Newfoundland House of Assembly Debate
April 21, 19041

The Right Hon. the Premier laid upon the table of the House a copy of a convention between the Governments of Great Britain and France with respect to the Treaty Shore of Newfoundland, and the correspondence in relation thereto.2

Right Hon. Sir Robert Bond:3

It is with a feeling of the most profound satisfaction that I, today, find myself in a position to announce to this House the result of the negotiations between His Majesty's Government and that of France in respect to what is known as the Treaty Shore of this Colony. For very many years the people of this Colony have been patiently bearing with a condition of things that has been well nigh insufferable, a condition of things that rendered a population of several thousand people, resident along a coast which stretches 800 miles between Cape John and Cape Ray, considerably less than British subjects. In other words, under the conditions that applied there and that were tolerated by His Majesty's Government through long years, these people could not rise to the full stature of children of the Empire. Their privileges were dwarfed, their ambition was restrained, and their rights as British subjects ignored and in some instances violently resisted.

While subjects of the Crown of Great Britain living upon the land which gave them birth; while contributors to the revenues of the Colony and thus entitled to the consideration and protection this implied, they could obtain no title to the land upon which they were reared, and no fixity of tenure to the homes that their industry or that of their forefathers had created. They could not ply their avocation in the waters that rolled in at their feet, teeming with treasure that meant food, comfort and independence, unless by the permission of the subjects of France, and then only with such implements as the subjects of France elected to permit. In the every day round of their business, they could not be sure of non-molestation, for if they went fishing and were fortunate enough to locate a shoal of fish, and the French discovered their success, they were almost certain to be driven from their moorings by the British Naval Officer at the request of the fishermen of France; and if they protested, their nets and other implements of trade were confiscated and off-times destroyed. Even the laws framed by this Legislature for the protection and carrying on of the fisheries of the Colony were rendered inoperative as regards one half of our coastline, because, at the instance of France, they were not permitted by His Majesty's Government to apply to the Treaty Coast.

Further, not only were the best harbours on the treaty Coast held by the Fishermen of France to the exclusion of British subjects, not only were the best fishing grounds monopolized by the fishermen of France, not only were our laws rendered inoperative, but the development of the rich mineral and other material wealth of the hinterland was virtually closed to enterprise and capital because facilities for shipping it from the coast were objected to by France and concurred in by England.

For years and years the plaintive cry has gone up to high heaven from a despoiled and dispirited people, “How long, O Lord, how long!” It has only been the remarkable loyalty and devotion of this people to the Crown that has obviated bloodshed and prevented war between the nations of England and France.

At length, though I believe in the largest measure, the personal efforts of His Majesty King Edward the Peacemaker, redress has come to us. ....................

Now then, sir, we will briefly contrast the past with the present condition of affairs and ascertain where the people of the Colony stand to-day in respect to the Treaty Shore. Up to this time the principal harbours that lie between Cape St. John on the east passing northward and down to Cape Ray have been held in possession by the subjects of France to the exclusion of British subjects, who could neither build there, carry on business of any kind or fish within the waters.

Along the whole Coast line of 800 miles they could fish only by sufferance, for if the French fishermen objected to their interference, the British Naval Officer exercised his police functions and made them move on. Under a temporary arrangement, the Modus Vivendi, they could establish Lobster Factories at certain points on the Coast, but even this privilege was subject to the approval of France. The Whaling industry could not be established there, because the French contended it would interfere with their Codfishery, and for the sake of peace England acquiesced. Mining could not be enterprised because the piers necessary for the shipment of the ore were alleged to be an obstruction contrary to the Treaties, and further because doubt was thrown upon all title to land on the Treaty Coast by the insertion of what is known as the “Treaty Clauses” in all grants. Agriculture was retarded for like reasons; and as a consequence the whole of that vast stretch of country, properly regarded as the richest section of the Island, remains to this day undeveloped and neglected. That is our position to-day. What will be the position when this Convention comes into operation?

1st. This island, which some of us love so dearly despite its backwardness, its isolation, its ruggedness, physical and climatic, may henceforth be hailed not only as our native land, but our own land, freed from every foreign claim, and the blasting influence of foreign oppression - ours in entirety - solely ours.

