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The Proposed Union of Canada with Newfoundland


[Canadian Annual Review, 1901; for full citation, see the end of the text]


This question assumed a position of considerable importance in 1901. Since the negotiations of 1895 between the Government of Sir Mackenzie Bowell and that of Sir W. V. Whiteway, little had been heard of the matter; but the evident joint interests of the two countries in respect to trade and investment, and the equally marked but divergent policy of the Bond Government in regard to tariffs, now revived the discussion. The Premier of Newfoundland, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Robert Bond, was in Montreal early in the year, and his remarks upon the subject to the Gazette, of January 31st, were not very encouraging. "Confederation, as an issue, is dead with us now. I am afraid that Canada lost a fine opportunity (in 1895) of securing another Province, but I cannot help thinking that had Sir John Macdonald, or Sir John Thompson, been Premier of Canada at the time of our negotiations, they would have been successful." To the London Sketch, of March 13th, Mr. Bond made the following statement:


There has been little talk about federating with Canada since 1895. In that year there was a Conference at Ottawa between representatives of Newfoundland and Canada , and the whole question was at that time gone into fully. I was Chairman of the Newfoundland Delegation. The rock on which the bark of union split was in itself comparatively a small one - it was the assumption by Canada of a railway liability of five million dollars (£1,000,000), a liability which the Colony had assumed for building a line, then just begun, from Exploits to Port-au-Basque. Well, Canada declined to take up the liability, and the negotiations came to an end; and nothing has been attempted since. The interests of the Dominion and of Newfoundland are not identical.


Speaking to the Montreal Gazette, on April 18th, the Hon. E. P. Morris, K.C., a member of the   Newfoundland Government, expressed similar views. "I believe the question of Confederation is further away to-day than ever." On May 21st the subject was discussed in the Canadian House of Commons in connection with an inquiry by the Hon. Mr. Haggart as to the rumours about a revival of the Bond-Blaine Treaty. The Premier, in his reply, hinted at a possible reconsideration of existing relations with Newfoundland , and Mr. Clarke Wallace followed with a general discussion of the question of bringing the Island into Confederation. The late Government of Sir James Winter was, he declared, in favour of union. The new Bond Administration was not favourable to Canada and was, he thought, desirous of carrying out the old Fishery and Reciprocity policy of Mr. Bond in connection with the United States. The failure of the High Commission would therefore involve Canada, in further trouble with Newfoundland unless we were willing to split the commercial system of the Empire with a wedge of discrimination. "The remedy for that is for the Government to open negotiations for the admission of Newfoundland into the Confederation. There are many other reasons for that; but this appears to be the strong immediate induce­ment. The Fisheries are along the Atlantic coast, the coasts of New­foundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence being the ,joint possession of the two countries and, if Newfoundland were added to the Confedera­tion, Canada would have the undisputed right of dealing with these Fishery questions with the United States, or with any other foreign Power."


But he feared that the Government would not move on account of the French Shore question. Union, however, would hasten the settlement of that difficulty by putting the Dominion behind the Island. The Government had stated no definite policy in regard to bringing Newfoundland in, and they should do so. Sir L. H. Davies agreed with Mr. Haggart as to the importance of the matter, but pointed out that an opportunity had been lost by the last Government mainly upon a financial question. "That failure was due to a picayune policy of pounds, shillings and pence." The present Government had laid down a policy two years ago, and had declared in the House their desire to bring Newfoundland into the Dominion upon any reasonable terms. Any direct attempt to carry out this wish would, however, have been a dismal failure. The French Shore question was not now a material factor; it was purely a sentimental one. The matter would be settled in due time. Meanwhile, any Canadian effort to influence opinion in the Island was impossible of success, and they could only await its future voluntary action. At this point, and in reply to a personal inquiry, the Premier stated that, so far as he was informed, "even if Newfoundland intends to negotiate with the United States, they have no intention of discriminating against Canada."


During the following months, a number of the Island papers expressed opinions somewhat favourable to Confederation. In one of its August issues, the St. John's Herald stated that " our contem­poraries seem to have made up their minds that union with Canada is a settled thing, and that it will be consummated in the near future." It suggested that the beginning of the century might see its accomplishment, and if so, the Duke of Cornwall and York should complete his Empire tour by putting the finishing touches upon the work. About the same time several other papers commented upon the subject. The Western Star favoured union, and another journal stated that at least three of Mr. Bond's Ministers were supporters of the scheme. The St. John's Telegram declared that in the western part of the Island the feeling was strongly unionist, though in the northern districts that opinion was not very prevalent. "It is nevertheless true that where a few years ago it would be highly dangerous for an outspoken Confederate to exhibit himself too freely the subject is at present an ordinary subject of conversation. It cannot be denied that such a change has actually taken place, and its suggestiveness is too important to be entirely ignored." The feeling of the merchants of St. John's was also said to be tending in the direction of Confederation. " The unionist leaven is slowly and surely permeating the whole commercial lump and preparing the way for that inevitable change in our political system which, judging from the signs of the times, will not be delayed much longer." The Harbour Grace Standard went further than this, and declared that "the acceptance of Confederation is merely the question of a few years," and added that the quicker it came the better if suitable terms could be secured.


