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Monday, March 16, 2009

Today a Country Dies

What joining the Dominion meant for Newfoundland, sixty years ago this month.

The following article, by Dorothy Howarth, “New Province Tomorrow,” originally appeared in the Toronto Telegram on March 31, 1949, the eve of Newfoundland and Labrador's becoming a Province (colony?) of Canada.

It's sometimes interesting to take note of what others saw, heard and felt, not to mention the perceptions of others from outside Newfoundland and Labrador, at a time that was so dramatic and traumatic for our people.

Today a country dies.
By Dorothy Howarth
March 31, 1949

Not as they die in Europe by enemy fire and sword, or by aggressive annexation, but by its own hand, the democratic choice of its people.

By a majority vote of only 6,401 of its citizens, Newfoundland today gives up its life as an individual nation in the British Commonwealth to become, instead, the 10th province of the largest Dominion in the Commonwealth, Canada.

There is no celebrating in St. John’s today. People move quietly about their everyday business, through the steep up-and-down roads. Two-wheeled carts, filled with coal and produce, clatter in the cobbled streets. Fur-hatted policemen patrol their beats and long-shoremen wait on Water Street, leaning idly over the railing, above the docks where the tall ships come in.

“Ah, well, Miss, I think there are many of us feeling badly today, even though we be confederates,” said the doorman at the British Commission office.

“How would you feel in Canada if the United States were taking you over today? It’s like a country dying,” said the librarian.

“It doesn’t matter how you voted, confederate or responsible government, today still means that we are no longer a separate country. We’re only part of a larger one now.”

Above the hall of an Irish Benevolent Association rises in defiance what claims to be Newfoundland’s flag — pink, green and white. But far out the narrows from the top of Cabot Tower, whipped out in fierce wind, flies its real flag — the Union Jack.

“That’ll not change, thank God,” said a policeman.

In the hearts of many responsible government people there is real despair.

“We hate Canada; we hate Canadians,” said a well-known St. John’s professional man.

“Come in here with your baby bonus and take us over and you’ll name us a premier and cabinet that are like leopards that can change their spots. Now Tory, now Liberal. Well, once I was a Liberal but not any more. I’ll not be associated with that confederate outfit, I can tell you."

“Look at my office — it’s the same at my house . . .”

Every blind in the place was pulled down to the sill — as if death lay inside.

There is a rumour that before the day is out a number of anti-confederates will take a funeral cortege through the town to bury high on the hill above the city the body of what is supposed to be Newfoundland. But their procession, if it is carried out, will wind right by the same frame houses, lining the hill, from which nightsoil is still collected and from which issue nine and 10 children.

“Of course we’re glad to join with Canada,” said one woman, a baby in her arms. “Look what it will mean to us. I’ve five children and my husband’s work is uncertain. Those Water St. millionaires have bled us long enough,” she added, looking down into the town where the names of a number of merchants could mainly be read on the sides of their stores.

Store windows are the only evidence that Confederation has really come. Price tags on goods, with black lines drawn through the old prices, show the cuts. Nylons from $2.25 to $1.98: Linoleum at $1 a yard down to 50 cents. Drugs and cosmetics in particular show a tremendous difference.

“It’ll take me from three to six months to recover from the change,” said one druggist. “I’ll lose 20 percent on most of my stock.”

But his clerk, a girl, saw the other side of the story. “Now I’ll only pay $1.25 for creams, I paid $2 for before — and cologne is $1.98 now instead of $2.50.

“I saw a cotton summer dress in a store window today for $8.95 — last summer I paid $15 for the same dress. Confederation will certainly make things easier for me, but I am sorry to feel that I must sign my passport Canadian.”

There was an air of waiting over the whole city, waiting for what is going to happen, what Confederation is to bring in small things and in large.

“I was going to buy curtains for my living room, but I decided to wait and see,” said a woman, window-shopping.

Another window-shopper was interested in the drop of the price of linoleum. “I wanted new covering for my kitchen floor for Christmas, but we decided to wait. Now I see that I was wise to.”

Civil service in suspense

Waiting in government offices, figuratively biting their nails, are civil servants who have not yet been notified if their department is even going to exist after today.

