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 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,
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.
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