Penetrating Terra Nova’s Fog

Why is Newfoundland as much of a mystery to the Canadian as Nyassaland?

CHARLES W. STOKES November 1 1927

Penetrating Terra Nova’s Fog

Why is Newfoundland as much of a mystery to the Canadian as Nyassaland?

CHARLES W. STOKES November 1 1927

Penetrating Terra Nova’s Fog

Why is Newfoundland as much of a mystery to the Canadian as Nyassaland?


IF YOU really and acutely want to get the Newfoundlander's goat, there is no more assured or prompter method than by using the word 'log'. That three-letter monosyllable is a redder rag to him than ever toreador waved at a bull. If occasion so provokes, we may return to discuss that subject later; at the present moment, there is one item in the Newfoundlander's pained and diversified defence of his climate that sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.

)~tA h~ic w~tho'.tz prejud:& to tse .t:\~ 1m~rar5 t.. .` o rernCo never citd pare tr: .`:~`ner len ty, vol' me or bron chiat cUe is wtttt the dee:' m--:ta! (~g tn aver~' :~~~r's~ns mind in regard t'~ his neloved

And this is unanswerable. The really extraordinary thing about

Newfoundland is how little we who live in Canada know about it—especially as it is. imperially speaking, our sister. Most of us. I have no doubt, could pass some sort of rudimentary examination on the habits, customs, politics and personalities of our other sisters of the Seven Seas. We know something of ‘who’s -who’ and ‘what’s what' in Australia. New Zealand, South Africa and even India. But here is Newfoundland, a British country sitting right on our doorstep, more akin to Canada than any other British country—often ignorantly linked by poor geographers, in fact, as a part of Canada—and the majority of Canadians know less about it than of Nigeria or Nyassaland.

Its Constitution and Status?

AAZHO is its prime minister? What political party W is in power, and what are its paramount political and economic issues? Do its political parties have the same name and mean the same thing? W ho, as governor, represents the ;rown? What is its flag? And what—please

answer this one carefully—is its national status? Is it a colony, or a dominion, or a commonwealth, or what?

Such self-interrogations as these flitted through my mind as I asked the Hon. W. S. Monroe, Prime Minister of Newfoundland, why it was Newfoundland was not a part of Canada. One almost had to apologize for the question. It was something like an American reporter asking Mr. King why Canada was not a part of the United States: but inasmuch as the question is more or less spontaneous whenever Newfoundland is mentioned it probably represents the attitude of the typical Canadian, but also his interest in our sister of the Gulf.

One does not censure Mr. Monroe for being noncommittal. To continue the Canadian parallel, it would be rather like Mr. King trying to give an American reporter a statement on the advantages or otherwise to Canada of a lower tariff. I made the same inquiry of various other Newfoundlanders, always apologizing for its bad taste, and invariably got the answer that federationists and anti-federationists are found in all political parties. There is no gainsaying that a considerable number of Newfoundlanders are sturdily opposed to any closer relationship than at present exists between their country and ours. In the past, that aversion has been exceedingly more pronounced. I would like to quote an English writer, Mr. Beckles Willson, who in 1897 wrote:

‘There are thousands of fishermen and the wives of fishermen on the southern and north-eastern coasts who believe to-day that Canada is a land of demons and monsters. The most singular legends exist in the bosoms of these humble families. They have heard that new-born babies are rammed down Canadian cannons, that if confederation were brought about the terrible Canadians would usurp their industries, leaving them to bleach

their bones on the desert sands of Canada.

A Three-Industry County

THIRTY years

have, of course, wrought profound changes. Newfoundland itself has changed from a one-industry to a three-industry and partly industrialized country. In social and economic problems it has made great progress—eliminated, for example, some of its rather high percentage of illiteracy, attracted capital, adopted modern conveniences, increased its transportation facilities, cut out what this English writer called ‘the delicious blackguardism’ of its politics’, and begun to attract tourists. But whether or not it would gain anything by federating with Canada — whether Canada would gain anything — or whether, as the last abysmally ignorant theory obtains (chiefly in Canada), it would gain anything by fed-

erating with the United States instead of with Canada— does not seem at the present moment within the scope of what is called ‘political politics’. In other words, no one in authority wants to discuss it.

