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Paul Sparkes: Somewhat great expectations

“Recycle” is the environmental byword these days and in respect to garbage control and disposal we have come a long way in a short time. Those who, generations ago, tossed debris into the woods, or into the harbour, would be totally amazed today. Photo taken last week at Robin Hood Bay, St. John’s.
“Recycle” is the environmental byword these days and in respect to garbage control and disposal we have come a long way in a short time. Those who, generations ago, tossed debris into the woods, or into the harbour, would be totally amazed today. Photo taken last week at Robin Hood Bay, St. John’s. - Paul Sparkes photo

“The higher rates of pay, coupled with the presence of so many servicemen of a nation whose wealth and daily comforts are so much in advance of Newfoundland standards, have lead to a realization among average Newfoundlanders that they have missed much in the past ... the establishment of United States bases in the island has led to a demand among the poorer sections of the community not only for the basic domestic requirements but also to what might be termed luxury articles, such as radio sets.”

  • Newfoundland Governor Humphrey Walwyn, 1944).

Every so often, as I’m sure you will agree, you come across a  statement from the past that makes you take your eyes off the text, fix them on something innocuous and think. In the above case, it may well be, “Oh Lord! What’s the Governor saying? Did he see us as a Stone Age tribe lost in the 20th century, or was he, actually, right?”

Well, after that Walwyn clip, I began to “spot-read” with a different purpose. And my take-away from that was, how viewpoints change across, say, 45 or 55 years! My sources were Joseph Smallwood’s Volumes 5 and 6 of his “Book of Newfoundland” (published in 1975) and Albert Perlin’s “Newfoundland Record”, published at the 15-year mark of Confederation, in 1964.

So, here follow a few tidbits. They’re fragments, lost in time. But they should “give pause” to the thoughtful reader in Newfoundland & Labrador today.

Religion today

“It seems paradoxical that at a time when young people are not supposed to be interested in religion, departments of religious studies all across North America are filled to capacity. In 1970 there were 264 students registered in Religious Studies at Memorial University. By 1973 this number had increased to 721 with 73 of these students majoring in the subject.”

  • John O’Mara, writing in Smallwood’s Vol. Six, 1975.

Our railroad

“Confederation has certainly been a success where the railroad is concerned. The line has become the most important, and the most reliable of the Newfoundland transportation systems, and it is clear the changes made by CN during the past 15 years have benefitted not only the road but the province and island economy as a whole.”

  • A.B. Perlin, The Newfoundland Record, Special issue, The Confederation Era, 1949-1964, Fifteen Years of Progress Reviewed.

Young people leaving?

“Newfoundland became a province of Canada during an inter-censal year. At the time, her population was about 347,000. During the Confederation debate the fear was frequently expressed that, given Canadian citizenship, many young people would immediately set out for the most industrialized parts of the country in search of employment, thereby precipitating another heavy drain on our human resources. That fear proved to be unfounded. The exciting prospect of sharing in the development of their home Province within the Canadian framework was more compelling and the expected exodus did not occur.”

  • Statistician E.W. Hutchings, writing in Smallwood’s Vol. Five, 1975.

Our Irish ‘slaver’

“In April 1811 the schooner Fanny, J. Lannon, master, of 101 tons sailed from Wexford laden with cargo, 184 passengers and a crew of 12.  Some of the passengers paid as much as six pounds for their passage.  As might be expected they were soon short of both food and water and five of the passengers died.  After a hideous voyage of 41 days they reached Bay de Verde in Newfoundland.  An enquiry was held in St. John’s, and Lannon was fined 500 pounds for ‘putting to sea with insuffient food and water.’  It was apparently the only charge that could be preferred against the scoundrel.  He deserved to be hanged.” 

    •  Anthony MacDermott, writing in Smallwood’s Vol. Six, 1975.

Lots of hydro power

“Power is expected to provide the next great breakthrough in the economic progress of Newfoundland. It will first be power generated in the island (Bay d’Espoir). Then, if need be, it will be power developed at the Muskrat Falls on the lower Hamilton River, near Goose airport in Labrador. It will be transmitted across the nine miles of Belle Isle strait to be conducted on land lines down the west coast of Newfoundland and across the interior to the south coast of the island. There is estimated to be close to a million horsepower potential on the island and another two million horsepower in the region of the Muskrat Falls.”

  • A.B. Perlin, The Newfoundland Record, Special issue, The Confederation Era, 1949-1964, Fifteen Years of Progress Reviewed.

Newfoundlanders’ dreams

“It seems reasonable to hope that there will come to fruition the dreams of many Newfoundlanders, both on the political and the engineering level” … for the generation and distribution of power not only from the Churchill (the Gull Island and Muskrat Falls sites) but from other great rivers, such as the Eagle, and transmitting this power across the Straits of Belle Isle to the island grid.

  • George Hobbs, writing just after the Churchill Falls project was completed and noting that the advance in hydro electric technology would bring to reality our dreams of more power from Labrador; 1975, Smallwood’s Vol. Six.

Creative writing?

“Newfoundland has progressed at a staggering rate in the past 25 years. But its potential is greater still. In achieving this potential the Memorial University will play a major part. But in some areas, the stimulus must be found elsewhere. For example, in creative writing. Newfoundland journalism is always lively and often original. But a major school of fiction has yet to arise. The university can stimulate works of historical and social research. But creative work flourishes best outside an institutional environment. Moreover, if it is to be viable, it must compete successfully in a world market. Here lie a difficulty and a challenge. Newfoundlanders are rightfully proud of their homeland and of all that has been achieved. But there is a tendency to look inward.”

    •  Lord Stephen Taylor, President of Memorial University, writing in Smallwood’s Vol. Five, 1975.

Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. E-mail: paul.sparkes@thetelegram.com

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