CHAPTER VIII.--ALTERNATIVE COURSES OF ACTION. (continued)

The Question of the Disposal of Labrador.

  519. Labrador is a territory with an area of 110,000 square miles; it is thus about twice as large as England and nearly three times the size of Newfoundland. The interior has never been fully explored, still less surveyed, but it has been estimated that about half the territory is timbered and that, of this area, about 30,000 square miles consists of forests suitable for commercial development. About 11,350 square miles of forest lands are at present held by private individuals and companies under licence from the Crown, such licenses running for 99 years and providing for the payment of an annual rental of $2 a square mile. It would thus appear, on the basis of the above figures, that there remain some 19,000 square miles of forest lands which have not yet been allocated. The remainder consists of lightly-timbered lands, marsh lands and barrens. The forests are known to contain large quantities of valuable timber suitable for pulpwood, pit props and other commercial purposes. It is said that in the river valleys growth is rapid and even luxuriant. The climate is clear, cold and still, with a greater proportion of sunshine than the northern peninsula of Newfoundland.*

Kanmaget Range Kanmaget Range and the "Bishop's Mitre", Labrador, n.d.
Photographer unknown. From the album of photographs furnished to the Newfoundland Royal Commission, August 1933. Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Coll-207), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.
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  520. It has long been thought a not unreasonable assumption that mineral areas may be found in Labrador similar to the rich areas in the adjoining province of Quebec. Prospecting on a limited scale was undertaken during this summer, the results of which have not come up to expectations, but it is the present intention to continue the work. An area of three square miles or 1,920 acres has recently been granted in fee simple for purposes of mineral development and 19 square miles, or 12,480 acres, are held for lease for similar purposes, the leases running for 99 years. In addition, prospecting licences have been granted to various individuals for a period of three years over an area of 2,240 square miles, or 1,433,600 acres. The granting of these licences was recently confirmed by the Legislature in an Act entitled "An Act to Ratify certain Agreements relating to Mining Rights in Labrador." The agreements provide in most cases for the grant of prospecting rights to each licensee over an area of 100 square miles; for an immediate payment of $1,000 and for an annual rental of the same amount; and for the expenditure by the licensee of a minimum sum of $5,000 a year. The agreements are so drawn as to permit of assignment and there are grounds for the belief that they have in most cases been entered into for speculative purposes.

  521. Labrador is also known to possess water facilities of a high order which could no doubt be turned to profitable use in any scheme of development. There are ten main rivers of which the largest, the Hamilton River, is some 300 miles in length. Rising in a plateau some 1,800 feet above sea level, the Hamilton River passes over the celebrated Grand Falls, which are 315 feet in height or more than twice as high as the Niagara Falls. It is estimated that the river here drops 760 feet within twelve miles, with a water movement of 50,000 cubic feet a second. The flow is said to be steady and strong, and numerous sites where power could be developed are known to exist. It is not unreasonable to hope that, before many years have passed, modern scientific progress will enable these resources to be utilised, not merely in connection with the development of Labrador itself, but also for the benefit of neighbouring territories.

  522. Prior to and during the litigation in 1927 in which Newfoundland's sovereignty over Labrador was confirmed, extravagant notions of the potentialities of the territory were current. When the case was won, it was felt that the fortune of the Island was made; and the belief that Newfoundland possessed in Labrador a valuable asset, which could doubtless be disposed of at a high figure if the necessity arose, provided successive Governments of the Island with an incentive to further borrowing. The estimates given in different quarters at different times of the value of the territory of Labrador with its sovereign rights vary from $50,000,000 to $500,000,000.

  523. The problem now is:--How can Newfoundland make the best use of Labrador? Much has been said on this problem.
  (a) Notwithstanding that Newfoundland is almost overwhelmed by adversity, there are those who maintain that it would be improper for the Government to enter into negotiations for the disposal of the territory and the transfer of its sovereign rights, since, in their view, it is the duty of the people to safeguard this valuable territory for future generations. It was urged by these witnesses that Newfoundland and Labrador together constitute a great outpost of the Empire; that the coast-line from Cape Chidley to Cape Race is some 1,500 miles in length, nearly as long as the coast-line of the United States on the Atlantic; that the two territories may be expected to become a centre for transatlantic aviation; and that they may look forward to a great future. It was claimed that, with the discoveries and the movements of people which each new century now brings with it, the two territories of Newfoundland and Labrador, if properly administered, might well become an industrious and prosperous community with a population commensurate to their size; and the view was put forward that Newfoundland should in any case hold Labrador until sufficient wealth had been created in the Island to enable the people of Newfoundland themselves to develop the dependency and reap the benefit of its great resources.† In the meantime, it was urged, Newfoundland should proceed cautiously and content herself with minor measures in Labrador, such as the leasing of fishing rights on the rivers and of rights to trap and hunt in the interior, and the imposition of a tax on the unoccupied or unworked lands of licensees.

  524.--(b) Others again would welcome, as a business transaction, a transfer of territory and sovereign rights to Canada. The consideration generally contemplated is a monetary one, consisting not necessarily of a lump-sum payment, but a transfer of the existing public debt of Newfoundland or such part of it as would ease the Island of the unduly heavy burden which it now has to bear.
  We are aware that tentative suggestions for the disposal of Labrador have, on several occasions during the last few years, been under discussion between the Newfoundland Government and the Quebec and Canadian Governments respectively. We are given to understand, however, that these suggestions only reached a preliminary stage and never formed the subject of active negotiations.
  It had indeed been expected that matters would be brought to a head in 1931. In June of that year it was stated in the Canadian House of Commons that the question of purchasing Labrador from Newfoundland was engaging the attention of the Canadian Government; and in the following October a delegation was appointed by the Newfoundland Government to visit Canada with a view to the opening of official discussions. By that time, however, the economic depression had set in, and the view expressed by the Canadian Government was that, until there was a general improvement in world conditions, no good purpose would be served by considering the proposal. The discussions were therefore abandoned. Since that date, the effects of the depression have made themselves felt in every country of the world, and it does not appear that the time has arrived when the discussions could be resumed with advantage.


  * Sir Wilfred Grenfell, The Story of a Labrador Doctor, 10th edition, London, 1930, p. 62.
  † Cf. Speech by His Excellency the Governor. Journal of House of Assembly, 1927, p. 116; Proceedings of House of Assembly, pp. 19 et seq.


Image description updated May, 2004.



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