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Conditions in Newfoundland in 1919



[Canadian Annual Review , 1919; for the full citation, see the end of the text]


The Island Colony of Newfoundland - which ranked in 1919 as a Dominion of the Empire - despite its small population of 250,000 - had a prosperous year, marked, however, by much political strife and varied changes of government. It was very proud of its war achievements and of the record won by the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in Gallipoli and on the Western front. Though the Island had no pre-war military force except some naval reservists and boys' brigades, it contributed to the fighting forces of the Empire, in 1914-18, 11,922 of all ranks, including 9,326 men for the Army, 2,053 men for the Royal Naval Reserve, 500 men for the Newfoundland Forestry Corps, and 43 nurses. The Newfoundland Regiment furnished a battalion for the Gallipoli campaign and sent 4,253 men to France and Belgium, suffering casualties of 1,195 killed, dead and missing with 2,314 wounded and 152 prisoners; it won a V.C., 28 M.C's and 6 Bars, with 151 other Imperial decorations, 21 Allied decorations and 22 Mentions in Despatches.


Canadian and other forces were said to have 3,000 Newfoundlanders in their ranks and monetary contributions from a not very rich population totalled $490,000 with a large quantity of Red Cross material and comforts for the troops. At a dinner given in London on May 17 with Lieut.-Col. W. H. Franklin, D.S.O., C.B.E., Commander of the Royal Newfoundlanders in the chair and Lord Morris, ex-Prime Minister of the Island, present, the strong hope was expressed that the Regiment would in some form be preserved; Sir Edgar Bowring, High Commissioner, declared that its complete disbandment was unthinkable; by the close of the year it was deemed impossible to maintain it. It may be added that Pte. Thomas Ricketts, the V.C. winner, was said to be the youngest holder of that honour in the British armies - 15 when he enlisted as a stoutly-built private; at 17 he held the highest of war honours, with the D.C.M. and the golden star of the French Croix de Guerre and had won the personal congratulations of the King.


Politics and Changes of Government in Newfoundland . Sir William Lloyd, Premier of Newfoundland, attended by special invitation the Peace Conference of 1919.; on the 1st of . January he had been sworn a member of the Imperial Privy Council; at home Sir Michael P. Cashin, Minister of Finance, was Acting-Premier. The latter was in Montreal in February and told the press on the 5 th that the fishermen of Newfoundland were very prosperous and that they embraced the greater part of the population.- apart from those engaged in the business affairs of the Colony. The increasing prices paid for fish had been an impetus to prosperity and the majority of the fishermen were saving money while many now owned their own sailing vessels on the fishing banks. Incidentally, he stated that Canadian banks had been very successful in Newfoundland and had won the full confidence of the people. The trade of the Island was described as the best in its history and there was a surplus of revenue over expenditures. The Budget of May 14 showed an actual surplus of $1,170,000 for the fiscal year of June 30, 1918 and one of $1,900,000, estimated, for the coming year with savings of the people during 1918 stated at $5,000,000. A Government Loan of $5,000,000 in 5½%, 20-year bonds at $102.44 and interest, was announced and duly sold; the Public Debt was $45,000,000.


Meantime, friction had been developing between Messrs. Lloyd and Cashin and, on May 20, a most unique scene occurred in the Legislature. According to the St. John's Daily News, Sir Michael Cashin, who had just resigned from the Coalition Government in which his followers were a majority and who, also, was the oldest member of the Assembly, arose and moved that "the Government as now constituted does not possess the confidence of the Members of this House." He said that he had supported the National or Coalition Government since 1917 and claimed that it had faithfully performed the work which it was called upon to undertake; but that there was no confidence existing between the two factions composing it, and that it would be better for the country and for all concerned if they at once separated.


