The Fork in the Road of History | JIM FURLONG

Every year, in late March, the debate starts again about Confederation and whether or not Newfoundland was pushed into it.

The calendar also signals the beginning of the parallel discussion on whether Terra Nova, as we used to call ourselves, did the right thing in joining Canada. That debate has at least subsided because we have done so well inside Confederation on issues like Baby Bonus and Unemployment Insurance, as it used to be called. The benefits of Confederation are undeniable. Remember it was in the 1950s that the men in the boats, the fishermen in Newfoundland, became eligible for UI. That was a game changer. Thank you, Canada.

Emotions ran high during the Confederation debate and there were divisions, even within families. On my mother’s side, which were Malones, we were an inner-city St. John’s family and the vote for Responsible Government was a St. John’s and Avalon Peninsula vote against rural areas. It wasn’t exclusively that way but was a split along those lines. My grandfather, Mike Malone, was a staunch anti-Confederate. How come? Well, he worked for Bowring Brothers, looking after the horses, and went to the ice as a lead carpenter on the Bowring vessel The Eagle. Now, I remember from Psychology 100 at MUN that people often take on the mores and political stances of the social class they “wished” to belong to as opposed to the one they were actually in. I suspect that explains his loyalty to “the Bowring” firm. A lot of people downtown were like that. There was loyalty to the company.

As an aside here is a nice story about downtown firms. When I first went to work at Horwood Lumber Company when I was a teenager I was told by the foreman in the yard that if I were to meet Mr. George Horwood or Mr. Cyril Horwood crossing the lumber yard, which was on Water St., then I should tip my cap to them and not speak unless spoken to. Honest to God! That was in the 20th century but that is the way things were. I am delighted to report I never tipped my hat to anyone in that lumber yard.

My dad was not from St. John’s but worked at Parker and Monroe Ltd. at their west end store. He voted for Confederation. Dad was at the Colonial Building riot in the 1930’s actually and he wasn’t there as a protestor or an observer. He was there as a full-blown rioter. Good for him. I am sorry now I never asked him more about it.

Such were the political poles in which the universe of the Confederation referenda spun in the late 1940s and it took a long time for the wounds to heal once the votes were cast. Still in my time you could get an argument in chic downtown St. John’s bistros that we had somehow been “betrayed” by Confederation and somehow had lost something. The argument comes from a romantic crowd who didn’t really understand poverty and loss of opportunity. They forget or never knew that Newfoundland had poverty beyond belief and an infant mortality rate like that of a third world country. World War Two gave us some relief from that. It is true the Confederation vote had been close, but the signal was clear. We chose Canada.

We did stop being a nation, but we also stopped being dirt poor. Education and particularly health improved. Newfoundland and Labrador became a place of opportunity. It still is. We are part of Canada and Canada is a nation that is the best in the world. We became part of Canada on the 31st of March 1949.

You can contact Jim Furlong at [email protected]