Tag Archives: Confederation

Bishop not happy with Confederation



How did Newfoundland vote?

How did Newfoundland vote?

It was no secret that Archbishop Edward Patrick Roche, the leader of the Catholic Church in St. John’s during the referendum debates in Newfoundland in 1948 was strongly opposed to Newfoundland joining Confederation.  He took every opportunity that he could to encourage “his people” to vote for Responsible Government.

The anti-confederate forces were divided between the Responsible Government League [RGL] and the Economic Union Party [EUP]. The RGL advocated a simple return to the status Newfoundland had held in 1933.  A group of younger anti-confederates formed the EUP, led by Chesley Crosbie, which promoted the idea of a special economic relationship with the United States.

In contrast, the Confederate Association under Joey Smallwood and Gordon Bradley was better funded, better organized, and had an effective island-wide network. They campaigned hard and with considerable skill and confidence.

On June 3, 1948 the results of the first referendum were released. Confederation received 64,066 votes, 41.1 percent of the total, Responsible government with 69,400 votes (44.6 percent) and Commission government was last, with 22,311 votes (14.3 percent).

A second referendum was set for 22 July 1948, with Commission dropped from the ballot.

Archbishop Roche was not a happy man.  He looked at the results of the first referendum only to find that areas of the province that had a significant Catholic population had voted for Confederation.  He was especially displeased with the people of  Marystown on the Burin peninsula who had voted for Confederation with Canada.  He laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the parish priest Reverend John Fleming.

On June 26, 1948 he wrote to the Reverend Fleming:

“Words are cheap; actions speak. In the recent referendum your people of Marystown – a majority of them – aligned themselves against the rest of the Diocese.  This was due largely either to your misguided leadership or to your masterly inactivity.”  200/F/2/1

Following  the 22 July 1948  the Confederation option won a small majority over the Responsible Government choice, Confederation winning by 78,323 votes or 52.34 per cent over 71,344 or 47.66 per cent over the latter. Voter turnout was 84.89 per cent of the registered electors.

The Responsible Government option carried in seven districts, all on the Avalon Peninsula, and the Confederate vote carried in the remaining districts.  The Confederates successfully picked up the vote previously given in the first referendum to the Commission of Government option. The same regional voting pattern evident in the first referendum was also present in the second referendum, with the Roman Catholic vote off the Avalon Peninsula having played a significant role in the Confederate vote.

Reverend John Fleming was not the only Catholic priest to advocate for Confederation. It is said that Joey Smallwood in 1964 on the death of  the Reverend William Collins who had served in many parishes in Placentia Bay attended the wake service of Reverend Collins. At the service it is alleged that Smallwood said:

“When I die and go to the pearly gates, I will greet St. Peter and I will ask if Father Collins is sitting on the heavenly throne ,  if this good Confederation supporter,  this priest has not been welcomed into the heavens, I too will refuse to enter.”

On March 31, 1949, Archbishop Roche would not have  been in  the mood to celebrate.   The act creating the new Canadian province of Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador) came into force just before midnight on March 31, 1949; ceremonies marking the occasion did not take place until April 1.

The British Parliament passed the necessary legislation on 23 March, and the Terms of Union came into effect “immediately before the expiration of the thirty-first day of March 1949” (Term 50).

With the death of Joey Smallwood in 1991 the Government of Newfoundland asked the Roman Catholic Basilica parish, where Archbishop Roche is buried in the crypt, if they would host the funeral for the former premier.  The Basilica parish agreed.  It was the first time that the two were in the same building.  The choir director (Sister Kathrine Bellamy, RSM ) said  to one of the choir members,  “Would you go down into the crypt and sit on Archbishop Roche’s coffin, for surely he is spinning in his grave that they have allowed Joey in his church.”


Recommended Exhibit: Future Possible: Art of Newfoundland and Labrador from 1949 to Present:   Taking place on the 70th anniversary of Confederation with Canada, this exhibition gathers close to 100 artworks, images and objects from across The Rooms art gallery, archives and museum collections to ask questions about how histories are told and re-told. The exhibition examines the period after Confederation in 1949, placing historical works in conversation with works by contemporary artists. The exhibition will be accompanied in Fall 2019 by a major publication that marks the first comprehensive art history of the province.