Just how Newfoundland got to be separate from Canada, politically as well as geographically—though no more separate, so far as oceans go, than Prince Edward Island—was by prior discovery: also by the fact that while Canada was growing, developing and prospering under various rules, Newfoundland was until hardly more than a hundred years ago officially throttled by the

English government. Settlement within six miles of the coast, the enclosure of land or erection of permanent houses, or to spend a winter in the colony, were alike prohibited—all at the instigation of the fishing masters of Devonshire. To plant a potato was a penal offence. Not until 1811 was permission granted to build a permanent house. So Newfoundland became a coast line, and nothing more, of very little political significance at that critical juncture in our history when the Fathers of Confederation began sitting for their portraits. Newfoundland was officially represented at the 1864 pre-Confederation conferences at Charlottetown and Quebec: but that was as far as it got.

But to return to the Prime Minister. This stocky, bearded man, Irish born, is

a new figure in Newfoundland government, for until 1924 he had never been in active politics. A rich business man, he has since been engaged in giving Newfoundland his conception of a business government; to what extent he has succeeded may be gleaned from the fact that the fiscal years 1924-5 and 1925-6 show a surplus of revenue over expenditure, while the three previous years show the reverse. In May last year, in the closing hours of the session, he created an upheaval by reading two of his cabinet out of the party on charges of treachery; this being followed by the defection of three more government supporters to the Opposition, left the government—which is Conservative— with a majority of only one.

From his office in the Court House we had a view of busy Water Street below.

From Water Street, one of those steep alleys so characteristic of St. John’s dipped down immediately in front of us towards the wharves: at its end was the vista of schooners and rough-clad men. Above the roof tops of the stores rose, on the far

side of the harbor, the long humped palisade of the South Shore Hill. Farther round one saw the Narrows, that make so dramatic a cleft in the rugged cliffs which frown out across the ocean towards Ireland, and that provide the entrance to the long harbor: and still farther beyond the Narrows there on Signal Hill, perched 500 feet above sea-level, was Cabot Tower—from which Marconi sent the first wireless message across the Atlantic in 1901, and over which Alcock and Brown passed on the first flight across the Atlantic in 1919.

I tried to express to Mr. Monroe the profound ignorance of Canadians about Newfoundland, and told him what a lady had told me the night before, that just as we Canadians sometimes get circular letters from the United States with American stamps enclosed for a reply, so she often received letters from Canadian firms enclosing Canadian stamps for a reply. He capped this with a story of how he once received a letter from a Canadian editor

(never mind in what city) asking him to contribute to some Christmas or anniversary or other special number a message or greeting, similar to that which the other provincial premiers were doing.

As the final confession of our ignorance, there is this Labrador-Quebec boundary question. How many residents of the province of Quebec—to say nothing of other provinces—knew anything about it? And yet the issue settled by the Privy Council has a vital bearing upon the future of Newfoundland.

The interior of Labrador would perhaps be of trifling significance, for beyond the fact that it is vaguely mineralized, it is harsh and inhospitable. But this is the ‘Age of Pulpwood’, and the decision of the Privy Council has added to Newfoundland 120,000 square miles of pulpwood and water-powers—three times the area of the Island.

Mr. Monroe represents a quarter of a million British people of pure Anglo-Celtic stock, whose proudest boast is that there is no colony in the British Empire older than theirs. Except for a handful of Micmacs who have migrated from Nova Scotia, it alone of the entire British Empire, outside of the United Kingdom, contains no subject or aboriginal races. The Beothics, the earliest known inhabitants — a numerous and powerful people who may or may

may not have been allied to the North American Indian — were so decimated by white men that the last ones were seen in 1823, crossing the ice at New Bay. In size almost as large as the three Maritime

provinces combined—although nearly a third of its surface consists of lakes, rivers and swamps—Newfoundland has only one-quarter the population of those provinces.

