Stephenville (2005 est. pop.: 8,000) is a Canadian town in Newfoundland and Labrador on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland, located near the head of St. George's Bay. Stephenville serves a direct population of 45,000 people from surrounding areas. It's Airport serves a catchment population of 100,000 people from Port Aux Basques to the south, to the north of St. Anthony.
The town functions as a local service centre for the southwestern part of the island, with a 60 bed modern hospital (built in 2003), schools, stores, and banks. The town also includes a harbour, named Port Harmon, which was used for exporting of newsprint, up until the closure of the Abitibi-Consolidation paper mill in October, 2005. The provincial community college system, College of the North Atlantic, is headquartered in Stephenville and maintains a campus there for students from the southwestern region of the island. A provincial minimum security jail is also located in the town. The town also has a 18 hole links style golf course that was expanded from a 9 hole course in 1999, which was originally built by the USAF.
Stephenville was formerly home to Ernest Harmon AFB, which was operated by the United States Air Force between 1941-1966. After the base was closed, the facility was turned over to the federal government which then provided it to the provincial government for divestiture to the local community. The facility included the air field, which has 2 runways (11,000 ft x
200 ft, 4,000 ft x 150 ft) and numerous buildings which are operated as the Stephenville Airport. An abandoned USAF Pinetree Line radar site is located on nearby Table Mountain, north of the town. The town uses many former USAF structures for housing, recreation and entertainment.
Ernest Harmon was quite isolated during its early years as a United States Army Air Forces base. Newfoundland itself was, and still is, considered isolated but during the 1940s, when roads were virtually non-existent and surface travel was limited to the slow narrow-gauge passenger trains of the Newfoundland Railway, which linked to small coastal steamships or ferries to the mainland at North Sydney, Nova Scotia, the sense of isolation could prove overwhelming. In addition, the airfield's location at the head of St. George's Bay was one of the more geographically isolated parts of the island, being surrounded by the Long Range Mountains and the coastline of St. George's Bay being dotted with tiny out ports. In addition to USAAF aircraft, the only other option for travel was the railway and ferries/coasters, or exploring the limited local road network which stretched along the coast and into the uninhabited interior of the island.
The base also precipitated an economic boom of sorts on Newfoundland's southwest coast during the 1940s. Corner Brook to the north had been considered the major population center for the region, given its industrial base and nearby recreational opportunities in the Humber River. With the investment of the USAAF in Ernest Harmon, the Stephenville and St. George's Bay area began to flourish. The village of Stephenville grew from a hamlet of several hundred people with no paved streets, side walks, water or sewage system in 1941 into a modern town of over 5,000 by the mid 1950s. By the time Ernest Harmon AFB closed in 1966, the town had more than doubled in size, partly as a result of the provincial government's forced resettlement policy toward residents of out ports. Stephenville shares a municipal border with Kippens to the west and Stephenville Crossing to the east, connected by the Hanson Memorial Highway. Settlements on the nearby Port au Port Peninsula makes the Stephenville area Newfoundland's only bilingual region.