ARGENTIA : A Historic Look

by Wayne Power



The following is the body of a research paper compiled for Ms. Sylvia McGrath, as a part of the Language 2101 course at Laval in the Fall/Winter of the 1999-2000 school year.


 Argentia, which was first settled in the early 1600's,is situated on a small peninsula on the east side of Placentia Bay on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. Located about 1 ½ hours from the city of St. John's, it is part of the amalgamated Town of Placentia.From its early settlers, the Argentia communities and the American presence, Argentia has been a very predominant part of our history. In this paper I hope to inform you on the many aspects of this topic past and present.



First mapped by the Portuguese explorers Gaspar and Miguel Cortreal in 1503, Petite Plaisance ( Argentia's original name ) was first settled in the late 1600's as a part of the French settlement of Plaisance (Placentia), Argentia was first a small French fishing village. (Evacuation: 4)

In 1713, under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht, the settlement changed hands. Soon after 1713 the British Fishery began to slowly expand into Placentia Bay. Little Placentia, the English translation for Petite Plaisance, was endowed with a good harbour, large beaches, and stands of timber. These factors helped initiate a British Fishing station in the settlement. (Argentia:1)

 Official reports from the early 1700's show that " Little Placentia" was an important fishing station and center of trade. Numerous British mercantile stations were located at the settlement during most of the eighteenth century. (Argentia:1)

 In 1687 the population of Petite Plaisance stood at 35. During the winter of 1767 - 1768 there were approximately 139 people settled in the community. In the winter of 1797 the population had more than doubled to 226 residents, the majority of which were Roman Catholic. During the early 1800's a large number of Irish descendants immigrated to Little Placentia. By the year 1845 the communities' population stood at 573. ( Argentia: 3 )

 In the early years of Argentia many of the residents were engaged in the fishery. While many fished cod, a large number of fishermen were involved in the pacific fishery off Cape St. Mary's, and others participated in the Placentia Bay herring fishery. While cod continued to be the main species fished, a short-lived lobster fishery was developed in the 1900's ( Argentia: 2)



 The community was actually known as Little Placentia until 1904 when Parish Priest of the time, Father John St. John, successfully had the community renamed Argentia after the discovery of the Silver Cliff Mine --- "argent," being the French word for silver. ( Houlihan: 5 ) This name change is also said to have been the result of growing tensions between the residents of Little Placentia and Great Placentia ( The present day Ward of Placentia). A dispute which is still evident in some households today.

 Argentia extended over a great land mass, and the different areas of the  settlement had its own distinctive name. These names included Point Moll, Marquise, Salmonier, Smith's Point, Traverse's Cove, Sandy Cove, Point Roche, Sampson's Point, Pond Head, Power's Hill and Point Latine. ( Houlihan: 5 )

 At the time of the 1921 census the population of Argentia stood at approximately 330 residents ( Newfoundland - Argentia: 1-7) At the same time, another part of the settlement, Marquise, consisted of about 250 residents ( Census - Argentia: 1-6 ) These inhabitants were primarily and  mostly Roman Catholic. ( Evacuation: 5 )

 The first community church was constructed at Point Roche, with three cemeteries spread out around the community. The first to be established was at Pond Head, the second at Point Roche church grounds, and the third at Mount Rosary. ( Evacuation: 6 )

 In 1916 Reverend Father John Ashley laid the cornerstone of a new church in a more central part of the community. Also erected on the church grounds were the Presbytery, and a new school with three classrooms on the ground floor and a dance hall on the second. Here at the hall meetings, balls, dances, card parties and other various community functions were held. Both church and school was dedicated to the Holy Rosary, thus the site became known as Mount Rosary, and the Argentia Parish, Holy Rosary Parish. ( Houlihan: 5 )

 Prior to the construction of a new all - grade school at Mount Rosary in 1910, the British North American Society sponsored the first community school which opened in 1832. Eighty - five Roman Catholic students attended school five days a week, while eleven children of various other denominations attended Sunday school. ( Evacuation: 6 ) As well, a Primary School was built at Marquise and a Primary and High School at Point Roche. The high school students of Marquise attended the Point Roche High School. ( Evacuation: 7 ) " When the denominational school system was introduced, the operation of the schools transferred to the parish." (Evacuation: 7 )

 The community school offered only three subjects: reading, writing, and arithmetic. School was open from April to September. Attendance became poor when help was needed at home or in the fishery. "Many young boys dropped out of school to work at the fishery or sawmill." ( Evacuation: 7 )