Several slated to take trips to Canada on official business, find that financial provision has not been made for their journey.

Up at Government House, where tomorrow the official naming and swearing in of the new premier is to take place, faces are a little red. It isn’t too propitious that new government should be born on April Fool’s Day — a day kept here in the rowdy English fashion. It is said that is the reason the ceremony will not take place until 1:15, the traditional minute for April Fool’s Day to end.

The whole ceremony is being carried out as swiftly, as simply as possible with all the hush-hush trimmings of a military secret. There will be no fanfare: It was not even announced where or at what time the ceremony was to take place.

In schools there will be no special observance of the last day of Newfoundland’s nationhood. One schoolmaster said he thought he would probably address morning assembly for a few moments on the significance of the day, but other schools were ignoring it.

“We’ll be singing our national anthem, ‘Ode to Newfoundland,’ in the morning and ‘God Save the King’ when we leave at night,” another teacher said.

Baked seal a delicacy

Biggest event of the day will be when the first sealer comes in, its decks slippery with blubber and blood from the raw seal skins piled on it.

The Terra Nova, possession of the Eric Bowring stores, a Water St. merchant, was due today but because of high wind and its loaded decks, rolling in a heavy sea, it is still on its way.

“Oh you don’t have to worry about where it comes in,” said a clerk in the store. “Just tell the taxi driver; he knows where to take you. There’ll be lots other people there.”

Baked seal flippers and seal flipper pie will be on all menus when the first ship finally does arrive.

“Tastes just like beef, with a bit of a fishy tinge,” said a long-shoreman. “You’ll like it. Real Newfoundland dish. Can’t make it Canadian whatever you do.”

“I don’t know if we’ll have any here,” said the waitress in the restaurant. “Some-times we do,” then giving out the change, she noticed the silver. “There — there’s our 20-cent piece for you, and our little bitty nickel. Suppose they’ll go out of circulation. But I kind of like them. I’ll miss them. It’ll be all Canadian money instead of our own.”

She swabbed the table with her cloth for a moment.

“I’ve a sister in Toronto. She makes more than I do at the same work. But I don’t know, whatever happens, I still want to be a Newfoundlander.”

So it goes all through the city: Half sadness, some downright anger, some anxiety and some downright gladness. No one is quite sure about the future. Almost everyone realizing they’ve reached the end of an era and everyone waiting — waiting to see what Canada and Confederation will bring.


I don't know much about the cost of nylons or linoleum these days but knowing what we know now, I wonder what those who waited to "...see what Canada and Confederation will bring" might say today.

What was the true price?


Anonymous said...

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

You know, St. Patrick is fabled for having driven the snakes out of Ireland. I believe there are parallels to that story here in Newfoundland and Labrador except our snakes have two legs.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Howorth's first words say the Country died, not with bloodshed but at their own hands in a democratic way. I wouldn't agree with those words. How democratic can it be when we were never given our independence back, as was decreed, before we were "told" to make this choice?

How democratic was it when only a little more than 50% of the votes counted were pro confederation, when questions still remain about how the voting was managed and votes counted (or not)?

How democratic was it when the first vote a year earlier had a different outcome but was ignored and another vote held?

There was nothing democratic about our take over and there is no democracy being afforded us to this very day in Canada.

Anonymous said...

Anon of March 17, 2009 7:27 AM

Your article asks great questions.

Why do you not pen an article and submit it to The Globe and Mail and National Post to see if either will print it? Your questions are rational ones which need to be put out there in the public.

After reading your article, Canadians might ask themselves a few questions of their own.

There was no democracy practised in the process through which the province of Newfoundland and Labrador was brought into Canada. No None! It needs to be talked about and investigated, along with the way, that once Ottawa had captured us, it then set out immediately to cart away our natural resources to build economies in the other provinces.

The resources of Newfoundland and Labrador should have remained here, they should have been refined and smelted here and they should have built a Manufacturing Industry here.

NL-ExPatriate said...

Prices were higher because of the protectionist tarrifs on goods.

Which is why we lost alot of our manufacturing after confederation. Small fish in a big pond.

