More Than a Poor Majority: The Story of Newfoundland's Confederation with Canada


332 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-919519-95-4






Reviewed by Gildas Roberts

Gildas Roberts is a university professor of English at the Memorial
University of Newfoundland.


The thesis of this book is that Canada and Great Britain conspired to dragoon Newfoundland into

Confederation in 1949. When Commission Government was accepted by the Island in 1934, Britain gave a solemn undertaking to restore full responsible government when Newfoundland was again self-supporting; this solemn undertaking was disregarded by the Attlee government. When Confederation was mooted by Mackenzie King in 1943 he roundly declared that this would take place only if the people of Newfoundland made their “decision clear beyond all possibility of misunderstanding” (p.32); in the event, the Canadian government, with the collusion of Westminster, accepted a mere four percent majority in the second referendum — the first having shown that a three percent majority favoured the restoration of Responsible Government. None of this is new, but the whole history of Newfoundland’s confederation with Canada, from the first failed attempt in 1867 to the successful consummation on April Fool’s Day 1949, has nowhere been so exhaustively examined as in this book.

It would be pleasant to praise it unreservedly. Bren Walsh was, until his retirement in 1981, a gifted political reporter for the CBC in Newfoundland; and he has obviously worked very hard in researching this book. Unfortunately, he has been ill served by his editor(s). The text as it stands is repetitious and contains many unheralded shifts backwards and forwards in time; in short, it is in need of rigorous editorial reshaping. Minor irritants abound. Page 56 is bound and numbered page 55 and vice versa. “Winterholme” appears as “Winterhome” (p. 10), “principal” as “principle” (pp.33,42), “predominant” and “predominantly” as “predominent” and “predominently” (p. 187), “consensus” as “concensus” (p.222), “suspension” as “suspencion” (p.223), “bankruptcy” as “bankruptsy” (p.261), and U.S. Senator Brooks (p.221) becomes “Brookes” in the footnotes. “Solicitors” (p.58), “semantic” (p.58), “impecunious” (p.92), and “sinecures’ (p.185) are incorrectly used. Bren Walsh, so proud/touchy when it comes to Newfoundland, shows scant regard for the pride/touchiness of others in writing of Sir Gordon MacDonald, last governor of Newfoundland, as “English” (pp.10,18) and “English-born” (p.33), when in fact he was of Scots descent and Welsh-born and Welsh-speaking. One final criticism: a book 319 pages long and crammed with a wealth of diligently researched and fascinating material cries out for an index. There is no index.

To sum up: Bren Walsh convincingly advances evidence to suggest that the way in which Newfoundland was maneuvered into Confederation by secret collaboration reflects little credit on Ottawa and Westminster; the faults that mar Bren Walsh’s book reflect little credit on his editor(s).


Walsh, Bren, “More Than a Poor Majority: The Story of Newfoundland's Confederation with Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,