 In 1935 the Commission Government operated Cottage Hospital was opened. The resident doctor was Doctor Greene who worked with four staff nurses. The Cottage Hospital served the east side and the islands of Placentia Bay. Prior to the construction of the Cottage Hospital the area was served by district nurses. ( Evacuation: 8 )

 Law enforcement for Argentia was provided by a Constable appointed by the Newfoundland Legislature. A Post Office and Customs Office were also located and operated in Argentia. ( Argentia: 2 ) As well, many businesses were set up at Argentia, everything from general stores to the Silver Cliff Mines. As well, the terminus of the Placentia Branch of the Railway was moved to Argentia and thus provided a major boast to the economy of the community. ( Houlihan: 9 ) This made Argentia one of the most prosperous communities in Placentia Bay and our Province. ( Before: 1 )



 When World War 2 broke out in the 1940's, the American Government sought out looking for locations which would best protect the entire eastern seaboard. Argentia with its prime location was selected.

 When it was announced that the Americans were moving into Argentia there were mixed reactions. ( Evacuation: 12 - 15 ) When the Americans arrived for the construction of the base, it became necessary for the land on which the inhabitants lived to be evacuated, leading to the eviction of the residents. This resulted in the termination of the community of Argentia. ( Social Impacts: 1 )

 When the government first announced that the Americans were moving in and taking over their land, there were mixed feelings among the residents. While many welcomed the foreigners for the benefits they brought, others disliked the idea, for they were worried about what would happen to them and their families. To look after this matter the residents formed a committee whose responsibility was to make sure the Argentia people were treated right and received what they deserved. ( Evacuation: 12 - 15 ) This committee lead by Parish Priest Father Adrian Dee, worked to the best of their ability and power for the people of Argentia.

 By 1942 more than 350 houses and buildings were destroyed and 160 families were off to start a new life. ( Social Impacts: 1 ) Father Dee lead Holy Rosary Parish and its inhabitants to settle and begin a new life at Freshwater and other nearby communities. ( Newfoundland Encyclopedia: 446 - 467 )

 For their land and property, the Argentia residents were paid more than $882,000 compensation  to cover their losses. ( Social Impacts: 1 )

 With the families now relocated, it became time to relocate the faithful departed.  In the beginning, the American authorities purposed to simply cement over the cemeteries located in Argentia. This idea was met with opposition by Father Dee who would not give in and agree to the plan. From here, it was decided that the three cemeteries would be relocated as one when a suitable site was found in Freshwater. Shortly after, a new site was found on the hill near what is now called Old Settlement Hill. The work of exhumation and reinterment was carried out by the United States Government. ( Houlihan: 53 )

 With the community resettled, the construction of the United States Naval Operating Base was in full swing. Argentia was ideally located to serve as a base for supplying, repairing and servicing the American war fleet and Naval Forces of the Allies. ( Cardoulis: 28 )

 Construction was finished and the Naval Operating Base and Naval Air Station was commissioned in 1941 and was in full operation when the United States went to war in December of that year. "It was destined to play a significant part in the running of that war. ( Cardoulis: 28 )
The base remained in operation until it was decommissioned in October of 1994.



 Argentia has had a very predominant and important history. From the first discovery by Gaspar and Miguel Cortreal in 1503 to it's being considered one of the most prosperous communities in Placentia Bay, combined with the uprooting of the settlement and the construction of the United States Naval Operating Station and Air Base, it continued to play a key role in the development of history.

 Hopefully through this research paper you have learned some aspect of Argentia's history, or have realized Argentia's important role in our history.



" Argentia, 60 Years of Change." Freshwater : Frank Smith and Joseph Joy, April 1992, VHS.

" Argentia Before the Americans." The Museum of the Atlantic Allies. Online. Internet. 29  September, 1999.

" Argentia." Placentia, The Early Years. Online. Internet. 29 September, 1999.

Cardoulis, John N. A Friendly Invasion. 1st ed. St. John's : Breakwater, 1990.

Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, 1981 ed. S.v. "Marquise", by Charles Kelly.

Houlihan, Eileen. Uprooted ! The Argentia Story. 1st ed. St. John's : Creative Publishers, 1992.

" Newfoundland - 1921 Census - Argentia." Thunderstorms Webinator. Online. Internet. 4             November, 1999.

" Newfoundland - 1921 Census - Marquise. Thunderstorms Webinator.  Online. Internet. 4    November, 1999.

Placentia Area Historical Society. Evacuation of Argentia. Placentia : Author, 1979.

" Social Impacts." The Museum of the Atlantic Allies. Online. Internet. 29 September 1999

Back to Index of Topics/Communities Page

This Page is part of a Historical and Cultural Web Site created by students of Laval High School, Placentia, NFLD (A0B 2Y0). February, 2000.