The Premier, Sir William Lloyd, began to explain the circumstances under which Sir M. P. Cashin had resigned from the Government, but the Speaker reminded him that there was no seconder to the motion. The House sat in silence for a few minutes and then the Premier rose and seconded the motion himself. John Currie, Leader of the Opposition, said that his party was prepared to vote for the Resolution, and could do so consistently because it had not had any confidence in the Government during the past two years. The motion was thereupon carried without a division. Sir Michael was then called upon by the Governor, Sir C. A. Harris; K.C.M.G., C.B. C.V.O., and the following new Ministry announced: Premier and Minister of Finance, Sir M. P. Cashin; Minister of Justice, Hon. A. B. Morine; Colonial Secretary, Hon. J. R. Bennett; Minister of Public Works, Hon. William Woodford; Minister of Shipping, Hon. J. C. Crosbie; Minister of Fisheries, Hon. J. C. Stone; Minister of Militia, Hon. A. E. Hickman; Minister of Agriculture, Hon. W. Walsh; Ministers without Portfolio, Hon. W. J. Ellis, Hon. John Currie and Hon. A. W. Piccott.


General elections followed on Nov. 2nd and a keen though not unusual sectarian issue preceded the contest. Lord Morris who, as Sir Edmund Morrie, had for many years been Prime Minister, was a Roman Catholic as was Sir Michael Cashin who, after the brief Lloyd regime had now succeeded him; in the population of the Island only about one-third held to that faith. The Hon. R. A. Squires, who had left the Lloyd Government in 1918, was now Leader of the Opposition and a prominent Orangeman; he also had the support of Hon. W. F. Coaker, leader of the Fishermen's Protective Union. Both sides had full tickets in the 18 constituencies and both sides were optimistic; a point which did not appear in outside comments was the charge that the Lloyd Government had been unduly influenced from capitalistic sources. In the final result the Government was defeated by 24 out of 36 seats, - with 18 of the former total going to the Fishermen's Union . Mr. Squires was called upon to form a new Cabinet and, like his following in the House, it was largely representative of Protestantism and Labour. It was sworn in on Nov. 17 as follows:


Premier and Colonial Secretary

Hon. Richard A. Squires, LL.B., K.C .

Minister of Marine and Fisheries

Hon. W. F. Coaker

Minister of Justice

Hon. William R. Warren, K.C.

Minister of Finance

Hon. H. Y. J. Brownligg

Minister without Portfolio

Hon. Walter W. Halfyard

Minister without Portfolio

Hon. Arthur Barnes, LL.D.

Minister without Portfolio

Hon. George Shea

Minister without Portfolio

Hon. Alex. Campbell, M.D.

Minister without Portfolio

Hon. Samuel J. Foote, K.C.



Outside of the Cabinet




Minister of Public Works

William B. Jennings

Minister of Shipping

William H. Cave

Minister of Agriculture and Mines

James McDonnell



Resources and Progress of Newfoundland. The Island not only progressed in its trade and revenues and fishing interests in 1919 but in other respects. also. Sir Edgar Bowring, who had been appointed High Commissioner late in 1918, told the London press on Jan. 30 that:

"Our fishermen, who nearly all own their own houses and land enough to supply their own needs in the way of vegetables, lend a hand at lumbering in the winter when the forests supply abundance of employment. The iron mines, again, are an important industry. We supply the great steel works in Cape Breton with their raw material, and during the War our people did a great deal to increase the supply of steel by enlarging the output of the mines. There is ample employment in the Island at good wages. No one earns less than 8s. a day. The cost of living is rather cheaper than it is here (England). Rents and taxes are much lower, and food and clothing Cost about the same. The great paper-mills that have been established at Grand Falls not only employ numbers of hands, but also provide a market for the smaller spruce which can only be used in the mills. Here, too, I may point out that water-power is abundant and electricity very cheap. I have been all over the world, and I think Newfoundland compares favourably with other Dominions in the advantages it offers to settlers, especially to those with a little capital. Land is granted to settlers at a nominal figure."