Discovering Terra Nova

pORT-AUX-BASQUES, on the yon side of Cabot Strait via a sturdy little steamer, awakens one in the thin dawn to a customs examination and thereby the realization that Newfoundland is decidedly not a part of Canada. One gets an earful, too, of a new language that soft Scotch-Irish-Devonshire combination which forms the base of the Newfoundland dialect, as different from the hard, semi-Bostonese of neighboring Nova Scotia as each of its constituents, Scotch, Irish and ‘West Countree’ are really different from one another. Youths kicking around in rubber fishermen’s boots—as much a part of a juvenile west coast sheik’s equipment as the side-whiskers were of Valentino’s—stand agape at everything, and giggle.

Port-aux-Basques existed, I believe, long before the Reid Newfoundland Railway; the village clings to rocky steeps, for earth there seems to be none. An acrimonious Nova Scotian (which means exactly nothing, for all Nova Scotians are apparently criti-

cal on the subject of Newfoundland) had told me in Sydney that there was so little earth in Port-aux-Basques that -when anyone died there his friends were compelled to import earth to cover his coffin. Of that interesting fact I received no visible proof: my own time being occupied with paying the Newfoundland Customs an unexpected twenty dollar deposit on a

camera, and reassuring the Newfoundland Customs that the Canadian cigarettes I happened to have in profusion were merely the normal day’s consumption of an average Canadian. These preliminaries passed, there was scarcely more time than necessary to get stowed away in the sleeping car of the railway that crosses the Island Dominion.

Codfish for breakfast—of course. There are many alternatives, but being in Rome one does as the Romans do: except that the visitor finds it difficult in his earlier stages to prefer, with the Newfound-

Continued on page 75

Continued from page 15

lander, dried cod to fresh cod. They do things differently on this railway, too: the waiter brings you the menu to get your order, and then summons you into the dining car when it is ready—which certainly seems a good way of avoiding the impatient jam at the Canadian dining car door.

From Port-aux-Basques the train runs out at first along a ledge between the ocean and a long line of buttes, but presently plunges from these beaches into the Newfoundland equivalent of our Lake Superior North Shore. Dense forests of spruce and other northern trees reach back to low heights. Here and there we pass isolated farms subsisting apparently upon hay, with occasionally a tiny village flagging the express. Sometimes there are snow fences: but always bordering the track so closely that the train almost pushes them aside are tapestries of red, yellow and white wild flowers.

St. George’s Bay brings a sudden break, with a vision of a long, wide fiord upon which float, under the St. George’s ensign, two British ships-of-war. Then into the woods again, to emerge some fifty miles farther, near the magnificent mouth of the Humber River. Here is Cornerbrook, dug out of the primeval forest within the past three or four years to be a forty-odd million dollar pulp-and-paper mill, and boasting—the word being used not in the metaphor of a country weekly newspaper, but with metropolitan standards in mind—a wonderful hotel and a new and equally wonderful passenger service direct to Montreal.

Just about here we turn due east; to start the really serious part of the journey, off the train—the local traffic on this line being remarkable incidentally for the way it ‘turns over’ as well as for its bulk—and the talk inevitably veers around the subject of Newfoundland’s vast undeveloped resources. Presently we pass a group of lonely peaks which the vivid Newfoundland imagination has christened Foretopsail, Maintopsail, Gafftopsail and Mizzentopsail—usually abbreviated to ‘The Tops’ls’—and, adjoining the Exploits River, reach the great Harmsworth paper development of Grand Falls, now the second largest city of the Island.

