From ‘Colony of Newfoundland’ to the ‘Dominion of Newfoundland’

Archival Moment

September 26, 1907

There was a time when the Dominion of Newfoundland had a passport.

There was a time when the Dominion of Newfoundland had a passport.

On 26 September, 1907, Edward VII, declared the Colony of Newfoundland, having enjoyed responsible government since 1854, the status of an independent Dominion within the British Empire.

The change of name shifted the official title of Newfoundland from the ‘Colony of Newfoundland’ to the ‘Dominion of Newfoundland’.

The name change was made to clarify the theoretical equality of status within the British Empire of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland.

On September 26, 1907, by a Royal Proclamation, ‘dominion’ became the distinguishing label for Newfoundland and New Zealand.

To acknowledge their new status the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir Joseph Ward sent a telegram to the Premier of Newfoundland on the day before the official proclamation that read: “upon the eve of the change send you warmest greetings”. Sir Robert Bond of Newfoundland responded: “I heartily reciprocate your cordial greeting and sincerely wish the Dominion of New Zealand the fullest measure of prosperity.”

By the official proclamation Sir Robert Bond was the last Premier of the Colony of Newfoundland 1900 to 1907 and the first Prime Minister of the Dominion of Newfoundland from 1907 to 1909.

After the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the definition of dominion became lot more precise, with the British drawing a clear line of separation between what was a “dominion” and what was a “colony.” From henceforth, a “dominion” was declared to be an independent country, united in “free association [as] members of the British Commonwealth of Nations” which were in turn “united by a common allegiance to the Crown.”

After 1931 the Imperial Parliament (The Westminster Statue) gave up most of its power to pass laws for the dominions, which in turn gave rise to the status quo of today, where we have a number of independent countries who nevertheless recognize the British monarch as their head of state and form a symbolic union with one another.

The Westminster Statute formally recognized: The Dominion of Canada; The Dominion of New Zealand; The Irish Free State; The Commonwealth of Australia; The Union of South Africa and Newfoundland with “dominion” status in this regard.

Unlike other dominions, and quite unique in history, the government of Newfoundland in 1934 voted to abandon self-government in favor of direct rule from London, becoming the rare entity to reject independence in favor of being governed by someone else.

In 1949 Newfoundland became a province of Canada.

Recommended Archival Collection:  Newfoundland Royal Commission 1933 Report : Presented by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to Parliament by command of His Majesty, November, 1933. Call Number    HC 117 N4 G74 1933


Recommended Exhibit: Here, We Made a Home. The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4. The Rooms.   At the eastern edge of the continent, bounded by the sea, the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador’s livyers was tied to the fisheries and the North Atlantic. A rich mix of dialects, ways of life, food traditions, story and song developed here. Shaped by the unique combination of location, history, cultures – English, Irish, French, Scottish – this gallery shares many of these traditions and stories. Some are personal and local; others reflect roles and achievements on the world stage. Running through most of them are qualities of perseverance and innovation, courage and generosity.

Did you know that the original document – The Terms of Union with Canada is held in the Provincial Archives in The Rooms.