The Bonavista Social Club

With just three days left in Newfoundland, we had two choices – go to Bonavista Peninsula or go to Twillingate and Fogo Island. Since the latter choice involved a longer drive and two ferries, we followed the advice of our friend Ingrid and went to Bonavista. It has been an excellent choice, helped greatly by superb weather and numerous wildlife sightings.
The Bonavista Social Club is the restaurant that everyone said couldn’t work – a custom-built wood-fired oven that serves up pizzas and artisan bread; salads plucked from their large garden and $20 moose burgers.

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Well, in the five years since they opened, the word is out and so are the lineups. Come early or come later, but be prepared for a wait. We were happy to sit and admire the view:
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The food was fantastic, the service polished and the concept brilliant – do something right and you can call your own shots – open six days a week, eight hours a day and just May to October.

Bonavista Peninsula (the next one west of the Avalon Peninsula) is so packed with coves, fishing villages and outports that you could spend several days just driving around and coming across strange sights like this one – horses grazing by the ocean, seemingly miles away from a farm or pasture.

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Or a turn in the road will bring this – an iceberg trapped in a bay.

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Or a sky so beautiful it looks Photoshopped:

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The hiking is scenic and varied – many hikes are between one-three km., so it’s possible to fit in a few in a day. This is a hike near King’s Cove. The church was built by committee in 1884 – every week, the priest of St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church would call 10 names and those folks would be responsible for the labour that week. In two years, the church was built.

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Like most of Newfoundland, there is something for everyone here – history, culture, scenery, geology, wildlife and birds.

Puffins are a huge draw, and they can be found by boat tour or on foot. We drove out to Elliston, where there is a nesting site and walked over this path to get to the main viewing area. They nest in the nooks of the cliffs, to protect their eggs from predators. They will be here until mid-late August, when they take off for the winter, so we felt quite thrilled to see them. There was a sign at the entry office “No drones, no dogs”. Seriously, who would bring their dog to a bird sanctuary? And who would think a drone would not have a negative impact on the experience of others?

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We got to the top of the cliff and saw about fifteen puffins right on the edge. There were hundreds more on another cliff, but a little too far to watch closely without binoculars.  Puffins would fly in and land and take off right in front of us, so we had quite a show. They were completely unfazed by us, but we were all quiet and were a good distance away – about  15-20 feet. It was an unforgettable sight.

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They are so adorable, you can hardly stand it. They’re about 10 inches tall, so smaller than most of us might imagine. They’re very social – we watched them for about 45 minutes and they seemed to be having conversations.

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They mate for life and co-parent, so possibly they also have disagreements from time to time.

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Then, as if that wasn’t enough, we saw whales. Dozens of whales, mainly humpbacks, some minkes, but over the past two and a half days, they’ve been out in full force. We’ve seen a couple of tails and a few roll-overs, but mainly spouting and diving – all of this close to shore. This photo won’t impress you, but I thought I’d add it anyway – there’s also an iceberg in the background – the Newfoundland and Labrador trifecta – whales, icebergs and puffins.

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We were watching whales at the Cape Bonavista lighthouse, when this little creature appeared. Tame, inquisitive – he began to walk towards us and we backed away. A fox, unafraid of humans – is he rabid? Nope – when we asked the Parks staffer, we were told he is used to being fed by humans, in spite of all posted signs to the contrary. Hopefully, we won’t be his undoing.

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We’re staying in the town of Bonavista – toward the top of the peninsula. We booked into an Airbnb – a former parish hall with five guest bedrooms and a warm-hearted and garrulous host.  This is all part of the road trip – the characters we meet along the way.

Bonavista is where John Cabot first landed in 1497 and a replica of his ship The Matthew is on display here. There are a number of historic homes and sites in Bonavista, including The Ryan Premises – a National Historic site that is an example of a large-scale merchant during the cod fishing heyday in the late 1900’s.

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A few scenes from this town:

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The sun setting over the harbour:

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Newfoundlanders have to be optimistic to survive, but in the absence of bidding wars in Bonavista, we wonder how long the owner might wait for a bite on this beauty.

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Trinity was one of our favourite places in the peninsula. An historic town established in the late 1700’s, Trinity has taken advantage of its natural beauty and well-preserved buildings to showcase some of the most notable spots.  We were too late to take the tour, but had plenty of time to wander through the town on our own. It is a gem that should not be missed by anyone visiting Bonavista Peninsula.

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The work is never done – painting, gardening, building new docks.

