Mapping

Confederation conflict

How a divisive political battle put Newfoundland on the map
  • Mar 31, 2019
  • 548 words
  • 3 minutes
Map of Eastern Canada, and Joey Smallwood Expand Image
Advertisement

Here’s a stumper. What’s missing from this geological map of Eastern Canada?

If you’re particularly sharp-eyed, you may have spotted that Nunavut doesn’t exist and that Iqaluit, the territory’s capital, is still labelled as Frobisher Bay. Or that in northwestern Ontario, Thunder Bay has yet to emerge from the amalgamation of Port Arthur and Fort William. So far, so very 1945 — the year the map was created.

But think bigger. Think Confederation. Then think colour — or the lack thereof. Now look east, where a finely delineated but decidedly pale Newfoundland and something that was then called “Coast of Labrador” sit, both apparently bereft of rocks. They aren’t, of course, but when this map was made, they were treated as such because Newfoundland still wasn’t officially part of Canada.

It would take another four years, nearly 17 months of internal deliberation and two referendums before Newfoundland joined Confederation, which it did on March 31, 1949, ending its 42-year run as a dominion of the United Kingdom wholly separate from that of Canada.

Joey Smallwood, who would go on to serve as the new province’s premier for nearly 23 years, led the campaign to join Canada, convinced that the union would help solve the economic woes that had plagued Newfoundland since just before the First World War and had been exacerbated by the Great Depression. But despite his oratorical skill and the strong base of support that he had in Newfoundland’s poor outport communities, Smallwood didn’t always have an easy time of it.

To start, the anti-Confederates labelled Smallwood a Judas and a traitor. What’s more, as Richard Gwyn notes in his book Smallwood: An Unlikely Revolutionary, such was the intensity of the vitriol levelled at Smallwood during the campaign that “To protect him, the Confederates hired two bodyguards, a former paratrooper and an ex-wrestler, who walked beside him even on the shortest journey across the street,” and “Smallwood himself carried a revolver, without a permit.”

But by the time the ballots in the second referendum were tallied on July 22, 1948, Smallwood’s side had won by a knife edge, with 52.3 per cent of the vote. In St. John’s and environs — where anti-Confederate support was the strongest — black flags flew and black armbands and ties were donned, but a sense of resigned  pragmatism largely prevailed. No longer would Newfoundland “persist in isolation?… left far behind in the march of time,” as Smallwood had described it in 1946. Instead, it would be part of something much bigger.

*with files from Emily Macdonald, archivist, Library and Archives Canada

Advertisement

Related Content

The War of 1812 giant floor encourages students to interact with history

Kids

Giant floor maps put students on the map

Canadian Geographic Education’s series of giant floor maps gives students a colossal dose of cartography and is a powerful teaching tool

  • 1487 words
  • 6 minutes
Assassin's Creed Odyssey landscape

Mapping

Inside the intricate world of video game cartography

Maps have long played a critical role in video games, whether as the main user interface, a reference guide, or both. As games become more sophisticated, so too does the cartography that underpins them. 

  • 2569 words
  • 11 minutes
The New York Times COVID-19 map

Mapping

Mapping COVID-19: How maps make us feel

Canadian Geographic cartographer Chris Brackley continues his exploration of how the world is charting the COVID-19 pandemic, this time looking at how artistic choices inform our reactions to different maps

  • 1145 words
  • 5 minutes
historic disease map

Mapping

Q&A: Tom Koch on disease mapping and medical geography

‘Maps aren't magic,’ says University of British Columbia prof — but during disease outbreaks, they can help us sort good information from bad

  • 778 words
  • 4 minutes