Stephenville – The Acadian Village
The area that would become the Town of Stephenville was once known as the Acadian Village and stretched along the coast from Kippens in the west to Seal Cove in the east. Early settlers were mainly Roman Catholics, who were escaping poverty and feuding between the English and French in Nova Scotia. The self-sustaining local economy was based on rich farming and fishing resources, as well as hunting.
A pair of English families from Cape Breton, headed by William Hunt and James Penney, founded the Acadian Village in 1844. A year later, Felix Gallant and his family travelled from Cape Breton and settled here. Other families followed suit. The name Stephenville was first introduced in 1874.
Until 1940 Stephenville was an almost entirely French-speaking Roman Catholic community. The census records from 1857 to 1940 indicate there were never more than two dozen Anglicans living in Stephenville.
Prior to the opening of the base, Stephenville inhabitants made their living from the land rather than the sea. This was an oddity in Newfoundland at the time because outport life was based on the fishery. The area accounted for the second largest number of ‘farmers’ on the island and people identified themselves on the 1935 census as ‘Fishermen Farmers’. Stephenville was regarded as having among the best agricultural lands in Newfoundland. The men worked hard and were adept at farming, fishing, logging, and hunting. The combination of trades served them well as it was noted that during the 1930s few people in Stephenville relied on the ‘dole’, a meager government handout that didn’t meet people’s nutritional requirements.
Stephenville – The Base Years
During its 25-year lifespan, 1941-1966, there were many changes in the size, facilities, mission and name at the American base.
There was the first construction boom of the early 1940s, when job-starved Newfoundlanders by the hundreds poured into the Stephenville area and found steady employment and comparatively good wages. World War II was a busy time, even before the U.S. officially joined the war after the attack on Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941. At first it was called the Stephenville Field, and the Americans didn’t even have a separate air force. As of June 1941, the Army Air Forces was created as part of the U.S. Army. Whatever you called it, American warplanes needed a site on the northeast part of the continent where planes could refuel while heading to or from Europe. At the time, Newfoundland was a Dominion controlled by Britain, and not yet a part of Canada. So it was Britain that gave the United States government a 99-year lease for a base at Stephenville.