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Nearby Elliston is billed as “The Root Cellar Capital of the World”, but many Newfoundland properties have these indispensable features – cellars dug into the earth to keep food fresh over the winter. If you look behind the house in this photo, you’ll see a root cellar, ready for this summer and fall’s harvest.

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We stopped to watch the meticulous stone work on this house – the old root cellar was being given a facelift.

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A reminder that life here has often been hard and frequently tragic – the Sealer’s Memorial and Sealers Interpretation Centre in Elliston. This excellent interpretive centre uses displays, artifacts and videos to take the visitor through the history of sealing in Newfoundland. There is an emphasis on the great danger of sealing, with stories from  the unprecedented disasters of 1914. Seventy-eight men from the SS Newfoundland were lost on the ice floes during a vicious blizzard; in the same storm, 174 men were lost from the SS Southern Cross.

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If I ever thought of seal hunting, I imagined a vast sea of solid ice – like a huge rough hockey rink. I couldn’t have been more wrong – we watched a video of frigid ocean water  rolling and pitching. Covered in ice, yes, but changing all the time – solid footing one second later opened to water. It was terrifying to watch – I can’t imagine how exceedingly dangerous and frightening it was to be there. The worst part was the uncertainty – sealing was the only way to bring in cash and the possibility of hitting a big payday was irresistible – worth risking one’s life for.

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In a particularly poignant story, 16-year-old Albert John Crewe was insistent on going sealing: his father Ruben, who had already survived one disaster was less keen but did not want him to go alone. They were among the victims of the SS Newfoundland – found three days later frozen together – the son in his father’s protective embrace. A magnificent bronze sculpture captures them exactly as they were found on the ice.

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A fitting way to end our time here – surrounded by the history and character of Newfoundland. We are sad to leave – it feels too soon – so much left undiscovered.
I guess that is their sneaky way of getting us to come back.

On to Cape Breton  – see you soon.

9 thoughts on “The Bonavista Social Club

  1. Garry Davey July 26, 2017 / 9:06 pm

    Wow, every chapter is a new evocation of land and sky, water and ice, monotone and vibrant colour, I love the photo of a ‘sky that could have been photoshopped’ and the puffins are lovely, what an adventure! Thanks again for sharing Ginny, best to you and Steve!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind July 27, 2017 / 3:13 am

      Garry – I meant to include a photo of the Rising Tide Theatre in Trinity – gorgeous building and sold-out shows. I thought of you and Donna when we saw it. As you well know, theatre in Newfoundland is superb and often political. Another reason to come back.

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  2. Donna July 27, 2017 / 11:34 am

    Well, Garry said it all so all I can add is my own “WOW!” Thank you for sharing these incredible photos and stories. 🙂

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    • leavingourselvesbehind July 28, 2017 / 10:13 am

      Thanks for reading our blog! Newfoundland knows how to make a big impression.

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  3. Heather Scott July 27, 2017 / 6:21 pm

    By the sounds of it, Bonavista Peninsula was an excellent choice! As you know, I begin to salivate when you highlight certain restaurants and I was not disappointed in this blog. The puffin pictures were a delight to look at; I had no idea they were so cute! I can see there are lots of reasons to return to Newfoundland some day. So happy to get a taste of it through you.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind July 28, 2017 / 10:15 am

      Heather I’ve taken a number of food photos, but honestly – traditional Newfoundland food does not photograph well – cod, fishcakes, fish and chips, fish & brewis, homemade white rolls – you’d need a food stylist to make that colour scheme interesting.

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  4. Linda Whitely August 2, 2017 / 7:53 pm

    Loved the blog per usual, wonderful descriptions! Just like being there. It really is a special place isn’t it? Can you believe that the Icelanders eat those darling birds? We are Winnipeg at the Canada Games, having a great time. Beautiful baby boy born July 20th, 8 days late, 8 lbs…he is gorgeous. What route are you driving back?

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    • leavingourselvesbehind August 4, 2017 / 6:17 am

      I had no idea the Icelanders ate puffins. Although, before I react in disgust, I eat lamb – also adorable.

      Congratulations on the birth of your grandson – what a joy for you all.

      Stephen is driving back on aug. 26, through the U.S., by himself. I’m staying on in Ontario with my parents for another two weeks, then will be back on Sept.13th.

      Does Gary have a surgery date yet?

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      • Linda Whitely August 4, 2017 / 12:14 pm

        No date, so frustrating! Crazy story to tell you about our digs you visited us at. Enjoy your time with your parents. Safe travels to the lone wolf.

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