OTD: John Cabot reaches Newfoundland

On today’s date in 1497, a hired Italian seaman named John Cabot reached Newfoundland on the Matthew following a 35-day voyage.

This date is since remembered as “Discovery Day” in the present-day province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Matthew – a relatively small vessel carrying about 20 people and 50 tons of cargo – left Bristol in May 1497. While a lack of primary evidence has left historians guessing about the exact chain of events, it’s generally agreed Cabot sailed down the Bristol Channel, across to Ireland and then north along Ireland’s west coast before turning out to sea.

In 1947, the Newfoundland Post Office featured “Cabot on the Matthew” on a five-cent rose/violet stamp (CS # 270) as part of its Cabot issue.

In 1947, the Newfoundland Post Office featured ‘Cabot in the Matthew’ on a five-cent stamp.


About 35 days after leaving Bristol, Cabot is believed to have seen land.

Historians have proposed Cape Bonavista and St. John’s in Newfoundland; Cape Breton Island, N.S.; or Labrador as Cabot’s Canadian point of arrival. Other possibilities include Maine in the U.S.

Cabot was back in Bristol on Aug. 6 after a 15-day return crossing.

For celebrations surrounding the 500th anniversary of Cabot’s discovery of North America, the governments of Canada and the U.K. designated Cape Bonavista as the official landing place.

In 1997, Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the Italian and Canadian governments greeted the replica Matthew in Cape Bonavista following its celebratory crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

Earlier, on the 400th anniversary of Cabot’s landing on this continent, the Newfoundland Post Office issued a 10-cent stamp (Scott #68) honouring Discovery Day.

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