Crossing later the rushing Gander River we turn south, past Come-by-Chance and Tickle Harbor and thus across the Avalon Peninsula to St. John’s. We have been around, roughly, three sides of a rectangle to get a distance, as the crow would fly along its base, of about 300 miles: and, in about the same time consumed by the ‘Trans-Canada Limited’ in traveling from Toronto to ’way beyond Fort William.

If St. John’s, under those circumstances, were where Port-aux-Basques is, and faced Sydney, N.S., think what a trade there would be between them! But it isn’t: it is 600 miles from Sydney, 600 miles nearer England. And the day I arrived in St. John’s, thinking in a vague way of traveling back by the direct boat to either Halifax or Boston, I received a rude jolt when told that the three steamers due to sail during the ensuing week were not only booked to capacity but had a

total combined waiting list of nearly 300. And the answer is that these latter were nearly all American tourists making the round'trip from Boston.

Cultivating Tourist Trade

NEWFOUNDLAND, in fact., is trying

to add the tourist to its other major industries of fishing, pulping and iron mining. Whether or not it can succeed to the same extent as Canada—where the tourist industry is now the third largest of the country—depends to a great extent upon how much the first batch of tourists like it: for the old axiom that the best advertisement is a satisfied customer is nowhere more strikingly proven than in the tourist business. I am careful in this to differentiate the tourist from the sportsman : the lordly salmon, the sea and rainbow trout, and the caribou (which incidentally is under close season until the end of 1927) of Newfoundland have been known to the sporting cognoscenti of this continent for many years.

But the common or garden tourist, who doesn't want fishing or hunting, but does want to go rubbernecking and to see a typical fishing village and a Newfoundland dog and all the historical sights, is a new problem. Newfoundland has laid the right foundation for tourist business by erecting at St. John’s a truly magnificent hotel on really ‘Ritz’ lines, the government having partly guaranteed its bonds. How it will succeed in winter in a city of less than 40,000 which has no cabarets, no night life and no restaurant habit, is for the persuasive abilities of the management to demonstrate. Possibly, for the American trade, Newfoundland will discreetly stress the liquor situation—although, compared with Montreal, St. John’s seems a long way to go for a lawful drink

Because of its unlikeness to anything in either Canada or the United States the tourist certainly will find St. John’s fascinating. You must imagine a frowning,

treeless, 500-feet-high coastline cleft suddenly by a V-shaped opening—so narrow that when the British garrison of the 1770’s went to bed they drew a chain across to keep enemy vessels out overnight—and beyond this, like one of those lakes you see in old glacier holes in the Rockies, a long elliptical lagoon. This was the sight that greeted John Cabot on St. John’s Day, 1497—a magnificent natural harbor shut in by hills, with a narrow ledge of level land on one side. Along this ledge, in due course, ran Water Street: still the principal thoroughfare of Newfoundland, it is an odd combination of financial district, wholesale section, retail shopping street and Saturday night parade.

Behind it rises the remainder of St. John’s, on so many hills as to make Rome look like thirty cents. Even the average scenic railway would, I believe, slink into a corner baffled. Streets shoot hither and yon, chiefly continuing the terrace effect —streets of houses bang up to the street line, with no gardens, adjusting themselves very cunningly to all sorts of sudden gradients. Wooden houses they mostly are, which recalls that St. John’s has been destroyed by conflagrations four times within the last 110 years. And almost as many churches as in Quebec City, with two rival cathedrals dominating the heights. Back of the highest terrace the land slopes off in a saucer of rolling pasture, studded with trees, summer cottages and farms, and intersected by roads that run out to Torbay, Portugal Cove and other nearby villages. The Newfoundland Government has just completed a twomillion dollar road program, which may or may not be with an eye on the tourist question.

