Monday, August 25, 2008

Would they have ranted and roared like true Newfoundlanders?

The Vancouver Sun featured a fascinating trip into Newfoundland (and Canadian) history over the weekend, with a comprehensive article on the controversial days prior to Newfoundland’s joining of Confederation.

The article titled “A shot in the Dark”, recounts the tense days leading up to the second referendum which saw the then British protectorate vote to join the Canadian Federation.

While Joey Smallwood was working the crowds on behalf of the Pro-Confederation side and Robert Furlong and Peter Cashin (wishing to keep Newfoundland away from the Canadian Wolf) pushed for rejection of the Canada option, the governor of the island of the time Robert Macdonald was growing fearful that violence was just around the corner.

Macdonald as the Sun discovered was so alarmed at the heated passions of the debate that he had repeatedly called out for the British Navy to station a warship in one of the Bays of the Avalon Peninsula, just in case there was a quick need to restore order from any potential unruly mob.

As things were at the time, post war Britain wasn’t much better off financially than Newfoundland, and the prospect of sending one of her warships to sit around the North Atlantic as a beat cop didn’t seem to appeal to then Prime Minister Clement Atlee, that is if the idea was even brought to his attention by the string of Lords and Viscounts that Macdonald would have had to deal with at the time.

In the end, no naval vessels were dispatched to Newfoundland ready to step in, nor did anything resembling a riot break out once the final tally came through on July 22, 1948. After that trip to the polls Newfoundland prepared for its entry to Canada, all be it by a slim majority of 52.3 percent in favour and 47.7 against the lure of the Canadian wolf.

Joey Smallwood then of the Pro Confederation side would go on to be the long time Premier of the new province and continue to find controversy until the day he left office and maybe even a little beyond.

My favourite part of the tale though comes along with the days following Newfoundland’s arrival as province number ten on April 1st, 1949 (yes April Fools Day). As Governor Macdonald prepared to leave the island after his near use of martial law, a poem of tribute arrived at the Saint John’s Evening Telegram, a flowery verbose review of the Governor and his stewardship of the that troubled island through the late forties.

It was only later that a sharp eyed editor of the Telegram discovered, that when you lined up the first letter of each stanza of the poem a rather stark message was delivered for the former Governor.

While flowery in tribute, the real message was a little more bare knuckled, each letter to start each stanza in the poem eventually spelled out the words T H E... B A S T A R D

Leaving no doubt in the minds of many as to just how less than universally loved the Governor might have been, it also gives Canadians some insight into that marvelously sharp wit that the likes of Codco, Rick Mercer and 22 minutes have brought to Confederation. Satire and creative thinking seems to be in the DNA of the place, as is quite a bit of colourful history.

The entire fascinating article can be found on the Vancouver Sun's website here.

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