Today Bonavista is a quiet outport community but only a generation ago, with the cod fishery still active, it was part of a vast international trade.
For centuries the cod fishery made outport communities such as Bonavista important parts of a trade system that reached across the Atlantic to Portugal, Spain, Italy and the Caribbean. This fishery and trade ground to a halt in July 1992, when, due to dangerously low cod stocks, the fishery was closed indefinitely.
The Ryan Premises in Bonavista were part of this system. Originally established in 1869 by James Ryan Ltd., the Ryan Premises bought dry salted cod from fishermen, sold provisions and equipment, and exported cod worldwide to Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the West Indies. Through the Ryans, Bonavista’s cod was a major part of international diets with fleets of schooners carrying fish to markets around the world.
Both markets and the cod fishery changed over time. Freezing supplanted salting as the desired method of preserving cod and fisheries became increasingly based around large offshore vessels rather than the small inshore-based fishery. Rather than adjust to this new technology the Ryan Premises withdrew from the fishery as the salt fish market collapsed and instead focused on being a retail and wholesale distributor until 1978 when its doors finally closed.
Reopened in 1997 by Parks Canada the Ryan Premises is an excellent look at how Canada’s East Coast cod fishery operated for almost a century, how this fish made Newfoundland and its outports an important centre of trade and how this fishery changed with international markets and technologies. The Heritage Shop is located right in the Ryan Premises building.
Ryan Premises National Historic Site of Canada
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