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Main Events and Issues of Newfoundland in 1909



[Canadian Annual Review, 1909; for full citation, see the end of the text]


The affairs of Newfoundland are always of interest to Canadians and they were particularly so during this year of political turmoil and change in the Island-guardian of the Gulf. The year commenced with a dead-lock in the Legislature - 18 supporters of Sir Robert Bond, the Premier, and 18 of Sir Edward Morris, the Opposition Leader. Neither side would give way, the meeting of the Legislature was adjourned and, finally, opened on Mch. 31 when a tie vote in the election of a Speaker resulted in prorogation of the House and its dissolution shortly afterwards with polling on May 7th. Meanwhile, early in March, Sir Robert Bond, after a nine years' Premiership had retired, and been succeeded by the following Government:


Prime Minister

Sir Edward P. Morris, K.C.

Minister of Justice

Hon. Donald Morrison, K.C.

Colonial Secretary

Hon. Robert Watson

Minister of Finance and Customs

Hon. Michael P. Cashin

Minister of Agriculture and Mines

Hon. Sydney D. Blandford

Minister without Portfolio

Hon. R. K. Bishop

Minister without Portfolio

Hon. M. P. Gibbs

Minister without Portfolio

Hon. C. H. Emerson

Minister without Portfolio

Hon. J. C. Crosbie



The general elections were of the usual stormy Newfoundland character. W. B. Grieve, a leading merchant of St. John's, was arrested on a charge of criminal libel for alleging that Sir E. P. Morris was in the pay of the Canadian Government and secretly working for Confederation; Sir Robert Bond, in attempting to land at Western Bay from a steamer, was pushed overboard by a hostile crowd but not injured; a libel suit for $25,000 damages was entered by Sir E. P. Morris against the chief Liberal paper - the Evening Telegraph; bitter campaign attacks and personalities were rife on every side. The ordinary issues of the two parties, the promises made and the partisan attacks perpetrated, were not dissimilar from those of the 1908 election except that the charges were more violently expressed. But the Canadian issue was made a very prominent one. On Apl. 27 the St. John's Daily News published a sensational story claiming that Sir Robert Bond, though apparently antagonistic to the move, had been quietly negotiating with the Canadian Government through Harry J. Crowe, a company promoter having big interests in the Island. The proof offered was in certain alleged negotiations and printed letters passing between J. F. Downey, a recent member and now a Morris candidate, and Mr. Crowe, as to the former's acceptance of the Speakership from the Bond Government and the consequent breaking of the deadlock. Mixed up with the negotiations was the asserted fact of Mr. Crowe being the intermediary between the Canadian and Newfoundland Governments in the matter of Confederation and the publication of letters written by him to the Canadian Minister of Militia.


As to this Sir Frederick Borden at once made the following explanation: "Mr. Crowe, who comes from Bridgetown, N.S., is an old friend of mine. He went to Newfoundland years ago and acquired large lumber areas there. As a fellow Canadian he naturally enough communicated with me and especially with regard to the entry of Newfoundland into the Canadian Confederation. There was nothing, of course, in all this but a mutual interest in the rounding out of Confederation. However, as to the intimation that Sir Robert Bond was at all concerned in the matter I may say that Mr. Crowe in his letters to me invariably spoke of him as the chief opponent to Confederation." As the charge of Confederation leanings had long been laid by the Bond party against their opponents this was turning the tables with a vengeance; E. M. Jackson, a former member of the Bond Government, tried to meet it with a statement, to which he was willing to swear, that the campaign fund of the Morris party was subscribed to in Montreal. There is no doubt that the cause of the late Premier was seriously injured by the revival of the issue in this new form. Eventually, Sir Edward Morris swept the Island and came back with 26 scats against 10 for Sir Robert Bond.


The election was of special interest as having given Orange support to a Catholic Premier and having settled, for a time at least, the old-worn Confederation scare. The new Legislature met in a short session on June 1. William R. Warren was elected Speaker and J. M. Kent, K.C., acted as Leader of the Opposition in the absence of Sir Robert Bond. The popular Governor, Sir William MacGregor, gave his farewell address to the Legislature, left shortly afterward to take up the administration of Queensland , and was succeeded by Sir R. C. Williams. Sir Edward Morris took his duties seriously and actively; organized and incorporated a Newfoundland Board of Trade; offered free Government lands with a clearing bounty of $20 an acre to encourage immigration; for the time being agreed to complete a Bond Government contract with the Commercial Cable Company of New York; appointed a practical Fishery Board to supervise the Island's most vital interest; renewed, without objection, the Modus Vivendi between Great Britain and the United States, in the herring fishery matter, of which the Bond Government had made so serious an issue; accepted in full the principle of arbitrating the dispute before The Hague Tribunal; visited England and took a prominent part in the Defence Conference.


It was a prosperous year for Newfoundland in a material sense. Business conditions were good and the final settlement of political troubles made things better. The great Northcliffe enterprise - the hydraulic and electric mills for the manufacture of paper out of pulp-wood which were said to be the largest in the world and which had cost, for the mills and forests, railways and steamships, more than $6,000,000 - was inaugurated at Grand Falls on Oct. 9th by the Governor and Lady Williams, accompanied by Lord and Lady Northcliffe, and with speeches from the Prime Minister, Mr. W. D. Reid of the Reid-Newfoundland Company, and many others. A liberal mining policy was pursued by the new as well as the old Government and Canadian and United States money was coming in to re-inforce British investments; efforts were made to encourage agricultural production and other pulp and paper concerns besides that of the Harmsworths' were either started or put into operation; the Fishery catch and the prices realized were above the average; a Commercial Agent was appointed to go to Brazil and develop still further the considerable existing trade with that country; while Mr. Richard Grigg, British Trade Commissioner to Canada, reported early in the year as to the best means of increasing British trade in Newfoundland.


As to the general situation Mr. P. T. McGrath, a well-known Island journalist, wrote in Collier's Weekly (Oct. 2nd) as follows:


Within 20 years she has built 650 miles of excellent railway, provided a fleet of 12 coastwise steamers tapping every section of the Island and Labrador and superior to anything of their kind in Eastern Canada, set up 2,500 miles of telegraph lines, erected eight lighthouses - and doubled the outlay on the various public services by which the mass of the people benefit directly. Her exports have grown from $5,000,000 to $12,000,000, her imports being in the same proportion, and her revenue from $1,000,000 to $3,000,000. The material prosperity, too, of the people has been enhanced in a still greater degree. She has overcome the consequences of a fire that devastated St. John's in 1892, causing a loss of $20,000,000 with only $5,000,000 of insurance; a bank crash that nearly beggared her two years later; and the vicissitudes of the fishing industry in recent years with a loss of millions of dollars of local capital. Yet the latest statistics show that the savings secured in her banks and debentures total $13,000,000, while the investment in fishing and other enterprises is enormously in excess of this.


Source: J. Castell HOPKINS , The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs, 1909, Toronto, The Annual Review Publishing Company, 1910, pp. 36-39.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College