Review: Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders: The True Story of Newfoundland’s Confederation with Canada

When the Second World War ended, the future of Newfoundland was not only an issue for its people, it was also a matter of considerable significance for the victorious English-speaking nations at the heart of what would be called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Newfoundland, in the British phrase, had had a very good war, taking a front-row place in the crucial Battle of the Atlantic, hosting large numbers of Allied (particularly American) servicemen and economically emerging out of the Great Depression that had seen it lose its self-rule in 1933 and become again a colony governed directly from London.

Now, a broke Britain wanted out of what it saw as a burden. Canada wanted—in its lukewarm, Mackenzie King way—to complete its 80-year-old Atlantic-to-Pacific dream and, more determinedly, to prevent outright American control of Newfoundland. And the U.S. was amenable, as long as American air bases there—as important in the nascent Cold War as they were against the Nazis—were untroubled. As far as the larger nations were concerned, then, a deal practically made itself. Trouble is, as Malone—an actor and political activist best known for the Codco TV series—points out, not only did no one really ask the Newfoundlanders what they wanted, no one wanted to take the democratic gamble of giving them a fair chance to decide.

What the great majority of Newfoundlanders wanted was not to decide the future of a colony, but something contemporary Canadians have trouble grasping: they wanted their country back, a nation that held Dominion status equal to Canada’s from 1907 to 1933. And once they had regained that, it was by no means certain they would then choose to enter Confederation, opt for economic or even political union with America, or remain in complete independence. Malone relentlessly chronicles a three-year British-Canadian campaign of what he calls “connivance, duplicity, mendacity and abuse” that even then resulted in a winning referendum choice for Confederation of only 52 per cent.

Malone, who writes how, in the early 1970s, he “went to Toronto a Canadian and came back a Newfoundlander” after his frequent encounters with anti-Newfoundland “ignorance and prejudice,” sounds, ironically enough, very Canadian in his outsider resentment of whatever passes for the exploitative inner circle of this country. But if he has a chip the size of a rock on his shoulder, Malone can scarcely be blamed for it. Consider only this: could an independent Newfoundland possibly have mismanaged its fisheries any worse than Ottawa did?

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Review: Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders: The True Story of Newfoundland’s Confederation with Canada

  1. Most Canadians have no idea about the true history of Newfounland’s entry into Canada. They think Canada did Newfoundland some great favour by “taking them in”. Nobody realizes that in spite of the economic hardship in the 1930′s, by the time Confederation was pushed on Newfoundland it actually had no debt and money in the bank and a thriving fishery (now destroyed by Federal mismanagement).
    Newfoundlanders are often thought of as whiners who want to have their cake and eat it too but only those who know the entire truth can hope to understand that even today, after the biggest mass exodus of people in Canadian history after Ottawa closed the fishery they managed to destruction the province’s small population has no choice but to fight and fight hard just to be heard over the din created in larger centres like Ontario, Alberta and most loudly, Quebec.
    Canadians need to try walking in a Newfoundlander’s shoes for a while to understand what it feels like to be completely misunderstood and all but ignored in a Country you had no choice but to give up your national freedom to enter.

  2. Is anyone really thinking a country (e.g. the Republic of Newfoundland) could have survived/prospered on account of fishing resources? (Even add the current oil boom on top of it.)

    • Nationhood is about more than economics – as all the battles for independence around the world and throughout time attests. Quebec may have gotten the official nod from Ottawa as a nation within Canada but it is equally true of NL. I’m a first-generation Canadian, as my parents were born not Canadians, but Newfoundlanders. I have been living in ON for 21 years and am a proud Canadian, but I will always be, ethnically, a Newfoundlander.

      • Quebec wasn’t recognized as a nation; Quebecers were.

        Carry on.

