THE DISCOVERY OF Canada by Europeans is not usually at the forefront of my mind, especially just after an airflight landing in Venice. Yet when we disembarked from the waterbus that carried us from Marco Polo Airport to the city, I noticed a building that surprised me at the south end of the Via Garibaldi (in the Castello ‘sestier’ of Venice). It has one plaque commemorating Giovanni Caboto (c1450-c1500) and his son Sebastiano Caboto (c1450-c1557). Giovanni is better known (to me) as John Cabot. I had no idea that Cabot, the ‘discoverer’ of Newfoundland was from the Italian peninsular. Sebastiano was also a maritime explorer. His most famous work was done in South America.
Giovanni Caboto’s birthplace is unknown, but is likely to have been in the Province of Genoa. By 1476, he had become a Citizen of Venice. He was a trader there. Getting into financial difficulties, he left Venice for Spain in the late 1480s. After seeking financial support for a trans-Atlantic expedition, which never happened, he set off for England in 1495. Cabot, as he became known in England, went to Bristol. From that seaport, he led at least three expeditions to explore the east coast of North America. During these voyages, he set foot on what is now called Newfoundland and probably also on parts of what is now Nova Scotia. One of his later expeditions is believed to have been one of the earliest attempts to discover a Northwest Passage.
Cabot received a reward for his services from England’s King Henry VII. Where John Cabot died is uncertain. It might have been during his last expedition to North America during the period 1498-1501, but no one knows for sure whether he died at sea, or in North America, or after his expedition had returned to England.
A monument on the house in Via Garibaldi, which was placed in 1982 by the Canadian Province of Newfoundland, records that John’s discoveries in 1497 were made with his son Sebastiano. The house that bears this monument (written both in English and French) and another one in Italian, is said to be the house where John Cabot lived in Venice. From many of its windows, the great explorer would have had a good view of the lagoon and the quays, where trading vessels might well have been loaded and unloaded.
Our rented apartment was on a narrow street leading off the Via Garibaldi. I was pleased to see that this is close to a narrow alleyway called Ramo Primo Caboto.