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Newfoundland Conditions in 1904



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


The Island Colony entered upon the year with prosperity evident in every direction and passed through it with the settlement of its greatest dif­ficulties and the triumphant result of a general election for its Government. The Hon. E. M. Jackman in his annual Budget on Mar. 29th showed a surplus for the years 190, 1902 and 1903 and an estimated surplus for 1904 and 1905; an increase in trade from $13,000,000 in 1898-9 to $18,000,000 in 1902-3; a jump in lumber production from 6,200,000 feet to 17,893,000 feet in the year and to 21,876,000 feet for the half-year ending Dec. 31st, 1903 ; an increase in foreign-going tonnage from 1,447,481 in 1900 to 1,785,049 in 1903; and an increase in three years of $400,000 in the Savings Bank deposits. Sir Alfred Harmsworth of London purchased some 2,000 square miles of timbered region and started the construction of great pulp mills while, in another direction, Newfoundland marked its progress by making a substantial success of its Royal Naval Reserve system under which the Colony contributed $15,000 a year, the British Government kept a training-ship at St. John's, and 400 men were trained and took a six months' cruise to the West Indies in ships of the Atlantic Squadron. Meanwhile, Sir Cavendish Boyle, the Governor of Newfoundland, had been promoted to the Mauritius and was succeeded by Sir William McGregor, Governor of Lagos, who reached St. John's on Sept. 26th. Another personal incident was the knighthood conferred upon the Hon. E. P. Morris, Attorney-General and announced on June 25th.


But the chief local incident of the year in this Island Colony of 225,000 people was the General Election which came off on Oct. 31st. It was of interest to Canada because the question of Confederation was forced into the fray as a principal and vital issue on the one side and evaded as unpopular and impracticable, at present, on the other. During the year the Liberal Government of Sir Robert Bond had 28 members in the House against 8 Oppositionists led, practically if not nominally, by the Hon. A. B. Morine, K.C. In the country generally three ex-Premiers - Sir W. V. Whiteway, a Liberal, Sir James Winter and Mr. A. F. Goodridge Conservatives - and Mr. D. Morison, K.C., an Orangeman and Conservative, were straggling with Mr. Morine for ultimate leadership in the disunited opposition to the Government. After much mutual recrimination and the revival by the Government press of old and bitter conflicts and charges between Whiteway, Goodridge and Morine, in particular, the five leaders came together in September, agreed to merge all differences in an effort to defeat the Government, and to also waive for the present the question of which should be Premier if they won in the contest. They then combined in a fierce. attack upon the Government for having rearranged the Reid Railway contract of 1901 with large and growing financial burdens upon the Colony; for having accepted the French Shore Treaty with its alleged defects; and for general incompetence and extravagance. Manifestoes in multiform number were issued with a pleasing list of promised reforms. Sir William Whiteway in his Address stated that no Confederation with Canada would be accepted without a direct appeal to the people at the polls. On Sept. 28th the Prime Minister issued an elaborate Manifesto describing what his Government had done for the country. It may be summarized as follows


1. Passed an Act re-assuming the ownership of the Reid Newfoundland Railway and returning to Mr. R. G. Reid the consideration he had paid a previous Government for its purchase.


2. Released by this means 2,500,000 acres of the best lands in the island for the use of its fishermen, settlers and lumbermen.


3. Re-assumed control of the Telegraph lines, extended the system to Labrador , re-established a Coastal steamer service, erected 18 light-houses and fog alarms along the Coast.


4. Erected public wharves and other marine works, established a trade in fresh fish, placed a bounty on the melting of iron-ore and the working of coal measures, continued a bounty for clearing and cultivating land and admitted farm implements free of duty.


5. Increased the Education grant, reduced taxation, made a trade treaty with the United States and "succeeded in bringing about a settlement of the French Shore question."


As to the present and future, the Government had and would resist the demands and claims of the Reid Newfoundland Company; they were making arrangements to control the Cable business of the Colony; they were sharing with the Imperial Government in the making of new Coast and Fishery regulations; they would encourage the export trade in fresh fish and erect bait depots for the fishermen; they hoped to find means of promoting the development of the herring and whale fisheries; the mining, agricultural and lumber industries would all be fostered; and, finally, they had stated and now reiterated that there was "no desire on the part of the people of this Colony to be included as a constituent part of the Dominion of Canada." Sir Robert Bond concluded with the statement that union with Canada would not be "to the political, commercial or moral advantage of the people" and with the watchword to his fellow-countrymen of "No Confederation." This latter clause was made the central party issue of one of the most curious campaigns in recent history. The Government press teemed with references to the Opposition combination of leaders as being in league to sell and betray their country to Canada .