    • Lucy Hodge-Corrigan • 16 minutes ago

      I’ve
      KNOWN as far back as I remember, that something was amiss with our
      ‘relationship’ with Ottawa. And to Scott Parson’s comments…MY father
      was a fisherman too, and I recall going to the store and being given his
      pay packet and how the coins jingled as I ran home with it. THEN, he’d
      have to divide it among his crew, and I cry as I think how he struggled
      over the decision that he had to take a little extra, because he OWNED
      the equipment and it wasn’t going to repair or mend itself. Unlike YOU
      though, Scott, I didn’t HAVE the opportunity to go to University and our
      roads weren’t paved until MY children were four and five years old, so
      you must’ve lived in an area that had a representative in both the
      Provincial AND Federal Government to have been accorded those ‘riches’
      which you all took for granted! And I DO remember my father telling me
      of how everyone, under British rule, was allotted SIX CENTS a day to
      survive on. But, I always knew there was something wrong, and I’ve
      fought it since I was a child.
      What I ALSO remember though..because
      I was an avid tomboy, who would sneak aboard his boat, with the help of
      his crew….are the days when my father’s skiff was SO full of fish,
      they were rolling over the side and back into the Ocean, and when the
      Cod Bag they towed was full also, along with the dory they pulled behind
      the skiff.
      When I was a teenager..EARLY teens, I’d go out through
      our door at night and look out through the ‘mouth’ of the Cove where I
      lived, and see SO many lights, it looked like a ‘city!’…THAT ‘city’
      was Newfoundland being WHORED out to Portugal, Spain, France, and on and
      on, BY Ottawa. What I was viewing were those foreign boats raping OUR
      fishing grounds so that Ontario or Quebec or some other ‘important’ part
      of Canada that needed a new car deal, or import/export deal, GOT it, at
      OUR expense and blood and sweat.
      And MY brother’s worked on
      trawlers and had to move to NOVA SCOTIA because ‘they’ were NOT allowed
      to fish in the same areas as those foreign freezer boats…nor were
      those boat’s netting checked for size, as were NL trawlers…and they
      also used RAKES to scrape the bottom of OUR ocean, so that all the
      plankton died..and this contributed GREATLY to the fishery becoming a
      lost piece of our ‘so-called Province!’
      I always despised Joey
      Smallwood, and viewed him as a traitor who had sold us out…and given
      OUR water to Quebec to sell BACK to us at the most expensive rates in
      Canada…and all Joey wanted to do was hob nob with the rich and famous
      and feel elite….so God forgive me…I didn’t feel overwhelming sorrow
      when he died in relative POVERTY, because that’s what HE thrust upon us,
      by ALLOWING himself to be bought AND sold by Canada AND Britain.
      If
      we went into Confederation in 1949 with an 11 MILLION SURPLUS and eight
      years later, were broke? It sure as hell wasn’t because it was USED to
      help Newfoundland. THAT money was spent on ON and Quebec and other
      Provinces, and I, and MY children, who now LIVE In ON….I moved home
      three years ago….had to do WITHOUT because of Ottawa’s PANDERING to
      every other Province EXCEPT Newfoundland. And then Stephen Harper DARES
      to say we were a ‘welfare state’ after THEY made us one? Any REAL
      Newfoundlander would be INCENSED by that, as I am. And always will be.
      It
      states in the LEGAL documents…now released by the British…that it
      was ILLEGAL to take our ‘COUNTRY’ status from us…and YES, we WOULD
      make it without Ottawa, and QUITE happily so. Because THEN? We’d have
      FULL control over OUR Oil and Gas, which former Premier of NL, Danny
      Williams, had to fight tooth and nail for….to get FORTY PERCENT of the
      revenues, while ALBERTA has ALWAYS been ‘allowed’ 100% of their’s, from
      the GET GO. So, YES, I AM incensed…..and we WERE sold out….because
      our water, our fishery, our lumber, our ore…on and on and on….were
      USED by the rest of Canada who were MOCKING us, and were IGNORANT of the
      fact that it was OUR ore that was heating their homes and their
      offices.
      If we can’t do better on our OWN than we did being pimped
      out by Ottawa, then we deserve what we get! BUT, I can assure
      you…..there is NO way in hell that we wouldn’t be going down without a
      FIGHT, because that IS the one thing that Ottawa and Canada DID give
      us….a backbone….and we CAN survive, because WE have built most of
      Canada, and our men and women, to THIS day, shamefully, have to leave
      home for months to go to work in Alberta, when WE have THE richest
      deposits of Oil and Gas in the WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!
      I say, secede….because when you’ve been raped, pillaged and robbed? What do we REALLY have to lose? NOTHING!

  3. C.N. – Not possible we could make a go of it on our own, I suppose? At the very least we deserved to make that decision of our own accord.

  4. I love Greg. He’s most likely right about much of this. But, I’m not sure that Newfoundlanders didn’t actually make an informed decision. My grandparents were ardent confederationists to their deaths and glad of the benefits that came with it. And yet, whenever Granny said “all over the country”…she always meant the province (or did she mean the country!). I’ve lived “up in Canada” as a great aunt called this place, for a decade…but if there is ever a disagreement of the order of the Quebecois struggle, I certainly would give up my Canadian passport for a Newfoundland one!

  5. This is a rant from the heart of the anti-Confederation heartland-the Southern Shore and St.John’s. Malone is merely repeating what the anti-Confererates said at the time. Perhaps he is too young to know what life was like in the Newfoundland outports pre-Confederation when a father went to the community merchant at the end of the season to see whether he had a plus or minus in his credit account and how his family would survive the winter. Most everyone of my generation (I was born in 1947) benefited enormously from Confederation with access to education, healthcare, roads etc. We went on to graduate from university or college and get well-paying jobs, options that would not have been available to us pre-Confederation. It’s fashionable among the intelligentia these days to pine for an independent Newfoundland. But don’t do so based on Malone’s distorted rendering of what occurred in the political battle leading to Confederation. But Sir Peter Cashin would be proud of his tale…

  6. Newfoundland continued Dominion status from 1907-1949, though truly only in name from 33-49. The initial act granting Commission of Govt by Britain in 1933 included a statute that Newfoundland must revert to self-governing status once the finances were in order, which in 1946 they certainly were, and revert to self-governance (the Govt of 1932 was never rescinded), prior to any other constitutional changes to the Country. THIS did not happen. The National Assembly of 1948 was NOT a Government, it had no authority to give the country away. And yet, it did.

