Ye brave Newfoundlanders who plough the salt sea,
With hearts like the eagle so bold and so free,
The time is at hand when we’ll have to say
If Confederation will carry the day.
Men, hurrah for our own native Isle, Newfoundland,
Not a stranger shall hold one inch of its strand;
Her face turns to Britain, her back to the Gulf,
Come near at your peril, Canadian Wolf!
Cheap tea and molasses they say they will give,
All taxes taken off that the poor man may live;
Cheap nails and cheap lumber, our coffins to make,
And homespun to mend our old clothes when they break.
If they take off all taxes, how then will they meet
The heavy expenses on army and fleet?
Just give them the chance to get into the scrap,
They’ll show you the trick with pen, ink and red tape.
Would you barter the right that your fathers have won?
Your freedom transmitted from father to son?
For a few thousand dollars Canadian gold
Don’t let it be said that our birthright was sold.
Newfoundland Anti-Confederation folk song (1869)
Faithful readers of this blog know that my sainted mother was from Newfoundland. My mother and my father after my birth in Paris, Illinois, due to my 21 year old Mom being deeply homesick, lived in Newfoundland from 1957-1961. My brother was born there in 1958. Newfoundland never being an easy place to make a living, for all its stark beauty, my family returned to Paris, Illinois in 1961 so that my father could obtain employment, and that is where my parents lived for the remainder of their lives, and where my brother and I were raised.
Newfoundland was granted dominion status on this day in 1907. During World War I, Newfoundland had a proud war record, its regiment in France being granted the signal honor of being designated the Royal Newfoundland regiment. Alas war debts, the Great Depression and corrupt politicians bankrupted the nation and Newfoundland, with its legislature suspended, and a governor appointed by Great Britain, became a colony, in all but name, again in 1934.
In 1948 a referendum was held to determine the future of Newfoundland, with three options: restoration of dominion status, confederation with Canada, and a continuation of being a colony of Great Britain. The Brits made it quite clear that they could no longer afford to subsidize Newfoundland. There was some sentiment among Newfoundlanders to ask the US Congress for statehood, but supporters of that idea were unable to get it on the ballot. In the first referendum held, a narrow plurality of voters chose dominion status, with confederation with Canada coming in a close second. In the second referendum the option for continued colonial status was dropped. Confederation supporters, some of them, prior to the second referendum, appealed to religious bigotry by arguing that Catholic bishops were telling Catholics to support dominion status, which an overwhelming number of Catholics did support. In the second referendum 52% of the votes were cast for confederation, so Newfoundland joined what prior generations of Newfoundlanders had often referred to as the Canadian wolf! It was still a topic of some controversy in the Sixties among my Mom’s relatives!
Update: From a 1947 Christian Science Monitor article on sentiment in Newfoundland for US statehood:
Meanwhile, there is considerable press and apparently spontaneous public interest in Newfoundland for joining the United States. After all, the Newfoundlanders know where much of their war prosperity came from. They may well feel that their chance of help in hard times, if such return, is better if they are an American State than if they are a canadian province or a British dominion, or continue in their present uncertain status.
There is some question as to whether the Commission, when it puts the question of Newfoundland’s future status to the people, could include the choice of union with the United States. There is even serious doubt as to whether the referendum can provide the alternative of provincial status in Canada. Canada’s equivalent of this country’s philadelphia lawyers argue that the Convention has only the power to have a referendum ask if Newfoundlanders prefer to continue as is, under joint Commission rule, or return to dominion status.
If the Newfoundlanders decide for the present status, then that’s that. But if they decide for dominion rights, then, and only then, these same legal technicians say, could the Newfoundlanders look into what to do with their sovereignty – keep it, merge it with Canada, or seek admission to the American Union.