A Land of Inconsistencies

XTEWFOUNDLAND is a land of in-k x consistencies and contrasts. So, of course, is every country, and there is no easier way of becoming epigrammatic at some country’s expense than by pointing

chat out. But the Island Dominion is so comparatively small—its entire population is only about the same as Winnipeg’s —that these contrasts are there for everyone to see without any gnat-straining. There is the initial contrast that one must put back one’s watch one and a half hours from Sydney time—the first half for normal Newfoundland time, the full extra hour, in summ«, for daylight saving. There is the inconsistency, in St. John’s, that while the street traffic runs on the left, or English, side of the street, the street-cars, where the line is doubletracked, move on the right side. There is the unexpected discovery, in Bowring Park, of one of the only two replicas in the world of Frampton’s famous statue of Peter Pan: and another discovery is that Newfoundland’s local flag is patterned like the French tri-color, but colored pink, white and green.

The Newfoundland dog—the only dog that ever got on a postage stamp—is extinct in Newfoundland, except in the kennels of a handful of enthusiasts who have visions of bringing him back. There’s an inconsistency! So is the fact that Newfoundland puts a high duty upon all Canadian imports, but for banking transactions relies almost entirely upon branches of Canadian banks. Except for a very few Newfoundland one and two dollar bills, the paper money is nearly all Canadian. There is the inconsistency that Newfoundland, an island, should own Labrador, which—prominently identified though it be with the heroic Dr. William Grenfell—is really Canada’s eastern coast: almost surpassing this in historic distortion is the fact that scarcely more than an hour’s ride by outboardmotor boat from Newfoundland’s coast is the French bootlegging-headquarters’ colony of St. Pierre.

And No Income Tax!

XTEWFOUNDLAND St. John’s—neither

has—except for municipal tax or

incorporated municipality. Such sizeable towns as Cornerbrook or Grand Falls— which are about the population of Cobourg or Goderich—are just, municipally speaking, non-existent. Nor has the Island an income tax—laugh that off if you can!But on the other hand it offers the inconsistency of having to import almost everything it eats except fish, and yet with that condition has an import duty that is ‘an average rate which is one of the highest charged by any country in the world.’ (I quote Lynn W. Meekins, United States Trade Commissioner at Ottawa.) Grain, flour and meats, for example, bear a maximum ad valorem duty of fifty per cent. So sweeping is Newfoundland’s attitude towards the tariff question that salt for curing fish, coming mostly from Cadiz, is virtually the only article admitted free: and the last inconsistency is that Newfoundland offers no preference to any British country, but puts the imports of Canada, England, the United States and all other lands on the same footing.

Inconsistency—or at least the reversal of stereotyped opinions—follows one into Newfoundland’s major industry, cod fishing. More than thirty-eight per cent, of its people derive their livelihood from this: but our mental picture of the sturdy schooners putting out to the Grand Banks a hundred or more miles away, for a lengthy voyage—is all wrong. The Grand Banks, that famous and epic resort of the hardy fisherman, see many flags, now, but scarcely any Newfoundlanders. Fully two-thirds of the fisheries are carried on close to shore, and the remainder off Labrador; and so far as the shore fisheries go, the small motor boat carrying two, three or four men has largely ousted the sailing ship.

Water Street finances the cod fisheries. Every outport transaction comes eventually back to it, and its annual turnover is stupendous. Fish products in 1924-1925 amounted to nearly sixty per cent, of Newfoundland’s $23,000,000 exports.

Mediterranean, West Indian and South American countries take most of them, though the present competition of Norway and Iceland in the semi-tropical cod market is so acute that the Island has lost part of that market.

Cod-fishing is at present the only commercial form of fishing. Whaling, once considerable, is now small, and the lobster canning industry, formerly important, has been suspended by a close season until the end of 1927. But sealing on the ice—a carnival of cruelty and bloodshed—is a highly popular diversion for a fisherman during the second half of March and April. The sealing catch of 1926 totalled 203,943.

