This Week in History


"And Then There Were Ten"

For the week of Monday March 27, 2000

On March 31, 1949, Newfoundland became Canada's tenth province, more than eighty years after the British North America Act of 1867 came into effect.

Joseph Smallwood

Joseph Smallwood
© LAC / PA-128080

Newfoundland sent two representatives to the Québec Conference on Confederation in 1864, but refused to join the union at first. In general, its delegates were opposed to having weak provincial governments in favour of a powerful federal one. Furthermore, some Roman Catholics and Irish nationalists on the island saw Confederation as a North American version of the controversial Act of Union of 1801 between Ireland and Great Britain. Newfoundlanders dropped the Confederation debate after the 1869 elections when the anti-Confederates won a large majority.

The First World War and Great Depression left Newfoundland near bankruptcy. As a result, in 1933, its elected assembly was replaced with a British-appointed commission, a suspension of democracy on the island, until Newfoundland was financially stable. When the Second World War ended in 1945, Newfoundlanders were offered three options: 1) another five years of the commission, 2) dominion status with an elected assembly, or 3) union with Canada. Clement Attlee and William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Ministers of Great Britain and Canada respectively, were in favour of option three, but Newfoundlanders weren't sure.

Newfoundland enters Confederation as the tenth province<br>with the boundaries as deliminated in 1927

Newfoundland enters Confederation as the tenth province
with the boundaries as deliminated in 1927

This map is based on information taken
from the National Atlas of Canada maps.
© 1999. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada
with permission of Natural Resources Canada.

In 1946, a 45-man national convention assembled to debate Newfoundland's future. Joseph Smallwood was the most openly pro-Confederation. Though his colleagues generally outvoted him, they agreed that representatives be sent to London and Ottawa, to explore the Confederation option. In 1948, Newfoundland held two referenda to determine its political future. In the first, the idea of continuing the non-elected commission was soundly rejected, but in light of no clear majority, a second refendum was held on July 22. Confederation was chosen by an extremely slim, and some say controversial, majority. The terms of union were accepted on December 11, 1948 and Smallwood became premier of the new province in March 1949. He remained in office until 1971.

Smallwood, "the most loved and hated man in Newfoundland," is credited with the success of the Confederates in Newfoundland. He was confident that Newfoundlanders could keep their uniqueness even in a union with Canada. The Minister of Canadian Heritage has recognized the National Historic Significance of both Joseph Roberts Smallwood, known as the last Father of Confederation, and Newfoundland's Entry into Confederation. Both are commemorated by plaques in St. John's, Newfoundland.

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