  7. I’ve KNOWN as far back as I remember, that something was amiss with our ‘relationship’ with Ottawa. And to Scott Parson’s comments…MY father was a fisherman too, and I recall going to the store and being given his pay packet and how the coins jingled as I ran home with it. THEN, he’d have to divide it among his crew, and I cry as I think how he struggled over the decision that he had to take a little extra, because he OWNED the equipment and it wasn’t going to repair or mend itself. Unlike YOU though, Scott, I didn’t HAVE the opportunity to go to University and our roads weren’t paved until MY children were four and five years old, so you must’ve lived in an area that had a representative in both the Provincial AND Federal Government to have been accorded those ‘riches’ which you all took for granted! And I DO remember my father telling me of how everyone, under British rule, was allotted SIX CENTS a day to survive on. But, I always knew there was something wrong, and I’ve fought it since I was a child.
    What I ALSO remember though..because I was an avid tomboy, who would sneak aboard his boat, with the help of his crew….are the days when my father’s skiff was SO full of fish, they were rolling over the side and back into the Ocean, and when the Cod Bag they towed was full also, along with the dory they pulled behind the skiff.
    When I was a teenager..EARLY teens, I’d go out through our door at night and look out through the ‘mouth’ of the Cove where I lived, and see SO many lights, it looked like a ‘city!’…THAT ‘city’ was Newfoundland being WHORED out to Portugal, Spain, France, and on and on, BY Ottawa. What I was viewing were those foreign boats raping OUR fishing grounds so that Ontario or Quebec or some other ‘important’ part of Canada that needed a new car deal, or import/export deal, GOT it, at OUR expense and blood and sweat.
    And MY brother’s worked on trawlers and had to move to NOVA SCOTIA because ‘they’ were NOT allowed to fish in the same areas as those foreign freezer boats…nor were those boat’s netting checked for size, as were NL trawlers…and they also used RAKES to scrape the bottom of OUR ocean, so that all the plankton died..and this contributed GREATLY to the fishery becoming a lost piece of our ‘so-called Province!’
    I always despised Joey Smallwood, and viewed him as a traitor who had sold us out…and given OUR water to Quebec to sell BACK to us at the most expensive rates in Canada…and all Joey wanted to do was hob nob with the rich and famous and feel elite….so God forgive me…I didn’t feel overwhelming sorrow when he died in relative POVERTY, because that’s what HE thrust upon us, by ALLOWING himself to be bought AND sold by Canada AND Britain.
    If we went into Confederation in 1949 with an 11 MILLION SURPLUS and eight years later, were broke? It sure as hell wasn’t because it was USED to help Newfoundland. THAT money was spent on ON and Quebec and other Provinces, and I, and MY children, who now LIVE In ON….I moved home three years ago….had to do WITHOUT because of Ottawa’s PANDERING to every other Province EXCEPT Newfoundland. And then Stephen Harper DARES to say we were a ‘welfare state’ after THEY made us one? Any REAL Newfoundlander would be INCENSED by that, as I am. And always will be.
    It states in the LEGAL documents…now released by the British…that it was ILLEGAL to take our ‘COUNTRY’ status from us…and YES, we WOULD make it without Ottawa, and QUITE happily so. Because THEN? We’d have FULL control over OUR Oil and Gas, which former Premier of NL, Danny Williams, had to fight tooth and nail for….to get FORTY PERCENT of the revenues, while ALBERTA has ALWAYS been ‘allowed’ 100% of their’s, from the GET GO. So, YES, I AM incensed…..and we WERE sold out….because our water, our fishery, our lumber, our ore…on and on and on….were USED by the rest of Canada who were MOCKING us, and were IGNORANT of the fact that it was OUR ore that was heating their homes and their offices.
    If we can’t do better on our OWN than we did being pimped out by Ottawa, then we deserve what we get! BUT, I can assure you…..there is NO way in hell that we wouldn’t be going down without a FIGHT, because that IS the one thing that Ottawa and Canada DID give us….a backbone….and we CAN survive, because WE have built most of Canada, and our men and women, to THIS day, shamefully, have to leave home for months to go to work in Alberta, when WE have THE richest deposits of Oil and Gas in the WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I say, secede….because when you’ve been raped, pillaged and robbed? What do we REALLY have to lose? NOTHING!

  8. Today I wonder if the arrival of the General BILBOA’s Italian Air Amada, complete with submarines and gunboat on the shores of Newfoudland in 1933 had anything to do with the suspension of Newfoundland’s Responsible Government…..maybe they overstayed their welcome during a stop for fuel? “the descendants of Cabot and supporters of Musselini”

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