Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

A 'New-Found' Olympic Nation-Newfoundland's Involvement with the Olympic Games, 1904-1934

Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

A 'New-Found' Olympic Nation-Newfoundland's Involvement with the Olympic Games, 1904-1934

Article excerpt

On February 24, 2006, the Canadian men's curling team competed for Olympic gold in Pinerolo, Italy. The team included two members from the island of Newfoundland, two from Labrador, and one resident of New Brunswick. Across the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, schools shut early so that students could watch the historic moment. In the provincial capital of St. John's, Memorial University of Newfoundland opened up its Fieldhouse so that thousands could watch together on the big screen. It is likely that very few of the Newfoundlanders engrossed in Olympic fever for the ten days of the curling competition at the Torino Games realized that Newfoundland's Olympic history actually went back over a hundred years before. The Gushue rink's gold medal in curling was the first ever for born and bred Newfoundlanders, but the island has a long history of involvement with the Olympic Games. Athletes born in Newfoundland competed as early as the 1904 Games in St. Louis, and the country of Newfoundland, for a brief period in the 1920s and 1930s, appeared on the list of Olympic invitees.

This paper considers the involvement of the island of Newfoundland with the Olympic Games up to 1934. To elucidate Newfoundland's Olympic connections, the focus is on a number of key individuals: Robert Fowler, who represented the United States in the Olympic marathon in 1904 and in the Intercalated Games of 1906; Eric Mackenzie Robertson, marathoner in 1920 and later coach and administrator; Harry Watson, Canadian hockey player in the 1924 Games; Arthur Johnson, sport administrator of the 1920s and 1930s, and general secretary of the "Newfoundland Olympic Committee." The stories of these individuals will serve as a frame to draw out how Newfoundland's Olympic history is heavily intertwined with the island's historic position in the North Atlantic world, and how Newfoundland's early encounters with the Olympic movement express characteristics that might be seen in other, smaller, Olympic nations.

Newfoundland as Colony/Country/Colony/Province--A Brief Political and Economic History

It is impossible to sketch out Newfoundland's more than 500-year history in a short paper, but a discussion of its status within the British Empire and Commonwealth is needed here for context. Newfoundland was Britain's oldest colony in the New World, being discovered in 1497, but it was not Officially named a colony of the Empire until 1824, long after British possession had been settled and St. John's established as the capital city. (1) In 1832, Britain granted Newfoundland a form of representative government, where an elected general assembly advised the governor and his appointed council. (2) In 1855, responsible government was established along parliamentary lines, and the Dominion of Newfoundland was created with full nation status Newfoundland had representatives at the Quebec confederation conference in 1864, but decided to stay independent. (3) The question of confederation would be raised on and off, but the Newfoundland economy, always dependent on fish, started to pick up with the establishment of a lumber industry in 1905. The First World War brought the island prosperity, and closer ties to the United States. In 1927, a large parcel of the Labrador territory was granted to Newfoundland by the Privy Council (explaining the province's current status as "Newfoundland and Labrador"). In 1929, the US economy crashed, and Newfoundland's brief period of prosperity ended. The country went completely bankrupt, and acting on a report of a Royal Commission, voted to suspend self-government and place the country under a UK commission in 1933, probably the only time in history a country has willingly given up its independence to its former colonial power. (4) In 1949, after years of bitter debate, Newfoundland joined with Canada in Confederation, and it is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. (5) Newfoundland had been an independent nation from 1855 to 1934, and had fought as a nation in the First World War. …

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