Can the real Confederation baby please stand up?

Josh Pennell Josh.pennell@thetelegram.com
Published on April 9, 2014
Sharon O’Neil with some of her Confederation-baby memorabilia — a newspaper clipping of a picture of her and her mother in 1949.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

The title for Newfoundland’s first Confederation baby seems to be as controversial as Confederation itself.

No sooner had The Telegram printed the story of Marg Skehans, a woman from Bell Island whose deliverer, Dr. Walter Templeman, had tried to get her recognized as the first baby born in Newfoundland following Confederation, than the paper received word of whom Joey Smallwood had actually crowned with the title.

The last father of Confederation personally recognized Sharon O’Neil as the first baby born in the province following Confederation.

“I have lots of memorabilia. And I have lots of pictures, and pictures taken with Joey Smallwood,” O’Neil says.

She says she’s also recognized in several history books as being Newfoundland’s first baby to be born following the March 31, 1949, 11:59 p.m. union of Newfoundland and Labrador to Canada.

According to O’Neil, her time of birth was about 1:35 a.m., April 1, 1949.

Skehans told The Telegram last week that she was born a minute after midnight, but it seems that’s not an official time because Skehans was born at home and not in a hospital.

“As I understood it, you had to be born in a hospital because anybody could lay claim if they were born in a home and have anybody sign an affidavit and say that it was true,” says O’Neil.

Exactly how large the masses were who were trying to get these false affidavits signed is unclear, but Dr. Templeman did try to get Skehans recognized, according to Skehans and her nephew, MHA David Brazil.

“He went ballistic trying to get it certified,” Brazil told The Telegram last week.

But that was all in vain. O’Neil was Joey’s baby, regardless of whether Templeman said he delivered Skehans a full hour and a half before O’Neil was born.

The recognition came with a certain amount of splendor.

“I know when they made the book of Newfoundland I was only 17 then when they came to the house looking for a picture for that. The next thing was the 20th anniversary (of Confederation) where they had a big dinner into the university in the dining hall and I presented Mr. Smallwood with a silver tray,” says O’Neil.

With so much pride and privilege at stake, it’s perhaps no wonder there would be some controversy over who owned the title. Following The Telegram’s original story, the paper was contacted by at least one other person explaining they knew who Newfoundland’s first Confederation baby was, and in their mind it was neither Skehans nor O’Neil. The emailer claimed it was a grocery bagger from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, whose name they couldn’t recall.

 

josh.pennell@thetelegram.com