Dominion of Newfoundland: Wikis


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Dominion of Newfoundland

1907 – 19491

Flag Coat of arms
Quaerite Prime Regnum Dei
(Latin for "Seek ye first the kingdom of God")
Ode to Newfoundland
Capital St. John's
Language(s) English
Government Constitutional monarchy
King Edward VII
George V
Edward VIII
George VI
Prime Minister Sir Robert Bond
Sir Edward Patrick Morris
Sir William F. Lloyd
Sir Michael Patrick Cashin
Sir Richard Squires
William Warren
Albert Hickman
Walter Stanley Monroe
Frederick C. Alderdice
Legislature House of Assembly
Historical era Interwar period
 - Independence September 26, 1907 1907
 - Commission of Government February 16, 1934
 - Newfoundland Act March 23, 1949 1949
Currency Newfoundland dollar
1 de facto, In 1934, Newfoundland gave up self-rule, but remained a de jure independent Dominion until it joined Canada in 1949.

The Dominion of Newfoundland was a British dominion from 1907 (before which the territory had the status of a British colony, self-governing from 1855) to 1949. The Dominion of Newfoundland was situated in northeastern North America along the Atlantic coast and comprised the island of Newfoundland and Labrador on the continental mainland. The dominion was self-governing from 1907 to 1934 when it voluntarily gave up self-government and reverted to direct control from London — one of the few countries that has ever voluntarily given up direct self-rule. Between 1934 and 1949 a six-member Commission of Government (plus a governor) administered Newfoundland, reporting to the Dominions Office in London. Newfoundland remained a de jure Dominion[1] until it joined Canada in 1949 to become Canada's tenth province.


Political origins

In 1854 the British government established Newfoundland's Responsible government[2]. In 1855, Philip Francis Little, a native of Prince Edward Island, won a parliamentary majority over Sir Hugh Hoyles and the Conservatives. Little formed the first administration from 1855 to 1858. Newfoundland rejected confederation with Canada in the 1869 general election. Prime Minister of Canada Sir John Thompson came very close to negotiating Newfoundland's entry into Confederation in 1892.

It remained a colony until acquiring Dominion status on September 26, 1907,[3] along with New Zealand. It successfully negotiated a trade-agreement with the United States, but the British government blocked this after Canada raised objections.

World War I and after

Newfoundland's own regiment, the 1st Newfoundland Regiment, fought in the First World War. On July 1, 1916, the German Army wiped out most of that regiment at Beaumont Hamel on the first day on the Somme. Yet the regiment went on to serve with distinction in several subsequent battles, earning the prefix "Royal." Despite people's pride in the accomplishments of the regiment, Newfoundland's war debt for the regiment and the cost of maintaining a trans-island railway led to increased and ultimately unsustainable government debt in the post-war era.

In the 1920s, political scandals wracked the Dominion. In 1923, the Attorney General arrested Newfoundland's Prime Minister Sir Richard Squires on charges of corruption. Despite his release soon after on bail, the British-led Hollis Walker commission reviewed the scandal. Soon after, the Squires government fell. Squires returned to power in 1928 because of the unpopularity of his successors, the pro-business Walter Stanley Monroe and (briefly) Frederick C. Alderdice (Monroe's cousin), but found himself governing a country suffering from the Great Depression.

The Imperial Privy Council resolved Newfoundland's long-standing Labrador boundary dispute with Canada to the satisfaction of Newfoundland and of Canada (but not of Quebec, the province that bordered Labrador) with a ruling on April 1, 1927. Prior to 1867, the Quebec North Shore portion of the "Labrador coast" had shuttled back and forth between the colonies of Lower Canada and Newfoundland. Maps up to 1927 showed the coastal region as part of Newfoundland, with an undefined boundary. The Privy Council ruling established a boundary along the drainage divide separating waters that flowed through the territory to the Labrador coast, although following two straight lines from the Romaine River along the 52nd parallel, then south near 57 degrees west longitude to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Quebec has long rejected the outcome, and Quebec's provincially issued maps do not mark the boundary in the same way as boundaries with Ontario and New Brunswick.

End of responsible government

Not surprisingly for a small country which relied primarily upon the export of fish, paper and minerals, the Great Depression hit Newfoundland very hard. Economic frustration combined with anger over government corruption led to a general dissatisfaction with democratic government. On April 5, 1932, a mob of 10,000 people marched on the Colonial Building (seat of the House of Assembly) and forced Squires to flee. Squires lost the election held later in 1932. The next government, led once more by Alderdice, called upon the British government to take direct control until Newfoundland could become self-sustaining. The United Kingdom, concerned over Newfoundland's likelihood of defaulting on its war-debt payments, established the Newfoundland Royal Commission, headed by a Scottish peer, Baron Amulree. Its report, released in 1933, assessed Newfoundland's political culture as intrinsically corrupt and its economic prospects as bleak, and advocated the abolition of responsible government, and its replacement by a Commission of the British Government. Acting on the report's recommendations, Alderdice's government voted itself out of existence in December 1933.