During September, Mr. P. T. McGrath, Editor of the St. John's Herald, visited Canada, and, in Toronto, was interviewed by the Globe, of September 26th. He expressed himself as being strongly in favour of Confederation. "While the question is not a live one at present (in Newfoundland ), the sentiment in favour of union is steadily growing. The old-time, unreasoning animosity to it has vanished, and it is now being discussed on practical lines." The advantages to Canada were obvious. The improvement of the St. Lawrence route by means of better lighting arrangements and fog alarm stations off the coast of the Island was the first consideration ¾ the minimizing of the evil which had caused a loss of $2,000,000 through wreckage upon the Canadian route during the past year. The great trade possibilities of the Island were also worthy of regard in this connection. Half a million tons of iron had this year been shipped to Nova Scotia; there was a large lumbering interest developing; the pulp industry was a certainty of the future and the Fisheries were akin to those of the Maritime Provinces in character and mutual interest. Following this expression of opinion the Globe interviewed a number of prominent citizens of Toronto on the subject. Mr. C. B. Watts, of the Dominion Millers' Association, foresaw a greatly-increased market for flour and farm products in Newfoundland , if Confederation were accepted. "Confederation, too, would be of the greatest assistance to our Government in handling the Fisheries question, as then the interests of Newfoundland and the Maritime Provinces would be identical."


Mr. Andrew Darling thought that union would help in bringing about the fast Atlantic Line through the adoption of increased safeguards on the Canadian route. Mr. W. R. Brock, M. P., favoured the policy but did not want too much added to the debt of Canada , nor did he like the French Shore question. Mr. Gerhardt Heintzman expressed the belief that it would largely increase trade and drive American competition out of the Island. Messrs. S. Nordheimer and R. Gourlay would like to see the French Shore question settled first. A few days later the Hon. J. R. Stratton, M.P.P., of Peterborough, in a lengthy address expressed himself strongly in favour of union. Imperial unity should be preceded by the consolidation of the Empire units. Newfoundland had to buy much of what Canada sold - flour and grain and dairy products. At present this trade was decreasing: under union it would instantly develop. The Island had coal, iron and copper mines of almost fabulous wealth. He was not alarmed by the French difficulty. "If the French Shore question is to be settled, it can be settled with greater ease by Canada than by England." The French population of the Dominion would help rather than hinder this end. On October 5th, Mr. N. W. Rowell expressed the view that union would help in obtaining a general reciprocity with the United States by giving Canada full control of the Atlantic fishing ground. Messrs. Walter S. Lee, E. F. Clarke, M.P., J. Herbert Mason, Lieut.-Col. H. M. Pellatt and Lieut.-Col. James Mason all favoured Confederation.


On October 26th, Dr. G. R. Parkin, C.M.G., told the Globe that the union of the two countries was inevitable. He thought that an active policy of union would hasten the settlement of the French Shore question. Even if France refused to settle it the terms of union should still be consummated. "In my opinion Canada is pledged to the British Empire through thick and thin." We should all stand together and compel the settlement of that problem. Sir Wilfrid Laurier was the one man in Canada who could, he thought, play the part of a statesman and leader in this matter. Lieut.-Col. George T. Denison expressed himself in favour of union." Newfoundland would be an important addition to the Dominion and would round off the country very well." The Hon. Mr. Dryden, Ontario Minister of Agriculture, took the same view. "The state of development of agriculture on the Island , I think, would afford an opening for our own products, and also, in so far as future development is concerned, give us an opportunity to sell thorough-bred stock profitably." Mr. R. S. Williams, Jr., thought union would benefit the musical and other manufacturers of Ontario. The opinion of business men was, he believed, generally favourable. "I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that we could compete with European manufacturers were Newfoundland a part of the Confederation. Canada can well afford to be generous in the matter of concessions to the Island. The French Shore question should, it is unnecessary to say, be settled before the final step is taken."


The press of Canada seemed to be largely favourable to the policy of union. The St. John Sun, of July 30th foresaw trouble in a revival of the Bond-Blaine Treaty negotiations with the United States and thought that Canada and the Empire should be willing "to make up to Newfoundland whatever she stands to lose by substituting union with Canada for an advantageous entanglement with the United States." It would be beneficial all round. "It would perhaps open up to Newfoundland the possibility of a fast Atlantic steamship route, with connections and an eastern terminus in that Province. Union with Canada , may also offer the first and most simple solution of the French Shore question." The Quebec Chronicle of August 13th thought Newfoundland and Greenland the eastern keys of the Dominion, which should both be in its possession. "In such a movement, Canada as the larger and richer country should be willing always to make the advances and to be the most generous." The Halifax Chronicle about the same time pointed to the early objections of Nova Scotia to union with Canada and declared that there was now only a fast-dwindling remnant who were not as loyal to the Dominion as to their own Province. " Canada for all of us has become a great, a living entity." It would soon be the same to Newfoundland . The Manitoba Free Press of August 24th declared union "a consummation greatly to be desired," but it did not like the French Shore question and hoped for its preliminary settlement. The Toronto Globe of September 27th was explicit regarding the matter. "It would seem natural and convenient that the Island should be a part of Canada . and one has to look not so much for reasons in favour of the union as for reasons which have hitherto prevailed against it." There were many favourable reasons and only one objection - the French Shore question. That should, if possible, be disposed of first. The Hamilton Spectator of October 9th referred to this point and declared that until it was settled there would be "the strongest possible objection to the admission of the Island ." The Toronto Mail and Empire of October 21st stated that "in this country there is not a doubt that the desire to make Newfoundland, on fair terms, a Province of the Dominion, is general." If the settlement of the French difficulty could be hastened by union it was believed that the people of Canada would be "ready to make some sacrifice in order to gain the desired end." The Montreal Herald thought that Sir Wilfrid Laurier was the one man who could vitally contribute to such a settlement. La Patrie of Montreal , however, opposed union on the ground of debt and the fisheries question, and was supported in this view in a speech by Mr. F. X. Lemieux, M.P.


Source : J. Castell HOPKINS , "The Proposed Union of Canada with Newfoundland ", in The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs, 1901, Toronto , The Annual Review Publishing Company, 1902, pp. 449-453.




© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College