It’s been eight years since the replica of The Matthew, the ship John Cabot arrived in Newfoundland on, has had the choppy Atlantic waters lapping against its hull, and it may never again, says Bonavista's mayor.
Instead, the popular tourist attraction has been sitting in a dry dock at a visitation centre waiting on completed repairs.
John Norman says the Matthew won’t be touring people in the harbour again, even after the years spent doing costly repairs.
“Our plan is to never have it in the water, because of the issues of maintenance," he said.
Norman says people wouldn’t pay to see the boat when it was in the harbour, they would only take a picture and leave.
“Yes, it would be lovely to have it in the harbour and have everyone see it, but as we know, the maintenance and operation isn’t cheap, so if we rely on ticket sales mainly and people aren’t going to pay because they see it out in the harbour, that’s a big problem.”
Alan Pitcher, board member and treasurer of The Matthew Legacy Commitee, says it's been a long process getting the ship in shape, but the repairs are 70 per cent complete and being done with the idea that the ship will someday return to the water.
In March 2011, The Matthew was taken out of the harbour because major rotting had made the ship unsafe to sit or sail in the water.
Repairs to the rotting ship started in the fall of 2016, Pitcher said, and finding the funding has been challenging.
The Matthew building is kept open each tourist season through donations, revenue from operations, and an annual $40,000 operating grant through the town.
The Matthew Legacy Committee announced in 2011 that years of neglecting repairs to the ship had caused the repairs to spike to a cost of $1 million.
The employees working on the boat are there through the Job Creation Program (JCP), which provides individuals eligible for Employment Insurance with opportunities to improve their employability through work experience.
Pitcher said last year the JCP gave the Matthew Legacy Commitee $16,000.
There are currently three people working on repairs to The Matthew, plus staff onboard.
“When you look at the grand scheme of things, you have to be reasonable of what you expect," Pitcher said. "That's why it's so extremely valuable to us that we got lots of visitors and purchases at our gift shop in order to continue our work.”
The committee is planning on speaking to local MHA Craig Pardy to see what help the provincial government can provide.
Pitcher said one thing that can be done is more promotion of The Matthew.
“It's too bad, really, that it is not promoted in a way . . . I only wish that they would take our vessel and stress the fact that this is our beginning as Europeans eventually getting to Newfoundland,” he said. “If they had that happen in the United States, the fuss and the clamour about that would be vast.”
Norman understands why there hasn’t been much promotion of the replica of John Cabot’s ship through the government.
“Look at the provincial ads that run right now. Where do you see The Matthew fitting in one of those commercials?” Norman said. “Certainly, there could be a creation of a small clip or vignette kind of highlighting this existing feel around discovery. I still think there is room to still sell that excitement that Europeans discovering Newfoundland existed and the native populations existed here.”
The Matthew should be a huge tourist destination in the province noted Pitcher and he added that the “major thought from visitors and locals alike is; never let that ship disappear, keep maintaining and keep what you have, because it's important.”