Recommended Website:  The 1948 Referendums:  http://www.heritage.nf.ca/law/referendums.html


Confederation with Canada


“… we do not feel that you in Newfoundland have ever been strangers… “

March 31, 1949

The act creating the new  Canadian province of Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador) came into force just before midnight on March 31, 1949, ceremonies marking the occasion did not take place until April 1.

The British Parliament passed the necessary legislation on 23 March, and the Terms of Union came into effect “immediately before the expiration of the thirty-first day of March 1949” (Term 50).


In Newfoundland, official events were concentrated in St. John’s. There was a brief swearing-in ceremony at Government House for the new lieutenant-governor, Sir Albert Walsh, who then accepted a Canadian citizenship certificate on behalf of all Newfoundlanders. Those present at the ceremony listened to a broadcast of the ceremonies in Ottawa before attending a reception. Later in the day, Walsh swore in the first members of the interim government. Despite the fierce contest that had led to  this point, the day passed  very quietly, with little demonstration either for or against Confederation.

The official ceremonies at Ottawa took place on Parliament Hill. The Peace Tower carillon began by playing “Squid Jigging Ground,” a traditional Newfoundland song. Official speeches then followed, coming from Prime Minister St. Laurent and F. Gordon Bradley.   The Prime Minster said:

“In greeting you as fellow citizens we do not feel that you in Newfoundland have ever been strangers. In peace we have been happy to live and work beside you. In two wars we have been glad you were in our company and we in yours. We have the same traditions and the same way of life… He continued … During the centuries since the original settlement of Newfoundland, the people of your island have met the forces of nature, on sea and on land. In adversity and in prosperity they have developed qualities of heart and spirit for which they are renowned.”

F. Gordon Bradley,  chosen to act as the new province’s first representative in the federal government; said to those gathered:

“… This is a day which will live long in North American history. It is a day of fulfilment – fulfilment of a vision of great men who planned the nation of Canada more than eighty years ago …. I fancy we see them now, bending over this scene in silent and profound approval …. Thus we begin life as one people in an atmosphere of unity. We are all Canadians now ….

Joseph R. Smallwood would become the first premier.

St. Laurent then made the first few cuts into a blank escutcheon that had been reserved for Newfoundland’s coat of arms since the reconstruction of the Centre Block after the fire of 1916.

After a speech from the Governor General, events concluded with the singing of “God Save the King,” “Ode to Newfoundland,” and “O Canada.” As events were broadcast via radio, people from Newfoundland were able to listen in.

Recommended Archival Collection: At The Rooms Provincial Archives Division  explore  GN 154  a collection that  consists of minutes of the delegations 41 meetings in St. John’s; letters to the Chairman and the Secretary of the Newfoundland Delegation to Ottawa from societies, business firms, Labour unions, etc. regarding the effect of Confederation on various organizations.

Recommended Exhibit:  Here, We Made a Home. The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4. The Rooms.   Come over to the Rooms and find Joey Smallwood’s glasses and bowtie.

Did you know that the Newfoundland and Labrador official version of – The Terms of Union with Canada are  held  in The Rooms.


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.


Terms of union with Canada signed


11 December 1948

On December 11, 1948, following two months of discussions the Newfoundland and Canadian negotiating teams signed the terms of union that would eventually see the country of Newfoundland become a province of Canada.

The Newfoundland negotiating team that went to Ottawa to discuss the terms of union was composed of National Convention members Gordon Bradley, J.R. Smallwood, Albert Walsh, Chesley Crosbie, Gordon Winter, John McEvoy, and Philip Gruchy. They met with representatives from the Department of External Affairs, including Louis St. Laurent and Lester Pearson, as well as Prime Minister Mackenzie King.

The teams worked for a period of approximately two months in 1948, using the draft terms from 1947 as a starting point. Although for the most part the process went smoothly, there were a few stumbling blocks, such as the provision of transitional payments to offset Newfoundland’s deficit. The Canadian government was also reluctant to make firm commitments without a legislature present in Newfoundland. Eventually a mutually satisfactory agreement was completed and on December 11, 1948 the terms of union were signed by all except Chesley Crosbie.