Messrs. Whiteway, Winter, Morine and Morison were known to be at least inclined toward Confederation, although Mr. Goodridge had been at one time a fierce opponent of it. But this last fact and denial of any intention to carry out such a policy seemed to be useless. It was only branded upon them the more hotly and vigorously. Advertisements appeared announcing a "bargain day" with Newfoundland and its people for sale by the Opposition leaders; the Telegram. described Newfoundlanders as strong, patriotic men and not "degenerate enough to become Canadians"; Confederation was said to be, the last of "five steps to Perdition" of which the preceding ones were (1) voting for the Opposition, (2) anarchy, (3) stagnation, starvation and soup-kitchens, (4) national insolvency; the fishermen were told by one journal that it meant a tax of from $5.00 to $50.00 a year on cod-traps and that the defeat of the Government would involve "gangrene, delirium, disaffection and anarchy"; the Opposition candidates were described in the Herald as Tory missionaries "let loose in the country with pockets filled with Canadian gold"; Mr. Morine's visit to Canada early in the year and his speeches there were the objects of unlimited criticism as the precursors to the present "plot"; the fishermen were assured (Herald, Oct 8th) that unsuitable fishery laws, possible abrogation of the Bait Act, control of the winter herring and the seal fisheries by Nova Scotia, and increased price for pork, flour and other provisions, would follow; according to the Telegram, Morine meant Laurier and Confederation and these would involve French rule, direct taxation, popular discontent, wholesale emigration and "the wreck of the British Empire on this side of the water." The Herald of Oct. 3rd summarized the probable results of Confederation, as follows, after asking the electors if they would vote for "these Canadian mongrels":


To the Fisherman - A tax on his cod-trap, a tax on his schooner, a tax on his lobster-factory, a tax on his salmon-net.


To the Farmer - The destruction of his industry and emigration from his home, for the farming enterprise here would be stamped out.


To the Mill-Owner - The destruction of his market for coopers' lumber and other products and the closing down of his mill.


To the Miner - Heavy duties on all his implements and necessaries, and discriminatory laws against him.


To the Breadwinner - Higher prices for flour, pork and other foodstuffs, because American provisions would be excluded by a high rate of duty.


To the Young Voter - A heavy annual poll-tax, such as they now pay in Sydney - five dollars a year in dry cash.


To the Mongrels - Big jobs and fat salaries at Ottawa, in return for selling our Island home.


Mixed up with these charges were all kinds of personalities in the press - a favourite one being the charge that under Confederation all the Opposition leaders had been promised and would be given high positions by the Canadian authorities. Sir W. Whiteway was to be High Commissioner in London, Mr. Morine Lieut.-Governor of Newfoundland, Sir J. S. Winter a Supreme Court Judge at Ottawa and Mr. Morison a member of the Dominion Government. Another feature was the appearance of a mass of poetry which appealed to the patriotism of the people and of which the following from the Western, Star of St. John's is a sample:


For when death of life deprives us,

And we are buried in our graves,

Under the Canadian banner,

Then our offspring would be slaves,

They'll be exiles on Dominion soil,

Bereft of Freedom, Home and Friends;

Placed as targets before bullets,

The Canadians to defend.


The Opposition tried to meet this attack by issuing an Address to the people on Oct 11th, signed by their whole 27 candidates, declaring that "the cry that Confederation with Canada is aimed at by us or any of us in this election, is wholly and willfully false and has been concocted, and is being circulated, for the purpose of alarming the electorate into supporting the Government." They pledged themselves to do nothing in this respect without the free will and consent of the people expressed at the polls. But this action seemed of little avail in the end. On Oct. 21st the Government nominated a full list of 36 candidates and the Opposition 35 - one Government supporter going in by accla­mation. On election day the Bond Government was returned by 30 members to 6 and all the Opposition leaders were defeated excepting Mr. Morine. A contributory cause to this result, apart from the Confederation bogey, was the support given the Govern­ment by Archbishop Howley, the Catholic Prelate and incidentally a strong advocate of Confederation with Canada . Mr. Morison was the Orange leader in the Colony and all his chief colleagues happened to be Protestants. Another was the un­popularity of Mr. Morine through his connection with the Reid Company as Solicitor. Despite his undoubted ability and elo­quence this told against the Opposition.


Apart from its appearance in this campaign. Confederation with Canada was only a real issue in the Dominion itself where the idea continued to be generally popular and of the "inevitable destiny" type of thought. The Hon. E. P. Morris visited the country in January and on the 25th told the Montreal Gazette that there was no Island sentiment in its favour and that the people had not seriously considered it during the present generation. On Feb. 19th, according to correspondence afterwards made public the Newfoundland Government through a Committee of Council replied to a Resolution in favour of Confederation passed by the Chambers of Commerce of the Empire Congress, as follows: "So far as the Committee is aware, there is no desire on the part of the people of this Colony to be included as a constituent part of the Dominion; but, on the contrary, the desire is evident that the Colony should retain its autonomy and continue to maintain an honourable and independent position as part of the British Empire." To a Toronto Globe correspondent on Apr. 22nd Sir Robert Bond pointed to the present general prosperity, the natural isolation of the Island, the interests of local industry, the lack of trade with Canada and the alternative importance of the Bond-Hay Treaty, as reasons or arguments against Confederation. But, he added, "I do not see how any public man can say he is opposed to Confederation before he knows what the terms are; I should assume that that would be the attitude of every rational and thinking man."