Among the chief commodities for export were cod-oil for tanning purposes, cod-liver oil, hair-seal leather for fancy goods and canned lobsters. In London on Mch. 13 he pointed out that a thousand miles of railway had in recent years been built and operated and that transportation was good; that the development of Newfoundland's water-power was worthy of notice with one-third of the Island under water and numerous falls from which power could be had; that not only St. John's but the smaller towns were lit by electric light; that in the fisheries the old-time methods were disappearing, the oars and the sails were being done away with and the motor-engine taking their place with the result that fishing was becoming more certain and the men were returning to it; as to the great paper and pulp industry, the product of their mills could not be beaten anywhere and, while there were two large companies operating at present there was room in the Island for two thousand. Owing to its greater nearness to England Newfoundland would be the landing and jumping-off place for the Aviation development of the future. In The Times (June 21) Sir Edgar touched another point:


"There is unquestionably in Newfoundland a large section of highly mineralized country which only needs thorough examination to show that there is great value in the deposits of iron, copper, silver, lead, chrome-iron, and coal. We have them all, we believe, in large and workable quantities. The development which so far has resulted in the export of minerals has been confined to the copper ore exported from Tilt Cove (which has been worked since 1864), Little Bay, and Bett's Cove; iron pyrites from Pilley's Island; and iron ore from the well-known deposits of Bell Island, in Conception Bay, from which the annual exports of ore in recent years have amounted to more than a million tons. As regards coal, in many parts of the Island there are indications of coal deposits that may prove to be of inestimable value, and at the present time some of these deposits. are in the course of being examined."


The great attractions of Newfoundland as a sporting country, as a centre for salmon and trout fishing and shooting - as a land of fishing rivers and caribou hunting - became better known at this time and were widely advertised by the Government. As to trade the exact figures of expansion showed Imports for June 30, 1914, of $15,793,726 and in 1919 of $33,297,184; in Exports the respective figures were $15,134,543 and $36,784,616; the total increase in six years being from 30 to 70 millions. A war condition was shown in a decrease of Imports from Great Britain totalling $2,000,000 with an increase from Canada of $7,500,000 and from the United States of $11,000,000; in Exports the important changes were to countries other than these and the total increase was $17,500,000.


Newfoundland Incidents of the Year included the resignation of Sir P. T. McGrath, K.B.E. as President of the Legislative Council, - a post which he had held since 1912 with, also, the Chairmanship of the Pension Fund - upon the defeat of the Cashin Government; an address by Hon. W. F. Coaker (Nov. 27) stating that the export duty on Iron-ore from the Wabana Mines - which supported the Nova Scotia Iron and Steel concerns - would be increased; the fact of influenza and small-pox in the winter of 1918-19 having wiped out almost the entire population of northern Labrador amid conditions of terrible hardship; the suit instituted by Harriet D. Reid, daughter of the late Sir R. G. Reid, chief owner of shares in the Reid-Newfoundland Railway which were. valued, before distribution, at $15,000,000, for an accounting as to the control and action of the Executors - Sir W. D. Reid, R. G. Reid, H. D. Reid and Lord Shaughnessy - in respect to an estate composed of $7,302,500 worth of these shares; the claim of Dr. W. T. Grenfell, C.M.G., Labrador Missionary, that stories of the bleak and barren nature of this Atlantic strip of North America - still belonging to Newfoundland - were exaggerated and that the fisheries and waterpowers of the region were of enormous value; the final decision of Newfoundland and Canada to refer disputes as to boundary lines in this territory to the Privy Council in order to ascertain what the location and definition of the boundary as between Canada and Newfoundland in the Labrador Peninsula actually was under existing statutes, Orders-in-Council and Proclamations.


In June it was intimated that the French Government had not responded favourably to informal proposals as to the annexation of the Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon to Newfoundland. The Prince of Wales' visit to the Colony on Aug. 12-13 was a great success with tremendous enthusiasm shown by the people, decorations in every part of St. John's and the usual official programme with regattas and races and a visit to the fishing regions. An important movement during the year was that of Co-operation which affected five concerns in the Island covering fishing, publishing, electric light and ship-building. The chief of these interests was the Union Trading Co., Ltd., with $100,000 capital,. organized by Mr. Coaker in the interests of the fishermen and starting in 1911 with $8,000 cash and bringing the men, in 1919, an additional profit on their fish of 20 per cent. The old-time question of Confederation with Canada was not an issue in this year and prosperity was too much in evidence to make any change popular; at the same time, the growth in trade and travel and educational influences between the two countries provided an increasing basis for closer relations.


Source: J. Castell HOPKINS, The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs, 1919, Toronto, The Canadian Annual Review Company, 1920, pp. 258-263.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College