About The Area
A Brief History
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 basque language, derived from the Latin placentia is probably a name 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 (or 'Plaisance,' as they called it) their capital.
A number of factors prompted France formally to occupy this fishing station.
- Compete more effectively with the English in Newfoundland.
- The bay is free of ice by early spring and fishing activity could start there earlier than elsewhere.
- It was a convenient sheltering place for those going to or returning from Canada, Acadia, the English North American colonies and the West Indies.
- The high cost of goods imported from France.
Like their counterparts elsewhere in the French empire, administrators, both civil and military, had a financial interest in the local economy, in this case the fishery and the trade. They were not interested in supporting the interests of the French merchant ships which came to Newfoundland to make significant profits on the sale of goods, and to take back cargos of dried cod. These ships had a supposed monopoly in supplying the planters, and sometimes demanded exorbitant prices. However, from about 1706 Plaisance drew a large part of its annual supply from Québec, and products from New England were readily available at better prices than those from France. Boston merchants could visit Plaisance three or four times a year, whereas French merchants could perhaps make only a single visit. This illicit trade was in existence by 1676 and continued after 1690, probably preventing the colony's collapse during the war.
The establishment of a garrison allowed fishermen to pursue their activities with greater safety in neighbouring harbours such as Burin, St. Lawrence, Mortier and Chapeau Rouge and despite small numbers, the soldiers and French privateers managed to hold their own in the face of numerous English attacks during the two major conflicts which marked the colony's history - the War of the League of Augsburg (1688-1697) and the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1712).
In 1689-1697 War with England prompted the French government to put in place new administrative structures. The first civil servants arrived in 1689, and set up a small administration to work in conjunction with the governor. By 1700, Plaisance had at least four civil servants and had become a fully fledged colony of New France, together with Canada and Acadia.
By the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), Plaisance was handed over to Britain. Its French inhabitants were given the choice of returning to France, or settling in the new French colony of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). In the spring of 1714, the governor of Plaisance began organizing the emigration. Apart from four or five individuals who chose to become British subjects, the inhabitants opted for Cape Breton. Three royal ships, assisted by merchant vessels, took the population to the future site of Louisbourg. It is said that the group consisted of 116 men, 10 women and 23 children. In the new colony, these planter families received free property rights comparable to those they had left behind in Plaisance.
For a time in the 1700s, 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.
From the mid-1700s 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 1700s 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 has many features that make is a popular tourist attraction in Newfoundland and Labrador.
- A unique lift-bridge that spans the tumultuous tides of 'the gut' (the narrow opening to the harbour).
- Many archaeological sites with several excellent examples of late-19th century Newfoundland architecture
- Two museums (O'Reilly House and Castle Hill)
- Marine Atlantic ferry linking from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia (via Argentia).
- 130 kilometres from the capital city, St. John's
- Short distance from the scenic Cape Shore and the Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve
The town has an established summer stock theatre troupe, Placentia Area Theatre D'Heritage, which performs historical plays of significance in the Placentia area. They also perform a dinner theatre cabaret set in the 1950's 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.
The post office was established in 1851.
The first Postmistress in 1863 was Mary Morris.
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."
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.
Native to the area...
Commentator and journalist Rex Murphy was 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 Alastair Ralphs.