In 1934, the Dominion suspended Newfoundland's self-governing status and the Commission of Government took control. Newfoundland remained a Dominion in name only.[1] A severe depression persisted until World War II broke out in 1939.

World War II

Given Newfoundland's strategic location in the Battle of the Atlantic, the Allies (especially the United States of America) built many military bases there. Large numbers of unskilled men gained the first paycheques they had seen in years by working on construction and in dockside crews. National income doubled overnight as an economic boom took place in the Avalon Peninsula and to a lesser degree in Gander, Botwood, and Stephenville. The United States became the main supplier, and American money and influence diffused rapidly from the military, naval, and air bases. Prosperity returned to the fishing industry by 1943. Government revenues, aided by inflation and new income, quadrupled, even though Newfoundland had tax rates much lower than those in Canada, Britain, or the United States. To the astonishment of all, Newfoundland started financing loans to London. Wartime prosperity ended the long depression and reopened the question of political status.

The American Bases Act became law in Newfoundland on 11 June 1941. As Earle (1998) finds, Newfoundland girls married American personnel by the thousands, "the Yanks' jaunty manner and easy social ways making an often stark contrast to the Canadian servicemen who at this time began to coin the epithet 'Newfie.'" The American connection worked so well that the Canadian government in Ottawa became alarmed. A new political party formed to support closer ties with the U.S., the Economic Union Party, which Earle characterises as "a short-lived but lively movement for economic union with the United States". Advocates of union with Canada denounced the Economic Union Party as republican, disloyal and anti-British; Britain refused to allow the voting populace the option to choose union with the U.S., and the U.S. State Department, needing British and Canadian cooperation in World War II, decided not to interfere.[4]

National Convention and referendums

Following World War II, in 1946, an election took place to determine the membership of the Newfoundland National Convention, charged with deciding the future of Newfoundland. The Convention voted to hold a referendum to decide between continuing the Commission of Government or restoring responsible government. Joseph R. Smallwood, the leader of the confederates, moved for the inclusion of a third option — that of confederation with Canada. The Convention defeated his motion, but he did not give up, instead gathering more than 5,000 petition signatures within a fortnight, which he sent to London through the Governor. The United Kingdom, insisting that it would not give Newfoundland any further financial assistance, added this third option of having Newfoundland join Canada to the ballot. After much debate, an initial referendum took place on June 3, 1948 to decide between continuing with the Commission of Government, reverting to Dominion status, or joining the Canadian Confederation. Three parties participated in the referendum campaign: Smallwood's Confederate Association campaigned for the Confederation option while in the anti-Confederation campaign Peter Cashin's Responsible Government League and Chesley Crosbie's Economic Union Party (both of which called for a vote for responsible government) took part. No party advocated petitioning Britain to continue the Commission of Government.

The Newfoundland dollar bill issued in 1920
Newfoundland postage stamp

The result proved inconclusive, with 44.5% supporting the restoration of Dominion status, 41.1% for confederation with Canada, and 14.3% for continuing the Commission of Government. Between the first and second referendums, rumour had it that Catholic bishops were using their religious influence to alter the outcome of the votes. The Orange Order, incensed, called on all its members to vote for Confederation, as the Catholics voted for responsible government. The Protestants of Newfoundland outnumbered the Catholics by a ratio of 2:1. Some commentators believe that this sectarian divide greatly influenced the outcome of the second referendum. A second referendum on July 22, 1948, which asked Newfoundlanders to choose between Confederation and Dominion status, produced a vote of 52% to 48% for confederation, and Newfoundland joined Canada on March 31, 1949.

Not everyone accepted the results, however. Peter John Cashin, an outspoken anti-Confederate, questioned the validity of the votes. He claimed that an "unholy union between London and Ottawa" brought about confederation.

See also

Political parties in the Dominion of Newfoundland


  1. ^ a b Webb, Jeff A. (January 2003). "The Commission of Government, 1934-1949". Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site (2007). Retrieved 2007-08-10.  
  2. ^ Webb, Jeff. "Representative Government, 1832-1855". Retrieved 2008-10-17.  
  3. ^ Newfoundland & Labrador and Canadian Federalism - History of Newfoundland & Labrador
  4. ^ Karl McNeil Earle, "Cousins of a Kind: The Newfoundland and Labrador Relationship with the United States" American Review of Canadian Studies, Vol. 28, 1998


  • Karl McNeil Earle, "Cousins of a Kind: The Newfoundland and Labrador Relationship with the United States" American Review of Canadian Studies, Vol. 28, 1998 online edition
  • C. R. Fay; Life and Labour in Newfoundland University of Toronto Press, 1956
  • R. A. MacKay; Newfoundland; Economic, Diplomatic, and Strategic Studies Oxford University Press, 1946
  • Arthur Berriedale Keith; Responsible Government in the Dominions Clarendon Press, 1912
  • Arthur Berriedale Keith; "The Report of the Newfoundland Royal Commission" Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law, Third Series", Vol. 16, No. 1 (1934), pages 25–39

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