Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

God Guard Thee, Newfoundland

100 Years Since the Proclamation of Dominion

ON 26 SEPTEMBER, 1907, Edward VII, By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India, declared the Colony of Newfoundland, having enjoyed responsible government since 1854, the status of an independent Dominion within the British Empire. As it happens, the King-Emperor similarly declared New Zealand a dominion on the very same day. While New Zealand still enjoys dominion status as a free realm within the British Commonwealth of Nations, Newfoundland was profoundly struck by the Great Depression, and surrendered its independence in 1934. From that year it was administered by a Commission of Government headed by a Governor, all appointed by the imperial government in Whitehall.

The Red Ensign of Newfoundland, most commonly used as Newfoundland’s national flag, though the official national flag was the Union Jack.

The shield from Newfoundland’s coat of arms, adopted in 1653.

The Newfoundlanders proudly fought during the Second World War for the freedom of the Empire, but the post-war socialist government was only too keen to give up its responsibility in governing the colony. London and Ottawa both pressed for Newfoundland to join the Canadian Confederation, despite a significant portion of the populace being in favor of returning to responsible self-government. Many hoped that a once-again independent Newfoundland could negotiate an economic and customs union with the United States.

A referendum was held asking Newfoundlanders if they wished to return to Dominion status, join the Canadian Confederation, or continue the current Commission government. Dominion won a plurality with 44.6% against Confederation’s 41.1% and Commission’s 14.3%. In what was perhaps the first example of the now-typical attitude of European governments to hold as many referendums as are required until the “desirable” result is attained, London insisted another referendum be held, with only Dominion and Confederation as options, and, with much hully-gullying in between, Confederation carried the day with 52.3% to Dominion’s 47.7%. Newfoundland duly became the tenth province of Canada in 1949. (And more’s the pity if you ask me!).

Still, the Newfoundlanders are a very proud and separate people. Surveys of opinion often show that it is Newfoundland, and not Quebec, where the denizens think of themselves as being of their province first rather than being Canadian. Newfoundland’s wildly popular conservative prime minister, the Hon. Danny Williams (a Rhodes Scholar) caused a kerfuffle in 2004 when he ordered all provincial government buildings to remove the Canadian maple leaf flag and only fly the provincial flag of Newfoundland and Labrador over the Canadian government’s refusal to correct inequities in the province’s share of its offshore oil revenues.

The official seal of Newfoundland during the Colonial and Dominion periods, which appears on the Newfoundland Red Ensign.

Newfoundland is the oldest colony in the British Empire, being claimed by John Cabot on St. John’s Day, 1497. Saint John the Baptist has since become the colonial, then national, and now provincial patron saint, and the capital of St. John’s (the oldest English city in North America) bears his name, as do both the Catholic metropolitan cathedral basilica and the Anglican cathedral. St. John’s Day is the official provincial holiday, called Discovery Day. (Newfoundland shares St. John the Baptist with Quebec, where his feast is the Fête Nationale).

A view of Government House, St. John’s in 1883.

Above and below: the interior of Government House.

And here’s Government House’s chief resident, the Honorable Edward Moxon Roberts, Her Majesty’s Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, at the annual garden party.

His Honour swears in a new member of the House of Assembly…

…and meets with veterans on V-E Day in St. John’s.

Finally, His Honour rests at home with a cup of tea and his loyal dog Taffy.

Nothing remains but to wish Newfoundland, her Queen, her Lieutenant-Governor, her government, and her people continued peace and prosperity, and all the blessings of Heaven. And of course, to sing the national anthem, the Ode to Newfoundland:

When sun rays crown thy pine clad hills,
And summer spreads her hand,
When silvern voices tune thy rills,
We love thee, smiling land.

We love thee, we love thee,
We love thee, smiling land.

When spreads thy cloak of shimmering white,
At winter’s stern command,
Thro’ shortened day, and starlit night,
We love thee, frozen land.

We love thee, we love thee
We love thee, frozen land.