Was there anything in the terms of union stating that we were to have equality with the other provinces in the upper house Senate to offset the TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY HOC and partisan politics?

Our Lack of EQUALITY is the root cause of our woes in confederation all of the individual problems and issues are just the symptoms of our lack of EQUALITY.

Anonymous said...

NL - ExPatriate

By the way I heard someone on a VOCM newscast yesterday, I believe the person was from the Canadian Manufacturing Federation, the person said that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is ideally suited for Manufacturing because of its natural resource base and its great geographic location. ( I tuned into the interview a few seconds short of the beginning, so I didn't get the whole thing).

Is Ottawa just realizing that Newfoundland and Labrador is ideally suite for Manufacturing 60 years after it captured our territory and planted it in the Canadian Federation.

For God's sake Ottawa dreamt of our prime geographic land mass and our rich natural resource base 80 years before it got us firmly in the grip of Canada's far reaching hands.

Also NL - EX-Patriate, you speak often of the TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY.

I am wondering if our politicians, both provincial and federal, are preparing themselves to oppose those extra seats to be added to the Parliament of Canada, none of which will belong to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador? With those extra seats added, the TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY will have a much greater advantage?

Anonymous said...

You're right Anon 4:31,

Canada did dream of our resources and location but for their own purposes, not ours. The location was important to them when the Cold War was in full swing but then they didn't care after.

The resources were wanted for the mills, factories and manufacturers in ontario and Quebec, not here. That's still the case.

Don't kid yourself, nobody in Canada is waking up to anything YET.

Anonymous said...

Anon March 18, 2009 4:59 PM
Who made the statement "Don't kid yourself; nobody in Canada is waking up to anything YET".......

Anon, you are right; I should have outright admitted that they had not admitted to anything, other than state the fact that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is an ideal place to conduct a Manufacturing Industry, given its well endowed resource base and prime geographic.

Now what we have to do is jump on THAT admission and make sure that something will be done with regards to having Newfoundland and Labrador's natural resources smelted, refined and converted into Manufactured goods right here in this province, and our province's fine geographic location can be utilized to launch the resulting Manufactured products off to markets in Europe, North America, Asia or where ever else the products will be needed in the Universe.

Now is the time, the OLD World Economy came to a screeching end in the fall of 2008 and the New World Economy will have to be renegotiated all over again.

The overseers/politicians of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador will need to be well prepared to take part in the negotiations of that New World Economy, whether they will have to be negotiated with the Ottawa government, that will depend on whether or not, this time around Ottawa will agree that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador needs to build an economy of its own from its own natural resources and will Ottawa will be willing to negotiate on our behalf like it does for the other provinces. If NOT then our overseers/politicians should prepare themselves to negotiate with whomever in the World in the upcoming next New World Economy.

Also, as I said earlier, the Managers/overseers of Newfoundland and Labrador need to speak up now that it isn't willing to have more seats added to the Canadian Parliament which will severely dilute our province's power in that Institution. We know too well now, that the 2.3% of the say which the 7 MP seats out of 308 seat Canadian Parliament give us absolutely NO SAY

To be honest I haven't heard a peep from the Newfoundland and Labrador political machine, neither Federal or Provincial on the talk about the extra seats to be added in the Canadian Parliament. I am wondering why the silence?

Was it not silence on matters that got us into the 'have' not status that we have found ourselves in for 60 years? Are we willing to have even less than the status quo for another 60 years?

Ussr said...

wait till the price of electric power starts going thru the roof.

Ontario and Quebec had thier day folks. To think that Newfoundland and Labrador will not make that back in spades is stupid.

In the end we will have the final say, "MapleBaconBoys"

" Republic Of "

Anonymous said...

AHHHHH, the days of nationhood.

and no greater nation there was, great story bud !!! :)

Anonymous said...

seeing Harpers face along with his two lackys following behind him.

It made me sick too my stomach to see them there.

How Disgusting.

they have no shame,..................

Anonymous said...

"Are we willing to have even less than the status quo for another 60 years?" - well anon,March 18, 2009 5:49 PM,

The only thing we have to lose is our chains

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