May 23, 1869
On (May 23, 1869) Edward Morris of St. John’s wrote in his diary about all of the activity at the dockside in St. John’s . He observed “about 500 men” getting ready to leave Newfoundland in search for work. He wrote in his diary:
“Yesterday the “Merlin” Steamer left Shea’s Wharf for Nova Scotia with upwards of 500 men to work on the inter colonial railway. The saddest evidence of the depressed state of this colony (Newfoundland) that has as yet been presented. When the able and the young go away to work upon the roads in the other provinces in preference to remaining to prosecute the fisheries it speaks little for the inducements of the fisherman’s occupation.”
The jobs that the 500 Newfoundlanders were seeking by taking the Steamer ‘Merlin from St. John’s to Nova Scotia were jobs on the inter colonial railway, under construction linking the Maritime colonies and Canada. Completion of the railway was made a condition of Confederation in 1867.
The out migration, that Edward Morris witnessed, by his fellow Newfoundlanders is a constant theme in Newfoundland history. The people of Newfoundlandand moved to other countries for a wide range of reasons throughout the 1800’s, emigration occurred on the largest scale during the last two decades of the century when the cod fishery fell into severe decline and caused widespread economic hardship.
While some people left their homes permanently, others worked in foreign countries on a seasonal or temporary basis before returning home. Most emigrants moved to Canada or the United States. The vast majority to “the Boston States.”
In more recent times we have witnessed (1996 and 2001) , about 47,100 people pulling up stakes and leaving the province.
Since 2009 there has been more positive news.
The overall population today in Newfoundland and Labrador sits at 527,000 up almost 18,000 since 2007.
Newfoundland and Labrador has however seen three years of negative natural increase. From July 1, 2012 to July 1, 2013, there were 286 more deaths than births, in the province. Newfoundland and Labrador’s birthrate, at 1.45 per woman as of 2011, is second lowest in the country next to British Columbia at 1.42.
The population of this province today at 527.000 still well below the 1992 population peak of 580,100.
Recommended Reading: Newfoundland: Journey Into a Lost Nation by Michael Crummey and Greg Locke.McClelland & Stewart. Chronicles the passage of a time when cod were still plentiful and the fishery shaped the lives of most of the island’s inhabitants, to the present, when a vibrant economy, propelled by oil and mineral development, is recasting the island’s identity in a new mould.
Recommended Website: Statistics Canada – http://www5.statcan.gc.ca/subject-sujet/theme-theme.action?pid=3867&lang=eng&more=0 Data and studies on human populations as well as the growth factors of those populations (births, deaths, and migrations). It site also contains data and studies relating to causes and consequences of demographic changes, especially aging of the population.