Tuesday, April 2, 2024

With love to Newfoundland and Labrador: The province joined Confederation 75 years ago

I live in Toronto.  As Newfoundlanders and Labradorians like to say, I come from away.   However, I have the greatest regard for the province and its people.  To me, Newfoundlanders are the salt of the earth.  I have only visited the province once, in the summer of 2001.  Due to time constraints, I travelled mostly within the Avalon Peninsula.  However, I was left with a lasting impression, and  I will never forget the friendliness and welcoming attitude of the people. Nor will and forget the beautiful lighthouses and the whale watching,  I hope someday to return and visit some more of the province.

I love the colourful houses in St, John's.  During my visit, I took a a boat ride in St. John's harbour, along with a black Newfoundland retriever.  On the boat, I kissed a cod, tasted some Newfoundland Screech (a local rum), and became an honorary Newfoundlander.  Of course, I toured Memorial University and Signal Hill.  

While I was visiting St. John's, there was an apartment fire in the city.  The community immediately got together and organized a concert of Newfoundland music to raise money for those whose property was damaged and destroyed.  My husband and I attended that concert at Mile One Arena, now known as Mary Brown's Centre.  

During my Newfoundland vacation, I also visited Cape Spear, the most easterly point in North America.  I'll never forget the rugged cliffs and the strong winds.  I also spent time in Terra Nova National Park, Trinity Dungeon Provincial Park near Bona Vistas and Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve.  Cape St. Mary's is a great place to enjoy watching seabirds.  In addition, I went to Ferryland, where the first Lord Baltimore tried to establish a settlement.in the 17th century.  It is now an excavation site for archaeologists,  Unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity to visit Gros Morne National Park or Labrador.

Newfoundlanders are Canada's premier comedians.  One only has to list names such as Rick Mercer, Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones and Mark Critch.  Over the years, I have enjoyed watching 22 Minutes, and The Rick Mercer Report on the CBC.  I am a fan of Son of a Critch, Mark Critch's delightful ode to coming of age in Newfoundland.in the 1980s.

In 2001, the people of Gander, Newfoundland, displayed their generous and welcoming spirit to travellers stranded at the Gander Airport due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  The story has been made into an uplifting musical called Come from Away, which I have seen.

Newfoundland joined Confederation at midnight on March 31, 1949, becoming Canada's tenth province.  Until then, it was a British colony.  Some portion of Newfoundland's  coast was one of the first parts of North America seen by Europeans.  About a thousand years ago, Vikings settled in a seaside outpost in Newfoundland known as L'Anse aux Meadows.  Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to visit L'Anse aux Meadows.in 2001.

In 1497, Italian explorer and navigator Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot)  landed in North America.  The exact location is disputed.  It may have been southern Labrador, the island of Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island.  Nevertheless, Cabot claimed the territory, which he had mistaken for Asia, in the name of Henry VII of England. 

From 1907 to 1949, Newfoundland was a British dominion in eastern North America.  In the 1920s, Newfoundland was in debt.  The Great Depression of the 1930s, exacerbated its financial problems.  In 1934, facing bankruptcy, Newfoundland's leaders decided to suspend responsible government.  They agreed to accept an unelected Commission Government directed by Britain.

During World War II, Newfoundland became an important military strategic base.  Prosperity returned to Newfoundland, due to miliary investment.  In 1946, an elected National Convention was established to consider Newfoundland's future.  There was a lively debate about whether to join Canada or to return to responsible government.  Convention members, especially Joey Smallwood, contended that living standards would improved if Newfoundland became a Canadian province.  The Confederation choice was even encouraged by Britain.

In a June 3, 1948 referendum, the responsible government option garnered 44.6 percent of the vote, while the pro-Confederation side received 41.1 percent and the Commission Government option received 14.3 percent.  Nevertheless, a run-off vote was held on July 22, 1948 between responsible government and Confederation, with Confederation receiving 52.34 percent of the vote and self-government 47.66 percent.  

By 1949, Newfoundland had erased its debts and recorded a surplus.  Joey Smallwood became the new province's first premier and a celebrated Father of Confederation.  Sadly, the province suffered the economic impact of the 1992 moratorium on cod fishing, imposed by the Canadian government.  This was done for the purpose of restoring cod stocks that had been depleted due to overfishing.  In 2015, two reports on cold fishery indicated that stocks my have recovered somewhat.  However, in June of 2018, the federal government felt compelled to reduce the cod quote because stocks had once again fallen after only two years of fair catches.

Thank you Newfoundland and Labrador.  This Torontonian appreciates all you have contributed to Canada.  Congratulations on the 75th anniversary of your entry into Confederation.

- Joanne

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