The Historical Attractions of the Discovery Trail

In 1497, the Italian explorer John Cabot landed at Cape Bonavista and set off a five-century rush for the huge shoals of codfish he discovered. As it turned out, the spot where he landed developed into a major fishing centre whose history is told at a National Historic Site in the town of Bonavista. The whole of the area was consumed with catching, curing and shipping fish to market. The story took some surprising turns along the way to today.

Day 1 – History and culture in Trinity

We begin this tour in Clarenville, at the tip of The Discovery Trail. Clarenville was only founded in the 19th century, so it is a new town. It's a good place to pick up supplies for the next few days. A few minutes drive along the Discovery Trail, Route 230A, brings you to the causeway to Random Island.

Continue on Routes 230A to 230 and follow this to Trinity. This little town of 300 year-round residents is a jewel. The houses typify a prosperous fishing village of the late 19th and early 20th century. The town's forge, for many years a museum, has been put back in operation making decorative ironwork. There's a community museum, old churches, a merchant's premises, lots of old houses – and a summer theatre festival. Rising Tide Theatre offers an extensive performance program that ranges from local favourites to Shakespeare. Several times a week the actors also lead a popular comedic walking tour of the town that often attracts hundreds.

The town's history is replete with unexpected firsts. This first court of justice in the New World was held here in 1615, and around 1799 the local doctor was the first person on the continent to inoculate his patients using the Jenner smallpox vaccine.

Day 2 – Setting the scene

If the area seems perfect for the movies, you're right. Scenes from the film adaptation of Annie's Proulx's novel The Shipping News were filmed in the area. At the end of Route 239, about a 10-minute drive from Trinity, is the film set built for the TV miniseries Random Passage, a drama about early 19th-century life along the coast. If you're here on a Sunday, enquire about the Sunday Series that features writers and musicians. You never know who you'll meet, because the town has become a favourite with well-known actors as a result of the movies shot here.

Day 3 – A step back in time

The next stop is Port Union, founded by fisherman's union leader William Coaker in the early 20th century. It's the only union-built town in Canada. Visit Coaker's house and explore the town's historic buildings. This was a surprisingly progressive place in its heyday, and had one of the first hydroelectric plants in the province.

The small town of Elliston calls itself the root cellar capital of the world, and it just might be that. There are scores of them here, and some are still in use. In the days before electricity and refrigeration, root cellars were essential for storing food. This is an excellent place to get close to puffins.

At the tip of The Discovery Trail is Bonavista. The town has many historical buildings, foremost among them the lighthouse, a provincial historic site. Nearby is a statue of Cabot – whose original (Spanish) name was Giovanni Caboto. A replica of the caravel the Matthew he sailed here in sits in the harbour near the Ryan Premises National Historic Site, which tells the story of five centuries of fishing that formed the economic and cultural backbone of the province. The community museum is in the same building. If you're looking for family history, drop by the old courthouse where the archives can be found.

Get out and walk around the town because the one-way streets will confuse even the most ardent motorist. Drop by the historic Mockbeggar Plantation site to see what life was like 100 years ago.

Day 4 – Tee off

To end your tour, drive down The Discovery Trail Route 235 on the northeast coast, passing through some scenic fishing villages before merging again with Route 230 near Southern Bay. You might even be tempted to play a round of golf along the way at Summerville.