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"The Twillingate region is fabulous for sea kayaking in that no matter what the weather and wind is doing, there is always a place to paddle." Dr. T.A. Loeffer
French Summer Fishing
The earliest western presence in Twillingate was by French fishermen in the early 1600s who visited the area each summer between 1650 and 1690 and named the island Toulinquet for its likeness to a group of islands located off Brest, France. French fishermen never settled in Twillingate but only landed to cut wood and obtain fresh water. At this time Notre Dame Bay and all the coast of Newfoundland west of Bonavista was being used by French fishing ships and was known as the French Shore.
Archaeological findings in the Notre Dame Bay area confirm that between 1650 and 1720 the island was also home to the now extinct Beothuk First Nation. The Beothuk dwelled along the coast of Notre Dame Bay and the Boyd’s Cove Beothuk Interpretation Centre today marks the site of significant archeological findings. This provincial historic site is worth a visit.
In 1966 primitive Indian weapons and tools were unearthed in Back Harbour on Twillingate North. Archeologists from the National Museum of Canada believe they were made in 1500 B.C. Some of the implements discovered in Back Harbour are displayed at the Twillingate Museum.
These findings along with recounts from British settlers and the recorded drawings and information obtained from Demasduit and Shawnadithit, the last known Beothuk who survived and died of consumption.
Around 1700 the French moved their summer fishing operations westward to avoid contact with the Beothuk (or “Red Indians”) and the English fishermen who were beginning to fish in the area.
English settlers (also known as ‘livyers’) who were unfamiliar with French, soon changed the name of the island to Twillingate. Records indicate that 12 families with 114 servants had settled in Twillingate by 1738 who succeeded in producing a bountiful harvest of salt fish that made its way on fishing ships back to England. At the end of this year 152 people remained in Twillingate for the winter.
Over the next century Twillingate with its rich fishing grounds and safe harbour grew and developed into one of Newfoundland’s most prosperous ports and became a flourishing merchant town.
Twillingate's importance as a busy seaport peaked in the late 1800's when fishing schooners crowded the town's wharves and ships arrived from countries all around the world bringing supplies and taking away fish.
The establishment of the Newfoundland Railway changed all of this and nearby Lewisport became the regional town of greater prominence. The dilapidated Ashbourne premises still remain as a reminder to the heyday of the merchant era.