Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador
Panorama of Placentia
Location of Placentia in Newfoundland
|Coordinates: 47°14′45″N 53°57′40″W / 47.24583°N 53.96111°W|
|Province||Newfoundland and Labrador|
|Settled||early 16th century|
|• Mayor||Wayne Power Jr.|
|Time zone||Newfoundland Time (UTC-3:30)|
|• Summer (DST)||Newfoundland Daylight (UTC-2:30)|
|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, Power, O'Keefe, Collins, O'Reilly, Murphy, Williams, Gambin, Hatfield, Wadman, Lake, 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. This population decline has been ongoing since the early 1990s; in the 1996 census, Placentia was, proportionately, the 2nd fastest shrinking town in Canada, dropping from 5,515 to 5,013 between 1991 and 1996.
It is unclear when Placentia terrain 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. The will of a Basque seaman has been discovered in an archive in Spain in which Domingo de Luca asks in 1563 “that my body be buried in this port of Plazençia in the place where those who die here are usually buried.” It is believed to be the oldest original civil document written in Canada. Contemporary scholars think that land called Vinland extending from Nova Scotia to L'Anse aux Meadows consisted at least a few settlements, probably on Avalon Peninsula too. "Placentia" may be derived from a similar name of an old Basque villa called Placencia de las Armas (Basque: Soraluze), which is located in the Gipuzkoa province of the Basque Country. Placentia may also be derived from the Latin placentia, a name also probably given by the Basques. 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 (French: Plaisance) their capital. They built Fort Plaisance in 1662, which was followed by Fort Royal in 1687, and Fort Saint Louis in 1691. The establishment of a fort with a garrison allowed fishermen to pursue their activities with greater safety in neighbouring harbours. The French garrisons at Plaisance were small, but despite that fact, the soldiers and French privateers managed to hold their own in the face of numerous English attacks during the two major conflicts of the Nine Years' War and the War of the Spanish Succession, which marked the colony's history. In 1692, Louis-Armand de Lom d'Arce de Lahontan, Baron de Lahontan defended the French port.
|Year||Number of inhabitants||Year||Number of inhabitants|
In 1711, the British almost annihilated the French at Placentia when a Royal Navy fleet under Admiral Hovenden Walker, containing over 15 ships, 4000 Redcoats and over 900 cannons, sailed into Placentia Bay, and then withdrew without reaching the settlement.
In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht forced the French to abandon their Placentia Bay settlements and migrate to Louisbourg, 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. 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. Considering that the population of Newfoundland was reported as 8,000 11 years earlier, in 1775, Placentia's relative size and importance becomes apparent.
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.
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 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 one primary education school: St. Anne's Academy, a K-6 school in Dunville. There currently exists one high school, Laval High School, which educates students from grades 7 to 12. The original Laval High School was demolished in 2010, with a new state of the art facility replacing it in September 2010. All schools are home to many extracurriculars, including student council, sports, drama and music, and volunteer organizations.
Placentia is also home to a post-secondary institution; a campus of the College of the North Atlantic, offering programs in heavy duty equipment mechanics, 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), 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, Sylvana Tomaselli married to George Windsor, Earl of St Andrews, a second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II,Newfoundland's first professional bodybuilder, Frank McGrath, ,professional wrestler and Alastair Ralphs (Total Nonstop Action Wrestling), and Peter Lake owner of Heavy Fog Guitars known as one of the top cigar box guitar builders in the world.