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Settlement of the French-Shore Question of Newfoundland



[Canadian Annual Review, 1904; for full citation, see the end of the text]


As removing the only important obstacle to ­Newfoundland 's future progress, eliminating a source of friction between the Island and the. Mother-land and destroying the only objection sug­gested in Canada against Newfoundland entering Confederation at some future time, this diplomatic achievement of Lord Lansdowne's was most important to British interests in North America. On Apr. 8th, after preceding and unsuccessful negotiations in 1857, 1860, 1874, 1881 and 1885, a Convention between France and Great Britain was signed in London by Lord Lansdowne and M. Cambon. The first portion of this elaborate and intricate Treaty dealt with Egypt and Morocco and gave Britain practically a free hand in the future of Egypt and to France a similar recognition of its influence in Morocco . The second part dealt with the Newfoundland question and the third gave France certain concessions in West Africa in return for its abandonment of shore rights in Newfoundland . These included a territorial re-adjustment on the Zambesi, and on the frontier between the Niger River and Lake Tchad , and full possession of the Island of Silos . Some English critics of the arrangement declared that Great Britain gave too much for eliminating the painful policy of French pin-pricks in Newfoundland but the great bulk of opinion was warmly favourable. Four days after this announcement Mr. Lyttelton, Secretary of State for the Colonies, advised the Governor of Newfoundland as to the Treaty and its terms and concluded as follows:


Your Government will observe that this advantage has not been secured without conceding to France very valuable facilities in other parts of the Empire involving some accession of territory. Considerable as these sacrifices are His Majesty's Government feel that, apart from the wider considerations referred to in Lord Lansdowne's despatch, they are in a large measure justified by the security which they afford for the future prosperity and development of the oldest British Colony.


The details may be summarized as (1) giving the French only the usual Summer fishing privileges, (2) making them subject to the Island fishery laws and regulations, (3) compelling removal of the French from the Coast and their stations upon it, (4) leaving the Legislature the right to make permanent legislation carrying out the terms of the Treaty, (5) giving the Island Government the right of approval or otherwise of Imperial regulations for policing the Coast and (6) constituting St. Pierre a British Consulate. There was some discussion of the arrangement in Newfoundland from a hostile standpoint, based largely upon the clause enacting that the Fishery season "shall close, for all parties, on Oct. 20th in each year." It was claimed that this might work serious hardship to local fishermen, if enforced, and the News (Opposition) and Telegram (Government) contended that the Treaty as first reported did not entirely extinguish the old French rights while creating some new ones. But truer and further knowledge seems to have dissipated these arguments and fears and, meanwhile, the settlement created unquestioned popular enthusiasm.


On Apr. 22nd the London Times correspondent cabled a description of the "unbounded enthusiasm" of the people. "The schools are closed, the shipping is decorated, bonfires are being lighted, and displays of fireworks will be given." A parade of citizens and Naval Reserves in St. John's followed. Meanwhile the Hon. E. P. Morris, K.C., Attorney-General, had issued a message to the people (Apr. 21) stating that " Newfoundland gains by this Treaty absolute and undisputed ownership over the whole Treaty Coast ." This means "the absolute prevention of any interference by France with the settling and development of the Coast and the right to engage in every fishery on the Coast the whole year round. We further retain the right to control the whole bait traffic on that Coast." He intimated that, in addition to equivalents granted France in West Africa, this arrangement would cost Great Britain a million dollars in hard cash for the compensation of French fishermen. He urged the holding of public meetings and the expression of popular satisfaction at the action and policy of His Majesty's Government. On Apr. 28th the Legislature endorsed by Resolution the Colonial and Imperial Governments in this connection and voted down, by 17 to 5, the Opposition criticism of the Treaty as sacrificing valued local rights.


In an interview at Sydney , N.S., on May 8th, Mr. A. B. Morine represented this latter view by declaring that a large element were dissatisfied as to its terms. The Treaty was not sufficiently explicit and was loosely drawn. In a London interview, on July 12th, Sir Robert Bond, the Premier, reiterated the satisfaction of his Government at the arrangement though they would have liked the British acquisition of St. Pierre and Miquelon and the absence of concurrent rights of fishing on the Treaty shore. The complaints heard of were, he said, raised by the Opposition for political purposes in the coming elections. With few exceptions the satisfaction expressed at this settlement was really, general and generous. In Canada the press discussed it. as the removal of the last obstacle to Confederation - apart from the feelings of the Newfoundland people themselves - although a few voiced the arguments of the Island Opposition.


Source: J. Castell HOPKINS , The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs, 1904, Toronto, The Annual Review Publishing Company, 1905, pp. 424-426.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College