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Twillingate, Newfoundland

Site Number: 2
CSD (1991): 1008028 

Principal Researcher(s): Shirley P. Dawe

Newfoundland Project Coordinators: Don Hogan (ACOA); Robert Greenwood (Department of Development and Rural Renewal, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador) 

Assistant Researcher(s): n/a

Twillingate, located off the north coast of the Island of Newfoundland, has an industry comprised mainly of fishing and processing (20%). The total population (1397) has decreased by 7% in recent years. The labour force participation rate is 56%, the unemployment rate is 44%, and 10% of the community is below LICO.


Because of its geographical location, the Twillingate area is renown for its harsh weather conditions and the extremes of the natural environment have shaped the economic and social milieu of the area. Its verbal and written history are riddled with tales of the daring and courage of its sea captains and fishermen and the hardiness and endurance of its people.

Major events & stories

  • Twillingate is one of the few areas in Newfoundland that can trace its history back 3500 years to the inhabitation of Archaic Maritime Indians around 1500 BC. It was the scene of an important archeological find in 1966.

  • Twillingate is one of the oldest seaports in Newfoundland. The French fishing fleet used the waters around the island between 1650 and 1690 and it was these fishermen who gave the islands the name "Toulinquet" because of their similarity to a group of islands offthe French coast near Brest. The name became anglicized to Twillingate with the first formal settlement of a town was around 1700. The first livyers, or permanent settlers, were English fishermen and their families from Devonshire. By 1760, records show that two main merchants were bringing in over a thousand pounds worth of business a year.

  • With the growth of a seal fishery in the 18th century, settlers became more enterprising and were engaged almost year round with fishing and farming in the summer and autumn and the seal fishery the spring.

  • At this time the islands were heavily wooded and occupied by bands of Beotlvk Indians. The settlers disregarded the Beothuks' aboriginal rights to their traditional fishing and hunting grounds and the Beothuks responded by petty thieving. The second last living Beothuk, Demasuit, or Mary March as she was to be called, was captured and brought to live in Twillingate in 1819 where she later contracted tuberculosis and died.

  • Twillingate prides itself as the birthplace of a world renowned opera star. Georgina Sterling was born in 1867, the youngest daughter of Twillingate's first doctor, William Sterling. After showing early signs of possessing a remarkable soprano voice, she was sent to train in Italy and later toured Italy and the United States to wide acclaim. Her career was cut short when she contracted an illness that caused her to lose her voice and she returned to Twillingate where she died in 1935. In 1964, the still proud citizens of Twillingate erected a headstone to mark her grave and inscribed it: The nightingale of the North sang fairer than the larks of Italy. She entertained royalty by her voice, the poor by the kindness of her heart. Erected by an admiring public, 1964.

  • The original Notre Dame Bay Memorial Hospital was built by the people of Twillingate between 1921 and 1924 as a memorial to the casualties of the First World War. Dr. John Olds became Chief Physician there in 1934. Dr. Olds is considered a legend within Newfoundland for his medical service to the area and for often doing what others thought impossible.

  • The Town of Twillingate was first incorporated in 1965.

  • The George Hawkins Arena was built in 1968, using mainly voluntary labour.

  • The Town Hall/Fire Hall was constructed in 1972.

  • In 1973 the islands became linked to the main road system of Newfoundland by a causeway.

  • In 1974 a new hospital was built.

  • In 1992 the Town of Twillingate amalgamated with the former towns of Durrell and Bayview.

  • In the same year, 1992, Twillingate was affected by the announcement of the cod moratorium.

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