Charter champion

Ship Harbour man dedicates decades and dollars to promoting Atlantic Charter

Steve Bartlett
Published on August 12, 2011
Phonse Griffiths stands at the site commemorating the Atlantic Charter, which was reached on the waters over his shoulder. — Photo by Steve Bartlett/The Telegram

Seventy years ago, British prime minister Winston Churchill and U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt drafted the Atlantic Charter at Phonse Griffiths’ table.

Griffiths wasn’t there. He wasn’t even born.

But the Ship Harbour man owns the piece of furniture on which the world leaders reached the declaration Aug. 14, 1941.

“I paid $1,500 for it. My wife didn’t agree with that, either,” he laughs.

Paying for the table from the USS Augusta out of pocket is one of many sacrifices Griffiths has made for the Charter, which was agreed upon aboard warships off Ship Harbour’s shores.

During the past couple of decades, he has worked tirelessly to preserve and promote the legacy of the agreement, which laid the foundation for post-war peace and the United Nations.

His passion has driven him to pick up trash and mow the lawn around the Atlantic Charter plaque in Ship Harbour, lead a protest to get more resources for said monument, and set up a museum at the local community centre.

“(The Charter monument) could easily sit there and not become anything, so I took the challenge to more or less to try ... to build it into something,” says Griffiths.

During a dinner at Fort Pepperrell in St. John’s Saturday night, his efforts will be honoured with the International Churchill Society of Canada’s annual award of merit.

“We were very impressed with how he was doing (all) this on his own time, in a number of instances using his own money, and he has also had the support of the community to come together and assist this process,” says the society’s Barry Davenport.

Griffiths is humbled to be recognized, but accolades were never a motivator.

“I feel good about the award, but for some reason or another, when you get an award like that, you feel like you haven’t worked at it and you feel like it didn’t come with hard work. It’s something you do. It’s like a hobby.”

Even though he’s been noticed by an international organization, Griffiths isn’t about to abandon his goal of seeing the Charter monument get the attention it deserves.

The Charter is currently classed as a national historic event. But he feels the plaque commemorating it is really a national historic site and he wants it declared one.

“I would like to see Parks Canada take hold of this — it’s their responsibility — and maintain it like they are doing with Castle Hill and Signal Hill,” he says, adding an interpretation centre should be built there.

Griffiths also wants pavement for the narrow, gravel road to the monument.

“The road has been a pain in the ass from Day 1,” he says.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada would have to decide if the monument is upgraded to an historic site.

Jeremy Roop of Parks Canada says they’re willing to work with Griffiths and the people of Ship Harbour if they want to make that happen.

“If they wanted to resubmit to the board and have the board consider a different level of recognition ... we’d certainly help them through that process,” says Roop, manager of external relations for eastern Newfoundland.

Saturday’s dinner is being held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Charter.

Besides the presentation to Griffiths, political scientist Peter Russell, who recently wrote a book on the Charter, will give an address.

The meal served will replicate the one Churchill and Roosevelt ate during that historic day.

As well, at 11:30 Sunday morning, a remembrance service is being held at the Atlantic Charter site in Ship harbour. It will be a re-enactment of an Aug. 10, 1941, service on the HMS Prince of Wales.

Griffiths will definitely be there, continuing his quest, touting the importance of the site as much as possible.

To an extent, he’s done it all for his community, but the main driver has been the importance of the document itself.

“When you’re looking at a document like the Atlantic Charter, from what I’ve read on it, you’re looking at one of the most important documents on Earth.”


sbartlett@thetelegram. Twitter: bartlett_steve