Population 3,366 (1996)
In the early 1700s a few English fishermen began to settle at Twillingate Harbour, as the French fishery began to concentrate on the area north of Cape S. John (referred to locally as Cape John). In about 1750 John Slade of Poole, England settled on the harbour as his Newfoundland headquarters. Over the next 25 years the Slade business grew, employing Twillingate as a base to exploit the resources of the northern Newfoundland (cod, furs, salmon and seals).
A second period of growth began during the Napoleonic Wars (1798-1815). As the French were unable to journey to their accustomed fishing grounds on the "Petit Nord," Twillingate people moved in to fish there. Further, the dangers of transatlantic travel during wartime convinced many who had formerly returned to England after each season to settle year-round and further explore and exploit the resources "up the bays" during the winter. Twillingate's status as "Metropolis of the North" was confirmed and the town developed around the harbour.
The Nightingale of the North
Twillingate's most famous citizen was born here in 1867, the daughter of Dr. William and Ann (Peyton) Stirling. Georgina Ann Stirling was organist at St. Peter's Anglican Church before leaving to study voice in Paris and Milan. From 1890 until 1898, "Mademoiselle Marie Toulinguet" was acknowledged as on of opera's brightest lights.
Shortly after this souvenir photograph was sent to friends at home, Stirling's career was threatened by a serious throat ailment. She eventually made a comeback as a concert artist, but never recovered her opera voice. Georgina Stirling returned to Twillingate and lived a genteel life with her sister Rose. She died in 1935. Her memorial monument is located behind St. Peter's Church, in the Anglican cemetery.
Notre Dame Bay Memorial Hospital
At the close of World War I the nearest hospital care available to residents of Notre Dame Bay was either in International Grenfell Association hospital at St. Anthony or St. John's. In 1918 a public meeting was held at Twillingate, which appointed a provisional committee of citizens to raise funds for a new hospital - a memorial to the hundreds of men from the Bay who had died during the Great War.
With the help form the Twillingate Sun
newspaper $15,000 had been raised by 1920 and a Board of Directors appointed to construct and manage the hospital. The government contributed $10,000, Dr. Wilfred Grenfell assisted in raising $25,000 from the Commonwealth Fund of New York, and a great many Twillingate residents contributed their labour. Notre Dame Bay Memorial Hospital was officially opened on September 20, 1924.
From 1934 until 1976, when the old hospital was replaced, its chief surgeon was Dr. John M. Olds, after whom the local high school is named. Dr. Olds extended basic care around the Bay with the floating clinics Bonnie Nell
and Bonnie Nell II
, which operated from 1936 to 1960.
With Representative Government in 1832, Twillingate became the site of most government services and officialdom for the north coast. During the mid to late 1800s a growing involvement in the Labrador fishery developed.
The Bank Crash of 1894 and the subsequent decline of the Labrador fishery hit Twillingate hard - the collapse of the huge Duder firm (headquartered on the south side of Twillingate harbour) was the biggest single bankruptcy of the Crash. But the ultimate blow was that Twillingate was not linked to the Newfoundland Railway, completed across the island in 1897. The branch line went to Lewisporte. This drew business away from Twillingate, lessening its importance in Notre Dame Bay. Still, with a prosperous history and a legacy of fine buildings, the town has remained an important centre for services and administration.