Crosbie had been the leader of the Economic Union Party, a party that proposed a free trade agreement with the United States  as an alternative to Confederation. He believed that if Newfoundland could export its resources to the United States the economy would be strong enough for responsible government to succeed. He did not sign these terms because he felt that the financial clauses would not allow Newfoundland’s provincial government to balance its books.

The irony is considerable, his son John Crosbie, the former Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, became a prominent politician, serving as a cabinet minister  in the government of Brian Mulroney.  As the Newfoundland representative in the  Canadian federal cabinet he fulfilled his father’s dream and became the architect of the Canada – U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

Recommended Archival Collection: In appending their names to the Terms of Union each of the signatories were given a copy.  Did you know that the original provincial  copy of the Terms of Union with Canada is held at the Rooms Provincial Archives.

Recommended Exhibit:  Here, We Made a Home in  The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4.  has a copy of the Terms of Union on exhibit.

Recommended Reading: Confederation: Deciding Newfoundland’s Future, 1934 to 1949 by James K. Hiller, St. John’s, Nfld: Newfoundland Historical Society, reprinted with minor corrections 1999.

Recommended Reading: Don’t Tell The Newfoundlanders: The Story Of Newfoundland’s Confederation With Canada by Greg Malone. Knopf Canada (2012).


“Archbishop, spinning in his grave”


September 23, 1950

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 23-129; Archbishop Edward Patrick Roche
Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 23-129; Archbishop Edward Patrick Roche

Edward Patrick Roche was born in Placentia  on February 14, 1874  son of Edward Roche and Mary Riely (O’Reiley) He was educated at St. Patrick’s Hall School  and St. Bonaventure’s College, both in St. John’s, and studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood at All Hallows College, Dublin, Ireland, being ordained there June 24, 1897.

In 1907 he was transferred to St. John’s where he became Chancellor and Vicar-General of the Archdiocese under Archbishop Michael F. Howley.

On February 26, 1915 Pope Pius X appointed him Archbishop of St. John’s. He was consecrated as Archbishop at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. John’s, on June 29, 1915.

It was as a supporter of the return of Newfoundland to responsible government and as a determined opponent of Confederation with Canada he gained much notoriety in the late 1940s. The campaign for confederation found in him one of its fiercest opponents.

He was convinced that no good could come to Newfoundland from Confederation.  The archbishop argued through the pages of The Monitor, the monthly Roman Catholic newspaper that before confederation could be thought of,  responsible government— as promised by Britain — was the way to go.  He was actively involved in the 1948 referenda campaigns, encouraging all Newfoundlanders, but particularly Roman Catholics, to vote for the return of responsible government.

Roche died on September 23, 1950, a little less than a year and a half after Confederation, after having served as Archbishop for over 35 years.

He was buried in the crypt under the main altar of the Basilica Cathedral.

Even in death, some Roman Catholics argue, Archbishop Roche was not reconciled to Confederation.  When Archbishop Roche’s great foe the Confederate Premier Joseph R. Smallwood died in December 1991 the provincial government approached the Roman Catholic Basilica Cathedral to host a state funeral for him.  The Basilica has the larger seating capacity of any church in the city.  The irony of having Joey Smallwood in the Roman Catholic Basilica was not lost on some parishioners.  It is said, that one of the Basilica Parishioners was urged to go into the crypt during the funeral service because the suspicion was that “Roche was spinning in his grave because Smallwood was in his church.”

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives  explore GN 154  Newfoundland Delegation to Ottawa  fonds. This series consists of letters to the Chairman and the Secretary of the Newfoundland Delegation to Ottawa from various societies, business firms, unions, and government agencies concerning the ramifications of confederation with Canada for Newfoundland interests. The series are arranged by subject.

Recommended Publication: Confederation: Deciding Newfoundland’s Future, 1934 to 1949 by James K. Hiller, St. John’s, Nfld: Newfoundland Historical Society, 1998; reprinted with minor corrections 1999 75p. : bib, illus, map

Recommedned Reading on Line: ‘The True Father of Confederation’?: Archbishop E. P. Roche. Term 17, and Newfoundland’s Confederation with Canada  by John Edward FitzGerald.  Newfoundland Studies 14, 2 (1998)  http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/NFLDS/article/view/787/1141

Recommended Song:  Joan Morrissey, The Anti Confederation Song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLpWCiFyHT0