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The First Vice-Regal Representative


Bert Riggs,

(an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University),
whose column, A Backward Glance
appears in the Telegram each Tuesday

Transcribed From the Telegram

By: Barbara McGrath



Newfoundland's first lieutenant-governor after Confederation in 1949 served in that office for less than five months. Sir Albert Walsh willingly vacated the vice-regal office to become chief justice of the Supreme Court. Albert Joseph Walsh was born in Holyrood on April 3, 1900, the son of William Walsh and Sophia Butler. He completed his elementary education in Holyrood before going to St. John's to attend St. Bonaventure's college.

In 1917, he became principal of the Roman Catholic academy at Harbour Grace, a position he held for seven years.

Teaching was not to be Walsh's long-term vocation. In 1924, he entered Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where after a year studying arts, he enrolled in Dalhousie's law school, graduating in 1928, with the University Gold Medal and Carswell prizes for academic excellence in all three of his years of study.

He returned to St. John's where he was called to the Newfoundland Bar on June 27, 1928. Walsh, though, had little time to establish a law practice before he decided to give politics a try.

He entered the House of Assembly as a Liberal in the general election heldon Oct. 29, 1928, one of the two members for the district of Harbour Main. Philip J. Lewis led the poll, with 1,532 votes, while Walsh received 1,480, just 12 and 15 votes more than their Conservative opponents, respectively.

When the House of Assembly opened on April 16, 1929, Prime Minister Richard Squires nominated Walsh as Speaker. He held the post until the dissolution of the House on April 30, 1932. Like almost all Squires supporters, he wasdefeated in the June 11, 1932 general election.

Following his defeat, Walsh returned to his law practice, a partnership hehad established with R. A. Parsons in 1928. In 1935, he was appointed as a magistrate by the new Commission of Government.

He served in Grand Falls until 1940 when he resigned to become assistant secretary for justice. In 1942, he became the government's labour relations officer.

Over the years, Walsh had built a strong reputation as an honest, reliable,hardworking individual. It was surprising to no one that he was appointed as commissioner of home affairs and education in 1944.

In that portfolio he was responsible for Newfoundland's transition to a peacetime nation following the end of the Second World War.

In 1947 Walsh moved to the justice and defence portfolios, and also became vice-chairman of the commission, positions he held until the dissolution of the Commission of Government on March 31, 1949.

Led delegation

On August 5, 1948, Walsh was appointed by the commission to lead the seven-member delegation to Ottawa to arrange for Terms of Union between Newfoundland and Canada. He took an active part in the negotiations and was the first of the Newfoundland delegates to sign the terms on Dec. 11, 1948.

On March 28, 1949, Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent announced that Walsh was his choice as lieutenant-governor of the new province. There has been much speculation about Walsh's appointment, as it had been generally expected in Newfoundland that Sir Leonard Outerbridge would fill the position.

Former Premier Joseph R. Smallwood, in his autobiography I Chose Canada, claimed that it was a misunderstanding that led to Walsh's appointment.

Smallwood had recommended Outerbridge, but St. Laurent's parliamentary assistant, Walter Harris, had received the impression from Outerbridge that he might not invite Smallwood to become the first premier, an event thatcould prove quite embarrassing, and therefore Walsh was appointed instead.

Another theory was that St. Laurent wanted to offer an olive branch to the many Roman Catholics who were believed to have voted against Confederation in the referenda campaigns of 1948 by appointing a Roman Catholic adherent to such a high position.

Whatever the reason, Walsh became Newfoundland's first lieutenant-governor. As such, on April 1, 1949, he received the first certificate issued by the Government of Canada proclaiming all Newfoundlanders to be Canadian citizens.

On that day, too, he conducted the swearing-in ceremony of Smallwood and his first cabinet at Government House.

On May 19, 1949, Sir Edward Emerson, chief justice of Newfoundland, died.Walsh was an obvious choice as his successor, and he accepted the appointment.

He was succeeded in the vice-regal post by Outerbridge.

Final service

Walsh's final service to Newfoundland was as the province's representative on the Canadian Royal Commission appointed to make recommendations on the necessity of continued transitional grants to Newfoundland as required by Term 29 of the Terms of Union.

The commission was appointed in the fall of 1957 and delivered its report on July 25, 1959. It recommended that transitional grants of $8,000,000 per year be paid to Newfoundland by the federal treasury in perpetuity. Canadian Prime Minister Diefenbaker's refusal to extend the payments after 1962 led to one of the great feuds in Canadian political history, between Diefenbaker and Smallwood.

Albert Walsh was one of the last group of Newfoundlanders to receive a British knighthood when he was named a Knight Bachelor in the 1949 New Year's Honours List, a practice discontinued after Confederation.

He married Winnifred Jones of Harbour Grace in 1931, and they were the parents of three sons, Michael, Gerard and Kevin.

He died, quite suddenly, on Dec. 12, 1958.

Bert Riggs is an archivisit with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University. ...



This page transcribed by Barbara McGrath (October 2000)
REVISED: August (Terry Piercey)

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