Newfoundland’s modern and progressive era dates, a leading Newfoundlander told me, from the signing of the much discussed contract with the Reid Company, for the construction of a railway, in 1890. Robert Reid, of Montreal, may have driven a shrewd advantageous bargain, but he benefited the Island still more: in vision he was almost a Cecil Rhodes. A year or two later the first red hematite iron ore was taken from Bell Island, in Conception Bay: the development of the steel industry in Nova Scotia—for the British Empire Steel Corporation at Sydney takes most of the output—added this second great asset to Newfoundland’s wealth.

Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, added its third when, with many dramatic gestures and much self-advertisement, he built his great plant at Grand Falls to secure to the London Daily Mail an inexhaustible supply of paper. At Grand Falls and Cornerbrook, Newfoundland now has two of the finest mills in the world, with a total output of almost 700 tons per day; and a third project is in process of maturing on the Gander River that will add another 200 tons. The Harmsworth mill is now shipping to the United States as well as to London; perhaps in a few years it will send still more to this profitable destination.

Agriculture Practically Non-Existent

T)UT agriculturally, Newfoundland now scarcely exists; notwithstanding that it contains—so the Geological Survey estimates—at least 7,000 square miles of arable or grazing land, the census of 1921 showed only 140 square miles under cultivation. An odd patch of potatoes or hay is all that the fisherman—to whom the age-old plough is an awkward and unfamiliar tool—ever grows. That is why Newfoundland imported, in 1924-25, two and three-quarter million dollars’ worth of flour and a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of butter—nearly all from Canada. It imported from Canada, too, four and a half million dollars’ worth of coal. For the six years, 1919-1925, about forty-seven per cent, of Newfoundland’s total imports came from Canada, thirtyfour per cent, from the United States and nineteen per cent, from England.

Our microscopic knowledge of our sister Dominion of the St. Lawrence is the more curious in view of the fact that Newfoundlanders generally are a far-traveled race. Travelers usually exhale a certain amount of gossip about their home towns; most travelers, in fact, are rather fond of gossiping about home towns. Newfoundland has produced some remarkable men, such as the great and celebrated Bowring family, merchants and ship owners of Newfoundland, Canada, England and the United States. It produced during the war a famous body of fighters in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. There are 16,000 Newfoundlanders in Canada— and more in Boston than the whole population of St. John’s. But Newfoundlanders are very clam-like: they never lecture, never write books.

A City Beside a Perilous Sea

TO ME^there will a long time remain two memories of Newfoundland. One is of Sunday morning serviceinthe Church

of England Cathedral—an incomplete, severe building, minus as yet a tower, but inside haunted by that extraordinary, intangible atmosphere that makes every Church of England, in whatever clime, a beloved part of England itself—the thing that, as Kipling said of Westminster Abbey, ‘makes us We.’ Even more inevitable is that atmosphere when the environment is not a blaze of stained glass, the perfume of altar-flowers, or the intoning of cultured voices, but plain and simple: when the ‘long drawn aisle and fretted vault’ are whitewash, when the psalms are recited by a pokey curate, when the hymns are sung to a creaky harmonium. Not that St. John’s Cathedral is like that; but if it were magnificent it could not be more hallowed. And very touching ánd unusual, very indicative of Newfoundland’s closest interest, is that regular extra prayer for those who go down to the sea in ships and live in perils of great waters.

And the other memory is of a band concert behind the House of Assembly, of young couples dancing on the grass—and then of turning away and seeing the city below in the unearthly beauty of a full moon. Steep streets of huddling houses leading down to the harbor, the water glittering with reflected lights; Amherst Light twinkling at the Narrows, with the unquiet Atlantic roaring just beyond; behind one, all lit up beyond its fence, like a wedding cake, Government House; straight ahead the dull shape of South Shore Hill; and far at the side, at the foot of Signal Hill, a few fuzzy little dots where fishermen work far into the night by torchlight, cutting up their day’s catch.

Editor’s Note: Premier Monroe had not announced his prospective resignation when this article was written.