Newfoundland and Canada: 1864-1949


Whether Newfoundland and Labrador should remain as an independent political entity, or join the federation of the other British North American colonies, was an issue from 1864 to 1949. In 1864, Newfoundland delegates attended the Quebec Conference and signed the resolutions which became of foundation of the 1867 British North America Act. But it was not until over 80 years later, in 1949, that Newfoundland became a Canadian province.

Active debate in the colony during the 1860s culminated in the hard-fought “confederation election” of 1869, won by the anti-confederates in a landslide victory.

William Whiteway William V. Whiteway, ca. early 1900s
Whiteway was an avowed confederate in 1869.

Photo by Lafayette Ltd. Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Coll-026), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.
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Not yet ready to give up independence, Newfoundlanders had decided that they could survive, prosper even, on their own. The election was so decisive that the idea of confederation was set aside - indeed, it became a dirty word in many circles. Thus Newfoundland became the only British North American colony to try the experiment of independence (within the British Empire).

As neighbours, Newfoundland and Canada had to negotiate and settle a wide range of issues of mutual concern over the years. Fisheries, trade, relations with the USA, the Labrador boundary and defence were among the most important. Sometimes, between 1869 and the second World War, confederation was raised as a possibility, but only once, in 1895, were there serious negotiations. These failed because neither Newfoundland nor Canada were much interested at that time.

Alfred B. Morine (1857-1944), n.d.
In the late 1890s Morine, Newfoundland's Finance Minister, supported confederation.

Artist unknown. From D.W. Prowse, A History of Newfoundland, from the English, Colonial and Foreign Records (London: Macmillan, 1895) 550.
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With the collapse of responsible government in 1934, followed by War II, Newfoundland entered a new phase in its history, and in its relationship with Canada. By 1945, the Canadians were coming to the conclusion that incorporating Newfoundland into confederation made sense. The British government thought the same. And the referendums held in 1948 showed that a majority of Newfoundlanders now agreed as well. But the vote had been preceded by a long, tense and divisive debate, and was followed by a difficult period of transition. Finally, on 31 March 1949, Newfoundlanders became Canadian citizens. How that happened has been debated ever since.

©1997, J.K. Hiller


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