Originally from Ontario, Mike Paterson moved to the Bonavista Peninsula with his family almost thirty years ago. He has been running Paterson Woodworking Limited out of Upper Amherst cove for a quarter of a century.
Over the years Paterson has developed a reputation for crafting beautiful traditional furniture, and pulling off tricky restoration jobs on heritage buildings. In 2015, the Newfoundland and Labrador Historic Trust presented him with the Southcott Award for Heritage Tradesperson.
The shore has gone through a series of dramatic changes since Paterson arrived in 1988, on the cusp of the cod moratorium that would put about 30,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians out of work. When his family arrived on the peninsula, Paterson’s wife, Lori Paterson, worked at the Hospital in Bonavista as a physiotherapist while Paterson stayed home with their young children and ran his woodworking business out of their house.
“Our desire was to live here and find a way to do it economically and practically,” Paterson explained. “I was happy that my wife had a job to keep things going while I got the business up and running. Then the business found a bit of a niche market and grew over 25 years.”
When the cod moratorium was announced, Paterson offered a woodworking course for people who were displaced out of the fishery. Some of the people who took the course had experience with carpentry while others were starting from scratch. A few of the men stayed on with Paterson after the course and worked with him at Paterson Woodworking for about twenty years.
“Part of working here was training, and we were all learning together in some respects,” Paterson explained.
In the past couple years, the Bonavista peninsula has been going through another significant transformation. The area has seen an influx of new businesses, many of them headed by Bonavista Living and Bonavista Creative, twin initiatives with a mandate to “…restore physical structures but also foster new enterprise.”
In a happy coincidence, Paterson decided he wanted to transition back to working solo just as Bonavista Living launched its restoration project. The six or seven men who had been working with Paterson were able to move into jobs with the new company.
“Bonavista has always been a unique town based on the fishery and year-round residents finding ways to live here,” Paterson said. “A lot of the fabric of Bonavista has been rejuvenated, a lot of the buildings are being spruced up. It’s for the better, the area seems to have maintained its character and integrity throughout it all.”
Paterson is currently running Paterson Woodworking as a one-person operation. His primary focus is unique furniture commissions and challenging architectural reproduction and restoration contracts.
In 2012, he remodelled the timber frame furniture showroom just below his workshop. The space became Bonavista Social Club, a hugely successful restaurant and bakery owned and operated by Paterson’s daughter, Chef Katie Hayes and her husband Shane Hayes.
Katie Hayes grew up in Upper Amherst Cove, and the produce used in the restaurant comes from garden beds that she helped open up as a child.
“Bonavista, like most of rural Newfoundland, is really beautiful and the things that never change are the geography and the people. It’s a great place and we’re really fortunate to have the opportunity to live here,” Paterson said.