Twentieth-Century Newfoundland: Explorations


383 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55081-072-3
DDC 971.8





Edited by James Hiller and Peter Neary
Reviewed by Olaf Uwe Janzen

Olaf Uwe Janzen is an associate professor of history at Sir Wilfred
Grenfell College at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.


The aim of this collection of essays was “to build upon and
supplement” the editors’ earlier collection, Newfoundland in the
Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Essays in Interpretation (1980), now
out of print. Jim Hiller presents “The Political Career of Robert
Bond”; Gerald Pocius writes on early efforts to promote
Newfoundland’s tourist potential; James Overton examines attitudes and
efforts that shaped social policy relating to poor relief, public
housing, and public health in the 1920s; and Gordon Handcock explains
why agricultural colonization schemes failed as a measure to cope with
Depression-era unemployment. Peter Neary’s three essays assess the
role of the United States in Newfoundland’s decision to join
Confederation, the administrative integration of Newfoundland into
Canada through a study of veterans’ benefits, and the ouster of Joey
Smallwood in 1971-72. Raymond Blake examines economic development
strategies with respect to the fisheries between 1948 and 1957, while
Melvin Baker contributes a study of Newfoundland electrification and a
bibliography of Newfoundland history.

These are fairly narrow topics, in contrast to the broader themes of
the 1980 collection. Too often, the authors recycle material of their
own that is already in print elsewhere; others miss the opportunity to
expand on their own work by drawing other research into a broader
synthesis. Thus, Overton’s lament that little has been written on
early 20th-century social policy ignores recent research by Stuart
Godfrey, James G. Snell, and Terry Bishop, while Handcock does little to
update material first collected more than 25 years ago for his M.A.
research. Bassler, Blake, and Neary all contribute articles that are
little more than synopses of books or duplicates of chapters already
published. Melvin Baker’s essay hints at possibilities, such as his
intriguing suggestions about Newfoundland’s subordination to Montreal
business. However, rather than develop the thread, Baker contents
himself with a largely descriptive discussion of his topic. His
bibliography, which purports to cover the period since 1800 “with
special reference to twentieth-century history,” would have served the
volume better had it been more comprehensive and confined itself to the
collection’s timeframe.

One or two essays do “explore” new territory. Gerald Pocius surveys
the efforts of the Reid railway interests to capitalize on
Newfoundland’s early 20th-century tourist potential, particularly for
affluent Americans captivated by the then-current cult of the
wilderness. Peter Neary offers a fascinating study of the organization
of Newfoundland veterans after World War I (“one of the country’s
best organized and most powerful lobbies”) and the way in which they
worked to protect their interests as Newfoundland became part of Canada.
Such essays notwithstanding, this collection lacks the sweeping overview
of Newfoundland history that made its predecessor such a success with
teachers and undergraduates alike.


“Twentieth-Century Newfoundland: Explorations,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,