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Historical Background:

Canada and Newfoundland

[For the source of this document, see the end of the text.]

St. John's : Will a marriage between Canada and Newfoundland be consummated on July 22nd? That is the question to be determined by the will of the Newfoundland people when they record their choice between responsible government and confederation in the run-off made necessary by the indecisive result of the first referendum.

To the ordinary Canadian citizen it may appear to be odd that there should be any hesitation on the part of Newfoundland to throw in her lot with her big neighbor from which she is separated by a nine-mile strip of water at the nearest point and ninety at the furthest, with which, in fact, confirmed in her title to a part of the mainland, nearly three times as large as her island territory, she is already joined. Further, the financial institutions such as the banks, the insurance companies and the trust companies are Canadian. Newfoundland students for the most part graduate at Canadian universities. In matters of trade Canada is her biggest supplier.


Antipathy to Confederation

Still the fact is that, notwithstanding the close geographical links, the indispensable financial and economic relations and the regard of Newfoundlanders for Canadians, a feeling which is believed to be reciprocal, there remains in some quarters a strong antipathy to political union.


Partly, it is due to the fear of its effects upon personal interests in, for example, business matters, partly to a lack of a clear understanding of the proposed terms of union and, in no small measure to earlier animosities, for which, it must be said, Canada was largely to blame.


These date from the first Confederation move over eighty years ago. The terms of union brought back by the Newfoundland delegation, consisting of Sir Frederick Carter and Sir Ambrose Shea, from the first Confederation Conference were considered inadequate, but in the subsequent election in 1869 the overthrow of the Confederation candidates was due , not so much to terms, as to the campaign methods to which the antis resorted, according to Prowse, the Newfoundland historian.


He states:

"The awful tales that were told about taxation, about ramming new-born babes down Canadian cannon, bleaching their bones on the desert sands of Can ada, had a tremendous effect upon the simple out-harbor pe o ple. There still lingers among them a traditionary remembrance of the sufferings their forefathers endured from the French Canadian and Indian raids made in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and this partly accounts for their dread of Canada; Irish national feeling, their hatred of the Union, brought about by fraud and bribery, was also appealed to. The result was an overwhelming defeat for the Confederate party; they were simply annihilated."

A line of the most popular song in the times was "Get back to your lairs, Canadian wolves"


*      *      *      *      *


A CAUSE of further ill-feeling occurred in 1890 when Canada was blamed for the obstruction of what is known as the Bond-Blaine Treaty, negotiated with the United States and under which in return for granting American fishermen the right to obtain bait in Newfoundland waters, Newfoundland was to have free entry of fish products into the American market.


Protests by Canada to the Imperial government on the grounds that the arrangement would be prejudicial to her fishing interests resulted in the Bond-Blaine treaty having to be abandoned. Retaliatory measures followed. Newfoundland placed a ban on the entry of Canadian vessels into her waters to obtain bait. Canada as a reprisal imposed a heavy duty on Newfoundland fish. In return Newfoundland imposed severe duties on Canadian imports.


This acrimonious dispute dragged on, nor were relations improved when in 1892 a conference at Halifax between representatives of the two countries failed to arrive at an accord. It was not until 1901 that Sir Wilfrid Laurier succeeded in allaying somewhat the disturbed relations.


Severe Disaster


In the meantime, Newfoundland suffered two severe disasters: the destruction of St. John's by fire, in 1892 and the crash of the local banks two years later. The generosity displayed by Canadians, following the fire, helped to improve relations. Events subsequent to the second catastrophe which ha d brought the colony to the brick of ruin had the reverse effect. In 1895 the resumption of confederation negotiations was proposed and a conference was held at Ottawa. After twelve days of haggling over financial terms the conference was abandoned. Needless to say, the anti-Canadian feelings were considerably exacerbated by what Newfoundland regarded - and perhaps not without reason - as the niggardly attitude displayed by the federal authorities.


Nor can it be suggested that harmony was promoted between the two neighbors by the decision which was a reversal of the story of Naboth's vineyard. The question of ownership of the territory of Labrador - long in dispute - terminated in 1927 when the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council confirmed Newfoundland 's title to the territory, an action which, not very logically created in Quebec a soreness against Newfoundland.

Source : Special Correspondence, "Historical Background: Canada and Newfoundland", Winnipeg Free Press, June 29, 1948 , p. A15. Article transcribed by Jonathan Kusek. Revision by Claude Bélanger.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College