2nd. The fisherman may ply his avocation without let or hindrance in every creek and cove and harbour, for there will be no French Shore rights to bar his liberty. The men of the north and the south and the east and the west shall be able to claim as theirs the stations which are now French and prosecute, along the whole of what was known as the Treaty Coast, the lobster, cod, herring, salmon and other fisheries without fear or danger of molestation.

3rd. The Whaling Industry, the establishment of which on the West and North-East Coasts has been prevented by reason of the objections of France, will immediately be enterprised …

4th. Every foot of soil in the Island will now be available to our people. Mineral, Agricultural and Timber Lands, that have been awaiting development and have been virtually closed by Treaty obligations, will now be open to enterprises and capital.

5th. The Fisheries Laws that have been restricted to a portion of our Coast will apply to every part of the Island, and Naval Officers will henceforth have no shadow of authority to promulgate Rules and Regulations for the establishment of lobster factories, or the prosecution or restriction of other fisheries.

6th. A British Consul will be appointed at St. Pierre, and the smuggling that has plundered our revenue of hundreds of thousands of dollars will be brought to an end.

Taking an unprejudicial view of the situation then, we have ample reason to rejoice and to be truly thankful for what has been accomplished. The French Shore question has been settled after years and years of vain endeavour. Settled, too, without sacrifice of any interest of this Colony whatsoever. It was feared by many that a settlement would never be reached without a repeal or modification of the Bait Act, the operation of which so materially affects French interests. But the Bait Act remains unaltered, and no new baiting privileges are conveyed under the Convention. Henceforth, in the catching of bait, as well as other fish on or near our coast, the fishermen of France will be subject to our Fishery Rules and Regulations, and to such other police Rules and Regulations as may be approved by the House.

Under this Convention, let it be remembered that the French have to abandon their fishing rooms and lobster factories on every portion of the coast. If they could not successfully conduct the codfishery while they possessed the privilege of establishments in which to dry or cure their fish, and we know that they have not been able to do so for many years, we may conclude that now they are denied that privilege they will speedily abandon the fisheries on the West and Northeast coasts altogether. Their catch of cod they cannot dry on our shores, and the lobster fishery they must necessarily abandon immediately because their factories are to be removed. No other Convention ever contemplated the abandonment by the French of their establishments on the Treaty Shore. This does more, it heralds the time when even the memory of their presence will fade like a fevered dream before the brightness of a new day. It is for us now to encourage by every legitimate means the development and settlement of what has hitherto been known as the Treaty Shore, and thus effectively to blot out of remembrance that which has been a curse to this country and a strain upon British rule.

I congratulate thus House, Sir, I congratulate my fellow countrymen far and near upon what has been accomplished, and I desire to record an expression of my gratitude to His Majesty's Government, who, at the cost of the Empire, has purchased the release of the people of this Colony from the humiliation and suffering which, in the interest of the Empire, they have so long and patiently borne.

Mr. Morine:4 He supposed that an opportunity would be given him for the perusal of the documents quoted by the Premier and of the text of the treaty itself, and that it would form the subject of further discussion another day, and with the right hon. gentleman's assurance of this, he would say that his remarks on the present occasion would be limited, but that he would make fuller reference when an opportunity was given him.

Here he would remarks with regard to the historical references of the Premier and the treaty itself, as he understood it. With regard to the former, while the Premier had quoted much interesting data, he had made many omissions. It should not be forgotten that the modus vivendi was first enacted in 1890 by reason of the Imperial government expressing a determination to pass a permanent bill and that has been passed every year since. At the suggestion of the latter a great public agitation was raised and a deputation sent home .... In 1891 it was introduced again and a deputation was sent home by both branches of the Legislature, which was composed of the Hon. Moses Monroe and the Hon. Mr. Harvey, both since deceased, the then Speaker of the House, Mr. Justice Emerson, Sir William Whiteway and himself to oppose the enactments. They had been allowed to make representations before the House of Lords, as the act was about to be placed before the House of Commons, and the Imperial government [agreed] not to press the matter on the Imperial Parliament if the government of this colony would pass a temporary bill. That plan was adopted. They had visited the present Premier, then the acting Premier, and had laid before him the observations and recommendations of the delegates.

