Newfoundland - Canada's Come-by-Late Province

By Salloum, Habeeb | Contemporary Review, November 1995 | Go to article overview
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Newfoundland - Canada's Come-by-Late Province


Salloum, Habeeb, Contemporary Review


Newfounddlanders are hoping that unlike the Come-by-Chance Refinery and the Sprung Greenhouse project, both economic disasters, Newfoundland's union with Canada in 1949 will, in the coming years, yield a bonanza of benefits for the island. In spite of the fact that many people in the other Canadian provinces think that the country has already gone overboard in the amount of money Ottawa injects into the island's social services, a good number of Newfoundlanders think that it is not enough.

Some of the islanders are even convinced that this once quasi-independent country of 43,548 square miles (112,790 square kilometres) with Labrador 156,649 square miles (405,720 square kilometres) could have done better as an independent state or as part of Canada's neighbour to the south. Many ask, `Did we do the right thing?' What could have been in the past has, through the years, caused faint rumblings of discontent in Canada's come-by-late province.

Nevertheless, these complaints are only passing clouds. Newfoundland is firmly a part of Canada -- more committed than some older provinces like Quebec. In fact, all Canadians, in spite of the `Newfie' jokes -- resented by most Newfoundlanders -- cannot conceive of the country without New" foundland.

This is best illustrated by the Canadian seizure, in March 1995, of the Spanish trawler Estai, caught turbot fishing with illegal nets off Newfoundland's Grand Banks. Further emphasizing Canada's anger at Spanish fishing methods, the net of another trawler was cut and Canada claimed that the Spanish nets were too finely meshed and their ships had hidden holds to store the illegally caught fish.

Acting un-Canadian, in a country where self-assertion is frowned upon Canada's Minister of Fisheries, Brian Tobin, a 40-year-old Newfoundlander who ordered the Estai's impoundment, became an instant folk hero throughout the country. His action whipped up widespread public support and national pride.

The seizure could have caused a full-blown incident. Spain sent armed patrol vessels into the area to protect their fishermen. Even though the countries of the European Common Market supported Spain, claiming that international law had been broken by the interference with fishing outside the 200 mile limit, Canada emerged triumphant. For the moment, Tobin and Newfoundland became the darlings of Canada.

This incident is only a continuation of the rocky road Canada and Newfoundland have travelled from the time the island voted, by a slim margin, to become Canada's tenth province. At times, during the past 46 years of this union, there has been tension; at other times, an intense love affair. When Newfoundland voted for federation, a good section of Newfoundlanders believed prosperity was just around the corner. However, instead, today, the province has the country's highest unemployment, Canada's highest sales tax and the lowest per capita income.

Yet, Newfoundlanders are undaunted. A hardy stock, they live in an unforgiving and rugged landscape -- almost without soil. Existence in the harshness of their unrelenting climate and geography has always been a continuous struggle against terrible adds. To survive the rigours of occupations like fishing, lumbering and mining, the people had to endure economic recessions and setbacks time after time. The challenges of life have been immense and unrelenting, but the people have taken setbacks and unexpected perils in their stride.

This struggle to subsist has been unremitting since the Island was first settled by aboriginal people about 3,000 B.C. Few in numbers, they eked a living on the island for thousands of years -- that is until the white man came. In the ensuing few hundred years, most were to be eliminated by disease and massacre by the European settlers during the 16th to the 19th centuries. The last of these aboriginal Beothuck Indians, a woman named Shanadithit, died of tuberculosis in 1829.

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