Inside the Atlantic Triangle: Canada and the Entrance of Newfoundland into Confederation 1939-1949


285 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-2587-0




Reviewed by Richard Wilbur

Randall White is the author of Voice of Region: On the Long Journey to
Senate Reform in Canada, Too Good to Be True: Toronto in the 1920s, and
Global Spin: Probing the Globalization Debate.


Published doctoral theses tend to be stodgy and heavy to read — two criticisms that apply to this study. What redeems it is the excellent use of recently-released government documents indicating how MacKenzie King, aided and guided by gifted and dedicated Ottawa mandarins like Robertson, Pearson and Churchill, brought Newfoundland into the Canadian fold. King is the key player. Quickly realizing that the 1940 destroyer-for-bases deal arranged by Roosevelt and Churchill might undermine Canada’s special interest in Britain’s oldest colony, King used his personal contacts to get this point across to the British war cabinet. This prompted Roosevelt’s telephone call inviting King to Ogdensburg.

The resulting permanent defense agreement did not allay King’s fears about what the Americans might do to Canada’s position in Newfoundland. How King and his team of politicians and bureaucrats thwarted the U.S. and in particular maintained Canada’s control of the Goose Bay facility is perhaps the most rewarding chapter in this first-class study.

The story of Newfoundland’s entry into Confederation has been well told in a general way by others, notably Richard Gwyn, S.J.R. Noel, and some of the participants. MacKenzie had much additional material to work with and he knew what to do with it. He shows how Britain, facing horrendous financial hurdles in 1945, decided it was in no position to solve those of Newfoundland, still under the Commission government. “The Canadians had not played a large role in the evolution of this policy, but it was an essential one. They opened the door on Confederation just enough to permit the British government to make union with Canada their goal. Without Canadian acquiescence, no action ... would have been possible.”

From MacKenzie’s sources, the “Ottawa men” were as crucial to the success of this Newfoundland saga as was Joey Smallwood. The fact that they always operated behind the scenes helps to account for the book’s understated and often colorless tone. This is its only negative aspect, if we ignore the jolting single-word typographical omissions in the last paragraphs of both page 210 and 216. These and a few other slips will hopefully be corrected in subsequent reprints of a work that should become the standard reference on this topic.


MacKenzie, David, “Inside the Atlantic Triangle: Canada and the Entrance of Newfoundland into Confederation 1939-1949,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,