Russell Wangersky’s column on conspiracy theories in the Jan. 5 Telegram effectively highlighted the irrationality of the 1949 conspiracy theorists. Much could be said about their baseless combination of partial fact, fiction and fancy used to cloud historic truth, but for now, I will provide some background to the origins of the theory.
In 1945, Peter Cashin, on his radio show “The Voice of Liberty,” was first to introduce the Confederation conspiracy theory. England was indeed hiding something from Newfoundlanders, but it had nothing to do with depriving them of a free vote.
In the 1980s, journalist Bren Walsh, convinced a conspiracy occurred, researched British documents and came up with zilch. Yet that did not stop him from writing a conspiracy book. The fact fewer votes were cast in the second referendum than in the first was fuel for similar theorists. It was used to argue that the British destroyed votes to rig the election despite the fact Britain had no involvement in the balloting.
Author Harold Horwood pointed out that such rubbish could only originate from someone with no knowledge of Newfoundland history. Horwood noted what was obvious to outport Newfoundlanders — that in the second referendum, many fishermen were participating in the Labrador and the Banks fishery and did not get to vote.
In researching “1949 Twilight Before the Dawn,” I found that records were consistent with Horwood’s argument. In 20 of the 25 districts made up predominantly of fishermen, the vote dropped in the last referendum. Unlike Jim Halley, Horwood, an authentic insider, wrote: “There is not a shred of evidence that Canada or Great Britain were parties to any kind of underhanded or secret dealing in the matter. On the contrary, the more closely the documentary evidence is examined, the clearer it becomes that the issue was truly in doubt up to the last moment, and that few people in the Canadian Government had any more than a mild interest in the matter.”
Still in doubt? Look up Ed Roberts’ review of “Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders” in The Telegram of Dec. 16, or read “1949 Twilight Before the Dawn,” or any academic study of the subject.
Better still, if you have the time, go read the source documents edited by Paul Bridell available at the A.C. Hunter Library.
Those who value the truth in history will want to know the facts — others will cling to the conspiracy theory irrespective of truth.