As blinding storm gusts fret thy shore,
And wild waves lash thy strand,
Thro’ spindrift swirl, and tempest roar,
We love thee windswept land.

We love thee, we love thee
We love thee windswept land.

As loved our fathers, so we love,
Where once they stood, we stand;
Their prayer we raise to Heaven above,
God guard thee, Newfoundland

God guard thee, God guard thee,
God guard thee, Newfoundland!

Previously: The Men Who Saved Quebec | Children of a Common Mother | Happy Dominion Day!

This post was published on Wednesday, September 26th, 2007 8:08 pm. It has been categorised under Canada History.
27 Sep 2007 2:26 pm

Bravo, Cusack, and thanks! I always learn so much here.

28 Sep 2007 12:49 am

A lovely post, sir, and may God indeed guard Newfoundland.

28 Sep 2007 12:13 pm

Fascinating — great post, Andrew.

From a look at the great seal, I’d say Mercury appears rather scantily clad for the Newfoundland winters. Perhaps the mariner with the net could lend him a fishing sweater.

The Monarchist
28 Sep 2007 3:20 pm

A wonderful tribute to “the colony of unrequitted dreams”. It is worth noting that all notable politicians from Newfoundland are of the populist and stubborn, firebrand type: Joey Smallwood, John Crosby, Clyde Wells, Brian Tobin as well as the current Danny Williams. Danny Williams and Stephen Harper are not on talking terms these days, given the bully, demogoguic antics of the former. There is perpetually a perception of injustice among the poor, yet proud people of Newfoundland and Labrador, a nationalist perception that is easy to tap into and use to one’s advantage. Premier Williams doesn’t disappoint: he is a masterful performer.

Unfortunately, Danny Boy, as we call him, thinks he should have 100% of the offshore oil revenues, while not losing a cent of equalization payments from the rest of the country, even if it means that on per capita terms, his Province gets more than the rest of us. I would encourage him to get all he can, and we would certainly wish for a self-sufficient Newfoundland, but if he thinks he’s entitled to get more than the rest of us he’s dreaming with some cheek. Happily, he has more than met his match with Prime Minister Harper. For the sake of good intergovernmental relations, Danny Boy should pipe down!

M.J. Ernst-Sandoval
29 Sep 2007 9:59 pm

No mention of the Calverts and the first English Catholic colony in the Americas? The Avalon Colony in Newfoundland predates Maryland by eight years.

L Gaylord Clark
3 Oct 2007 12:38 pm

A delightful and informative post, Cusack: I particularly like the (two!) photos of charming Taffy.
But one question: why top an article beginning with the name of Edward VII with a picture of George V?

Andrew Cusack
3 Oct 2007 8:17 pm

I knew someone was going to point that out! I actually thought it would be the first comment made, but it turns out to be one of the last instead.

The reason is because I thought it would be too verbally cumbersome to point out that the monarch pictured above is not Edward VII but George V while I was in the midst of listing Edward’s title.

Casey Butt
31 Oct 2008 5:20 pm

I’m a Newfoundlander and a strong supporter of Premier Danny Williams. I think it’s high time someone had the gumption to defy Ottawa, who’ve raped Newfoundland’s resources since 1949. Certain parts of Canada, by carrying the most electoral votes, have lived as parasites off the resources of the less populated areas for years. It’s Canada’s very structure and an inevitable result of its flawed political system.

Of course, many in the formerly “wealthy” provinces don’t feel this way because they, in a combination of bitterness and arrogance, could never accept any “unfavourable” re-balancing of the status-quo.

Other than being “children” of England, Canada and Newfoundland, both as people and cultures, have nothing in common. The sooner the divorce of this failed alignment happens the better.

God guard thee, Newfoundland!

William Anderson
12 Mar 2011 5:02 pm

Hello Andrew: I am interested in knowing the source of the painting about John Cabot holding the flag of St. George as he arrived in the new world 1497. Could you possibly tell me who painted the picture.


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