Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada West | Maybe not everyone knows that…
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18 Sep Maybe not everyone knows that…

Canada was discovered by an Italian.

Giovanni Caboto (among the native English speakers is known as John Cabot) is the name of the Italian navigator and explorer who on 24 June 1497, in the conviction of having finally reached “the Indies”, landed at Bonavista, on the island of Newfoundland, which today together with maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) and Labrador, is the region of Atlantic Canada, between the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the Gulf of Maine. That’s how he discovered Canada (although never identified with precision, according to tradition the exact point of sighting is Capo Bonavista). 

Giovanni Caboto’s memoirs are marked by some uncertainties about the provenance and the disappearance. Presumably born in Gaeta in 1445, he moved to the Republic of Venice, which did not exploited the seafaring skills of the young Caboto, refusing to finance an explorer’s intuition that, according to him, would lead them to reach the wealth of the Indies. In fact, the idea of Giovanni Caboto was to pursue the objective of Christopher Columbus but following a different course, north of the “New World”. 

The refusal of the Serenissima did not dampen the spirits of the navigator.  He moved to Valencia to direct the expansion works to enlarge the port desired by the King Ferdinand II of Aragon, then he proposed to the Spanish to entrust him with an exploratory journey along a different northern route compared to the one traveled by the newly returned Colombo, with the aim of reaching the Far East. 

Figure 1Even Ferdinando and Isabella of Castile refused and, in 1946, Caboto decided to move to England with the intent to convince King Henry VII to support his project.  The King, mindful of the lost opportunity with Colombo, hastened to authorize the exploration through letters patent dated March 5, 1496. It was from the port of Bristol that, on May 2, 1497, sailed only one of the five ship prepared by Cabot himself, by the shipowner Richard Ameryk and the Bardi, Florentine bankers. The sailing ship Matthew, 50 tons and 18 men as a crew, landed in Newfoundland and, in the name of Henry VII took possession of it, planting the English and papal flag, as well as, the flag of the Republic of Venice (Figure 1). The island of Newfoundland, at the time of the Europeans’ contacts with the New World, was inhabited by the Beothuks, an aboriginal population now disappeared and, since 1829, with the death of the last Beothuk, officially recognized as an extinct ethnic group.                                         

The king and the English population welcomed with great celebration the Italian explorer on his return, the umpteenth person to reach new horizons, the person who had the right intuition and started the series of great journeys to the discovery of the Northwest. 

In 1498, Henry VII commissioned Caboto another expedition, with six ships and at least two hundred men as a crew, with the intent of colonizing the lands discovered. John Cabot and the crew, touched the Labrador and coasted the southern Greenland, afterwards, the traces of the English expedition were lost and, over the years, some valid but not certain hypotheses were formulated. Equally unofficial is the version extrapolated from an imaginary Bristol book, according to which it was Cabot who attributed the name America to the territories he discovered, as he dedicated to the sponsor of his ventures, Richard Ameryck.

It is said that Bonavista took its name from an exclamation made by Caboto himself at the time of landing. The province is geographically the point of the American continent closer to Europe and to give you a better idea, it is much closer to London than to Vancouver.

And it is precisely at Bonavista that a statue was placed in memory of Giovanni Caboto (Figure 2) and was also built a museum dedicated to his venture, which took its name from the sailing ship Matthew, this latter was recently visited by the Centro Studi Italia-Canada (Figure 3).

Bonavista is a very small town with just a few inhabitants, and it is suggestive to see how a piece of history of Italy and Canada is well guarded in a corner of the world that enhances the Italian genius and refreshes memories.

The “Ye Matthew Legacy” museum is a fifteenth-century reference, with practical representations of the journey in the caravel of Cabot and his crew, and the possibility of boarding the ship itself reproduced in full scale (Figure 4). Through the voice of a young sailor inside the museum, it is possible to retrace the history of the journey, about the preparations and all the imponderables that characterize an adventure. Listening and observation stimulate the imagination of visitors, to fully relive a history of discoveries and historical achievements.

In Italy, the birthplace of the explorer is attributed at the city of Gaeta, where the main seafront and the Nautical Technical Institute are dedicated to John Cabot and on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Canada (1997), they also dedicates a monument to him (Figure 5).                                                                             

England and France, historical colonizers of North America, owe the long presence and domination of the New World to those expeditions, while the geography and science of the earth owe to Giovanni Caboto numerous information on the vastness of the American territory and on the search for a passage to North-West to the Far East, correctly identified by the same explorer.

The European colonizing states, attracted by Asia (the Indies) and its riches, have nevertheless been able to enjoy the fruits of the new lands discovered. In addition to influencing the culture and languages of those territories, they have exploited an empire of natural resources for centuries… just think of the North America minerals, but also the resources brought by the sea, like the excellent cod, reason for the disagreement between the French and English bordering on the north-eastern coast of the continent, inhabited by very few in winter. The great rivalry between the two countries spread there, with cod fishing as the casus belli of two “sea” peoples who, in the sea, were looking for wealth but above all, exclusivity. As the history says, the contrasts between the English and the French for the dominion of the North American lands lasted for a long time, until, as far as Canada is concerned, the famous battle of Lousibourg decreed the English winners who, in the second half of the 18th century, ended the French dominance.

Dominations leave their mark, both positive and negative, leaving a mark that is difficult to erase, on the basis of which, Canada and the United States have built their wealth. The two countries are direct descendants of Europe and, wisely, took the beautiful and the ugly of the European heritage, have assimilated ingenuity, that something unique, which combined with the resources and with the Canada’s “can do attitude,” they have made it a treasure of the globe.  

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