There was a very important phase of the matter that the Premier had also overlooked. The work of settlement was mostly brought about by the Royal Commission, which through the representations of Sir James Winter and himself had been sent out here. They had come out on behalf of the British government prejudiced against the colony, but through the representations he had brought forward, the Commissioners changed their views. A report was made by the Commission so much on the side of Newfoundland that it had never seen the light of day since.5

He thought therefore that no historical reference to any efforts made would be just or correct which did not mention these facts. In the history of the question these efforts had the most fertile influences of any. The most efficient and effective action bearing on the matter was the report of that commission in 1898. He was rather surprised that in that interesting, and no doubt intended to be impartial speech, the Premier had forgot to mention these two things. He made these remarks solely and wholly in justice to those outside the House who played a prominent part in the matter, some of whom were departed to a better world, but some of whom yet remained in positions, and who were unable to speak and say what their efforts deserved at the hands of the public.

With reference to the contents of the treaty itself and to the interpretation which the Premier had placed on the matter, he would ask this House and the public not to be too ready to put their own interpretations on it. With regard to the question of the 20th of October, he did not think that the most important feature because, serious as that was, it dealt with a section and not with the whole people.

The effect upon the baiting privileges was the most serious, but it would hardly be possible to exaggerate the importance of that, and the language used by the government in the telegrams was not one whit too strong. He was not prepared to accept, and he did not think the public would be justified in accepting the assurance of His Majesty's government as absolutely removing all doubt, because they had to construe the document as between two nations. It was not what interpretation His Majesty's Government put on the matter, nor yet what the French put on it, but what would a judicial court put on it …

He wanted to point out that they must not be content with the interpretation of the Colonial Office. The affairs of the old treaty taught them that what the Imperial government said was not important. They had said that there was only a concurrent right on the part of the French. Every prime minister from Lord Palmerston down had said in every document that the French never had anything but concurrent rights. Couched in the strongest language, year after year down through the century, Her Majesty's government in every document had said that the French had only concurrent rights. Ships of war had been sent out to enforce the claims and therefore they knew what the British government said was of comparatively of little importance as compared to what the French said. The very reason that the modus vivendi was enacted was because the British were not prepared to admit the right of the French to take shellfish on the coast. Deputation after deputation went over to Great Britain and the Imperial government were never inclined to dispute our contention, nor were we willing to concede the right to take lobsters over the whole coast, but were forced to sustain and back up the British government …

He had not had a chance to examine the correspondence carefully, and reserved his right to continue his remarks later on the bait act, but could not allow the rosy views of the Rt. Hon. the Premier- the rosy prognostications- to go forth conveying the idea that all was right, there was nothing at all to be afraid of; nothing at all to be suspicious of; but we were to take the treaty at the price placed upon it by the Premier and the Colonial Office. He believed His Majesty's government were always actuated by the highest motives. At the passage of the modus vivendi he had expressed his confidence in the British government, and still had confidence in them. There was no lack of desire on their part, but there was a lack of intimate knowledge in dealing with matters more or less technical. In these matters it could not be expected that British statesmen could understand very closely our affairs, and should have had a colonial statesman at their elbow so that the best language expressive of the colony's idea might be used. If the Rt. Hon. the Premier had been in England the language in article 2 would not have been used. He had to apologize for these few remarks, not having had an opportunity to peruse the correspondence or to consider the treaty, but would take the earliest opportunity to do so.

1. Until 1909, the debates of the Newfoundland legislature were published only in the local newspapers. In 1904, The Evening Telegram supported the Liberal government and had the privilege of printing the debates. The Daily News supported the Tory opposition.

2. Journal of the House of Assembly, April 21, 1904.

3. Robert Bond (1857-1927). Premier of Newfoundland, 1900-1909. The speech is taken from The Evening Telegram, April 22, 1904.

4. Alfred B. Morine (1857-1944). Journalist and lawyer. Leader of the Opposition. The speech is taken from The Evening Telegram, May 28, 30, 1904.

5. See Frederic F. Thompson, The French Shore Problem in Newfoundland. An Imperial Study (Toronto, 1961) for an account of these events.