OTD: Confederation debate dominates Newfoundland National Convention

On today’s date in 1946, Responsible Government supporters at the Newfoundland National Convention successfully adjourned deliberations for the Christmas holidays.

A year earlier, U.K. Prime Minister Clement Attlee informed British Parliament about a plan for Newfoundlanders to elect a national convention of 45 delegates the following year.

“This Convention would examine and debate the changes that had taken place in the financial and economic situation of the country since 1934, and second, make recommendations to the British Government concerning the various forms of government that could be put before the people in a national referendum,” according to a 2003 article by Melvin Baker entitled “Falling into the Canadian Lap: The Confederation of Newfoundland and Canada, 1945-1949.”

“The delegates would ‘consider and discuss among themselves, as elected representatives of the people, the changes that have taken place in the financial and economic situation of the Island since 1934, and bearing in mind the extent to which the high revenues of recent years have been due to wartime conditions, to examine the position of the country and to make recommendations to His Majesty’s government as to possible forms of future government to be put before the people at a national referendum.’ In summary, the National Convention would make its recommendations to the British government and the people would then vote on their constitutional future in a referendum.”

Then a 45-year-old pig farmer from Gander, Joseph Smallwood was elected to the convention as a delegate for Bonavista Centre.

A proponent of Confederation with Canada, he believed a union would be prosperous for Newfoundland, then a British dominion. He commanded the debates while arguing Confederation would improve citizens’ quality of life with direct access to social welfare and public services. Despite opposition from prominent St. John’s merchants, who denounced what they considered disloyalty to Newfoundland’s independence, Smallwood dominated the discussions surrounding Confederation.

“We are not a nation,” Smallwood said in one of the many debates. “We are a medium-sized municipality … left far behind in the march of time.”

He also fought to include Confederation on a referendum ballot—allowing citizens to decide to continue with the Commission of Government; to return to Responsible Government; or to join Confederation as Canada’s 10th province.

On April 1, 1948, the people of Newfoundland voted in a second referendum to join Canada.

The following year, on March 31, 1949, Newfoundland formally joined Confederation.

A day later, Smallwood was sworn in as the new province’s first premier.


Prior to joining Canada, Newfoundland used a variety of currency.

The last decimal currency to be used in Newfoundland before the colony joined Canada were one-, five- and 10-cent pieces used from 1938-47 with the bust of King George VI.

In 1937, the government of Newfoundland considered switching to a smaller-size cent to cut costs. The new reverse featured the pitcher plant, which is native to Newfoundland.

During the Second World War, the Newfoundland cents were manufactured in Ottawa rather than England to avoid the risks of trans-Atlantic shipping. Although coins manufactured in Ottawa between 1940 and 1947 have a “C” mintmark to signify they were produced in the nation’s capital, the mintmark was excluded from the 1940 and 1942 issues.

As for the five-cent denomination, there was considerable debate about whether to produce a silver five-cent coin or adopt a nickel five-cent coin.

Eventually, the decision was made to change only the cent. The reverse design was continued while the obverse featured the standard effigy of British colonial coinage.

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