Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador

Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador
—  Town  —
Panorama of Placentia

Placentia is located in Newfoundland
Location of Placentia in Newfoundland
Coordinates: 47°14′45″N 53°57′40″W / 47.24583°N 53.96111°W / 47.24583; -53.96111
Country  Canada
Province  Newfoundland and Labrador
Settled early 16th century
Population (2006)
 - Total 3,898
Time zone Newfoundland Time (UTC-3:30)
 - Summer (DST) Newfoundland Daylight (UTC-2:30)
Area code(s) 709
Website Official Town Website

Placentia is a town on the Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland and Labrador, consisting of the amalgamated communities of Jerseyside, Townside, Freshwater, Dunville and Argentia. Common family names include Caul, Nolan, Power, O'Keefe, Collins, O'Reilly, Murphy, Williams, Gambin, Hatfield, Wyse, Barry, Mooney, and Careen.

In the 2006 census, Placentia's population was reported as 3,898, down significantly from the 2001 figure of 4,426.[1] This population decline has been ongoing since the early 1990s; in the 1996 census, Placentia was, proportionately, the 2nd fastest shrinking town in Canada,[2] dropping from 5,515 to 5,013 between 1991 and 1996.



It is unclear when Placentia was first settled by Europeans, but Basque fishermen were fishing in the area as early as the beginning of the 16th century, using Placentia as a seasonal centre of operations. Plazenta meaning pleasantness in the Basque language, derived from the Latin placentia is probably a name given by the Basques.[3] Placentia's large, rocky beach meant that fish could be salted and dried on the beachrocks rather than on a constructed wooden fishing stage, saving both time and effort.

In 1655, the French, who controlled more than half of the island of Newfoundland, and most of Atlantic Canada, made Placentia (or 'Plaisance,' as they called it) their capital. The French colony at Placentia was a successful one, and launched from here the devastating raids on the English during the Avalon Peninsula Campaign (1696). Fort Royal was built here.

In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht forced the French to abandon their Placentia Bay settlements, and Placentia became a British possession. For a time in the 18th century, it still rivaled St. John's in size and importance, as evidenced by the future King William IV's summering at Placentia in 1786 and using it as his base of operations when acting as surrogate judge in Newfoundland.[4] The town was described by the then-Prince as "a more decent settlement than any we have yet seen in Newfoundland" and was reported as having a population between 1500 and 2000 people.[4] Considering that the population of Newfoundland was reported as 8,000 11 years earlier, in 1775, Placentia's relative size and importance becomes apparent.

Placentia at the beginning of the twentieth century.

By the 19th century, it was more fully eclipsed by St. John's and Harbour Grace, Placentia continued to be an important town, regional centre to the southern Avalon peninsula and the eastern Burin peninsula.

From the mid-18th century through to the 1830s, numerous Irish immigrants from Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny and Cork settled in Placentia, so that the population of the modern town is largely of a mixture of West Country English and South-eastern Irish background. In the 18th century there were also a large number of settlers from the Channel Islands, from which Jerseyside, a prominent section of the town, derives its name.

Placentia Bay and the Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 1940, via an agreement between the British and American governments (Newfoundland not joining Canada until 1949), a large American military base was constructed at nearby Argentia (which is now within the town of Placentia's boundaries). For a time, this was the largest American military base outside of the United States, and it played an integral role in World War II, earning the nickname "the Gibraltar of the Atlantic."

This huge development revolutionized the Placentia area both economically and culturally. Essentially, the American base introduced a widespread cash-based economy. Suddenly, people who had fished all of their lives (engaging in a type of barter system called the truck system) had access to good-paying jobs on the American base. American technology enriched the living standards of Placentia residents, while the local culture was influenced strongly by the American presence. Similarly, it prompted a huge population boom, growing from 1,900 people in 1935[5] to well over 8,000 in the 1960s (note: these figures account for the current boundaries of Placentia, which at the time consisted of 4 separate towns: Placentia, Dunville, Jerseyside, and Freshwater).

The post office was established in 1851. The first Postmistress in 1863 was Mary Morris.


The American base at Argentia was scaled back in the 1970s, and closed totally in 1994. This, along with the cod moratorium introduced by the Canadian government a few years' earlier, left the town of Placentia without an economic base for some time, although recent developments by Vale Inco are beginning to stabilize the town's rocky economic situation.


Placentia is home to two primary education schools: St. Edward's Elementary, a K-8 school located in Placentia proper, which schools children from the sections of Placentia, Jerseyside, Ferndale, Southeast, Bonds Path, Point Verde, and Barasway. There is also St. Anne's Academy, a K-9 school in Dunville for students from Dunville, Freshwater, Fox Harbour, and Ship Harbour. There currently exists one high school, Laval High School, which educates students from all parts of the amalgamated communities for grades 9 to 12. Laval recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a full reunion of all graduates, and is preparing for construction of a new high school, scheduled to open in September 2010. All schools are home to many extracurriculars, including student council, sports, drama and music, and volunteer organizations.

A Placentia Campus
College of The North Atlantic- Placentia Campus

Placentia is also home to a post-secondary institution; a campus of the College of the North Atlantic, offering programs in adult basic education, college transition, heavy duty equipment technique, heavy equipment operation, welding, machinist, and industrial machinery.

Tourism and culture

Placentia has many features that make is a popular tourist attraction in Newfoundland and Labrador. It has a unique lift-bridge that spans the tumultuous tides of 'the gut' (the narrow opening to the harbour). There are many archaeological sites (some partially re-constructed), several excellent examples of late-19th century Newfoundland architecture, two museums (O'Reilly House and Castle Hill), and one of the two Marine Atlantic ferry links from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia (via Argentia). It is 130 kilometres from the capital city, St. John's, and is within easy distance of the scenic Cape Shore (including the Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve), the Irish Loop and St. Mary's Bay, Conception Bay, and the inner reaches of Placentia Bay.

In 2009, Placentia celebrated the opening of its Cultural Arts Center with a month of artistic events, including drama productions, art exhibitions (three shows recognizing art from elementary students, high school students, and adults), and musical performances.

The town has an established summer stock theatre troupe, Placentia Area Theatre D'Heritage (PATH),[6] which performs historical plays of significance in the Placentia area. The primary production is Faces of Fort Royale, performed at Castle Hill National Historic Site, depicting the lives of the early inhabitants of Placentia under the leadership of Governor De Broullion. They also perform a dinner theatre cabaret set in the 1950s during the Argentia Base heyday, and a ghost walk. The troupe generally consists of post-secondary students under the direction of the province's finest theatre producers.

Several natives of the Placentia area have gone on to distinguish themselves in the world at large. These include commentator and journalist Rex Murphy (born in Carbonear but raised in the area), poet and playwright Agnes Walsh, lyric poet and influential Confederate Greg Power, Newfoundland's first professional bodybuilder, Frank McGrath,professional wrestler and Alastair Ralphs (Total Nonstop Action Wrestling).

See also


External links

Coordinates: 47°14′45″N 53°57′40″W / 47.24583°N 53.96111°W / 47.24583; -53.96111

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