To the same paper, on Apr. 28th, the Hon. E. M. Jackman, Minister of Finance said: "I am opposed to Confederation for the simple reason that, in my opinion, we would not gain by the transaction; we would lose our political autonomy and become the fag-end of the Dominion." The best policy for Newfoundland was "to retain control of our bait fishery and use it as a leverage to obtain Reciprocity with the United States ." He was strongly opposed, however, to Annexation. Other leading men were interviewed by Mr. Norman Smith, the correspondent in question. Mr. Morine said that his personal feeling had always been favourable to Confederation but it was altogether a matter of terms and the absence of any offer from Canada , later than 1895, made it impossible to raise the issue. He described local ignorances and prejudices and declared an educative campaign essential. The Hon. Mr. Morris, Attorney-General, declared Confederation to be more remote than it ever was. Archbishop Howley expressed strong approval of union. " Newfoundland 's resources would be at once opened up, her railway system improved, and her maritime interests developed. The mere geographical position of the Island would bring this about. I regard St. John's as the most important point in the whole world, situated as it is half-way between Europe and America, and passed by every steamer plying between the old world and the new." But he acknowledged that the people were unhesitatingly opposed to the policy and he had become weary of combating their views and prejudices. Mr. Donald Morison, K.C., Grand Master of the Orange Order, was equally favourable. He also agreed as to the popular ignorance and prejudice. Canada must offer its terms before the question could become a live one.


In his speeches to the Canadian Club at Toronto, on May 19th, and at Ottawa on the 20th, Mr. A. B. Morine was emphatic as to this point. The offer of terms, so as to enable the friends of Confederation to have a basis to work upon, and then an educative campaign, were the key-notes of both these addresses. Without advocating the policy in so many words he intimated clearly that if the terms were good he would do his share in fighting for it. A little before this Lieut.-Col. W. N. Ponton of Belleville delivered speeches at the Canadian Club of Toronto (Mar. 28th) and at Ottawa (Apr. 12th) upon the subject of Confederation, urging it as "rounding-off the Dominion." In the Canadian Law Review for May he also urged this policy. At the British Empire League in Toronto on May 20th a Resolution was passed upon motion of Mr. Castell Hopkins and Lieut.-Col. James Mason urging Confederation as an Imperial policy and asking the Government of Canada to make known to the people of Newfoundland the terms which it was prepared to offer. The Globe of Sept. 8th took similar ground editorially: "If Canada has any views or desires looking towards a union she should be prepared to intimate an outline at least of what its basis should be. Parties in the Island could then discuss intelligently whether they, were prepared to accept them or not. Public opinion would have to be educated, and the submission of such terms would afford the desired opportunity."


Toward the end of the year matters came to a head between the Reid Newfoundland Co. and the Government as to the former's claim for $3,000,000 indemnity in connection with the Government's assumption of the Telegraph lines. Arbitration was agreed to and sittings commenced at St. John's on Oct. 27 th with the Hon. Edward Blake, K.C., M.P., Mr. Mr. Donald Macmaster, K.C., of Montreal , and Mr. P. S. Archibald, C.E., of Moncton , N.B., as the Arbitrators. Sir E. M. Morris, K.C., and Mr. Furlong, K.C., represented the Government as Counsel, and Mr. A. B. Morine, K.C., Sir James Winter, K.C., and the Hon. H. J. Greens, K.C., the interests of the Railway Company. The decision was not announced until January of the succeeding year. An interesting incident of this period was the arrangement made by the Island Government, and ratified by the Legislature, with the Newfoundland Cold Storage and Reduction Company - a concern composed of and controlled by United States capitalists. By its terms the Company was guaranteed for twenty years a dividend of 5 per cent. per annum on a capital of half a million dollars on condition that $250,000 be spent on a cold storage plant and $200,000 expended yearly in the purchase of fish in the Island for export. The Company also undertook to preserve bait in cold-storage and to distribute the same at a reasonable price wherever it was needed by New­foundland fishermen.


Under the United States laws it was claimed that this Company of U. S. citizens would be able to ship both fresh and dried fish into the Republic free of duty. The matter was discussed in the Canadian House of Commons on Apr. 27 th as promising to injuriously affect Canadian fishermen and fishing interests. The latter would still have to face the United States duties while the Newfoundland monopoly would be free of them. The Hon. Mr. Fielding in the ensuing debate took the line that Canada should be very careful as to interference with the policy of an independent Colony. Only friendly negotiation would, he thought, be permissible. Another matter which caused discussion during the year was the vagueness of the boundary line between Labrador , as a Newfoundland possession, and the Dominion. The Island Government issued timber licenses in what was claimed to be Quebec territory, on the Hamilton River, and the subsequent announcement in August that the Canadian Government would establish a Customs House at this particular point aroused some feeling in St. John's.


Source: J. Castell HOPKINS , The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs, 1904, Toronto, The Annual Review Publishing Company, 1905, pp. 418-424.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College