Canadians at Last

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Raymond B. Blake, Canadians at Last: Canada Integrates Newfoundland as a Province (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994).

On March 31, 1949, the Dominion of Newfoundland became Canada’s tenth province, 82 years after Confederation (1867). Behind this simple fact is a complex story rich in detail and drama--social, political, economic, cultural. Raymond Blake, in Canadians at Last, examines a crucial piece of this story--the successes and struggles of the integration of Newfoundland into Canada--in the 10-year timeframe from approximately 1948 to 1957. Why does he do this? What is his purpose? Blake notes that there clearly not a lot of research been done on this vital time period. He seeks to inform the reader of the complexities of integration by researching many different sources from this time and thus fill in the gaps. What is the book about? How has the author organized his examination of the unique difficulties and approaches that both parties experienced in the process of Union? Comprised of six chapters, the book begins by introducing the economic conditions and politics of post-war Newfoundland in 1948. Newfoundland had become a location of geographical importance to the war effort. At war’s end this British colony faced great uncertainty for the future. The vast financial support that Britain had


supplied was completely drying up. Britain needed to focus on rebuilding themselves after the war and could not maintain the financial burdens carried by Newfoundland. Essentially, Great Britain was desperate to rid itself of responsibility. Canada had long been interested in the colony because of its strategic postion on the Atlantic coast. Canada also wished to control the massive iron deposits in Labrador. Also of critical importance was the aviation industry, both military and civil, including the control and use of airfields for transatlantic flight (Gander, Goose Bay). The Canadian government was concerned about the strong presence and freedoms that American military bases had on the island, fearing possible American annexation. They wanted to avoid another Alaska, and unite all of the British North American territories according to the vision of 1864. Newfoundland at this time had fallen behind the booming economy of the mainland. The people were experiencing a much lower standard of living, and knew they required considerable sums of money to bring their economy up to Canadian standards. Their options were to become an independent country, or to join Canada. In 1948 the population was split almost 50/50 on this, and after two referendums, the vote for Confederation won by a narrow margin. The desire for security, particularly of the generous federal social programs which the Canadian government offered as part of their proposal to Newfoundland, won the day, and on March 31, 1949, Newfoundland became the tenth province of Canada. Throughout his book, Blake is careful to emphasize that Canadian government politicians and officials were very careful and concerned not to put any pressure on, or offend, the Newfoundlanders. At the same time, they also had to be fair and


consider the needs of the other provinces without alienating them. Through the first three chapters, the author explored and detailed the extensive efforts of many people (both Canadian and Newfoundlanders) in the whole delicate process of negotiation and eventual political organization after Confederation. This included a chapter chronicling the implementation and impact of the all-important federal social programs, of which the Family Allowance was key. After the Union, there were many complex challenges Canada faced with its new province. The last three chapters of the book document in detail how Newfoundland’s secondary industries, including manufacturing and trade, its primary industry of fishing, and relationships with the American and Canadian military, all underwent adjustments (1948-1957). Socioeconomic conditions...
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