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
||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.
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 19½ 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
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
(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
* 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.