousands of years' worth of pounding waves carved two tunnels beneath the pasture here, until the grassy roof collapsed all at once (wouldn't you have loved to have seen that?), leaving a gaping hole. Admission is free; there are a few picnic tables and primitive (pit) toilets, but nothing more.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.