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PIONEER HISTORY OF ST. GEORGE'S DIOCESE

CHAPTER X

THE EFFECTS OF THE FRENCH TREATY CLAIMS

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It has been impossible in the course of this narrative to avoid making frequent reference to what may be called the French Shore question. Though writing of a British Colony, we have often noted with surprise the term French Shore applied to the district in which Monsignor Sears lived and labored. Furthermore, this was not a name merely and no more, it represented something very real in its effects. That the state of affairs hard a serious detrimental effect on the spiritual work of Fr. Sears appears in almost every one of the long extracts which have been given from his journal and reports. According to F E. Smith (now Lord Birkenhead) in his admirable chapter on this question in his work. "The Story of Newfoundland": "The dispute is partly historical, partly legal, and can only be explained by reference to documents of considerable age."

It is not within the ambit of this narrative to expatiate on what led up to this dispute. Those who desire such an exposition may turn to the pages of the work above mentioned or to the larger volume by Prowse, "History of Newfoundland." It seems necessary, however to say that color was given to the French claims by Article XIII of the Treaty of Utrecht, 1713, by the Treaty of Paris, 1763 and by an Act of Parliament passed in 1782 to implement this Treaty viz: "An Act to enable His Majesty to make such regulations as may be necessary to prevent the inconveni-

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ence which might arise from the competition of His Majesty's subjects with those of the Most Christian King in carrying on the fishery on the Coasts of the Island of Newfoundland." What I am concerned with is the effects which the interpretations put on these different Articles, causes and Acts of Parliament, had on Ecclesiastical and Civil organization on the Territory known as the Prefecture Apostolic of St. George's Bay.

The first piece of evidenee which I will submit to maintain my contention that, under the interpretation placed on them by both the British, French and Newfoundland Governmemts in 1870, no advance of any kind could be made in colonizing the West and maintaining law and order; that under the circumstances there was no seeurity, therefore no incentive to the people to build up and advance; no possibility of the Church laying broad and deep foundations. and that to inaugurate agitation against the arrangement was the most obvious step to be taken by anyone who wished to see security and progress, is a letter written to Monsignor Sears by a Superintendent of Schools:

" St. John's, Jan. 7, 1881.
"Very, Rev. Sir:

"I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter. . . . It is needless to say that the question or position of Taxation witbout representation lies between the people taxed and the Legislature imposiug the Taxes. . . It is not my province to discuss the injury or injustice done the people of that Shore by existing Laws. We all know that for Imperial reasons representation has not been granted though customs duties are collected.

"The Legislature in voting monies for the two public services of Education and Roads confines the

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application of such votes to the parts of the Island represented in the House of Assembly, known as the Colony of Newfoundland.

"Until the French Shore will be represented in the Legislature in my' opinion this course will and must be followed.

"You are mistaken then in supposing as you do in your letter that you get a proportional share of the ordinary grant. The inhabitants of the French Shore do not receive one cent out of the Education Grant voted by the Legislature in the ordinary way under that head, just as you do not receive any part of the general Road Grant. In each case the grant made for the French Shore is special. Thus the grants for the Academies, general purposes, in lieu of commercial schools, for destitute places, and bonus to certified teachers, are all limited in their application to the Colonial, that is, the represented part of the Island.

"In 1879 the Special grant for the French Shore was, as you know, $2,000.00, to which was added $200.00 in aid of schools the previous year. There being no school boards appointed, the Government placed the disbursement of this sum in the hands of the respective Superintendents. Last year the Legislature voted the same amount and similar instructions were given by the Government regarding its expenditure."

But, as we shall see, the vexatious interference of the French warships effected even the daily doings of the inhabitants, or as they were called "the squatters," on the West Coast, as the following brief extracts from the Report of Captain Miller of H.M.S. Sirius of the fishery protection service. I am indebted to a scrap from one of the St. John's papers of the year '80 for these illuminating extracts:

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"Cpt. Loch, 1848, Page 18 says: When on the point of sailing the son of Mr. Grange of Anchor Point. Newfoundland, came on board to complain that the French had stopped his father fishing a salmon river that had been in his family for upwards of a century: that after much opposition on his father's part he had to yield to the French one-half and after-wards two-thirds of the produce of the river. This year they had taken it from him altogether"

"Cpt. Brown 1871. Page 19 says: 'And lastly the majority of these three thousand Englishmen, (between Cape Ray and Point Riche) have expended their labor on land and built houses from which they may be liable to be expelled by the French or rather by the English Government, should the French require the coast for the purposes of the Fishery. A settler in St George's Bay told me that the French asserted their right to cut wood within ground that he had enclosed and cut down some trees which he had purposely left standing to shelter his house in the winter. Another man in Bay of Islands informed me that a Frenchman said he would enter his house and pull down the beams if he wanted wood to repair his fish stage and if he could find none handy. "

The newspaper commencing on these extracts says that apparently it was the opinion of the Attorney General of the Colony in 1873 that the French constructions on the Treaty were justifiable and that the Newfoundland fishermen had no concurrent rights of fishery on the so-called French Shore.

Later responsible Newfoundland Statesmen corrected this impression on the Imperial Government, making it plain that "The Government of Newfoundland never countenanced such an erroneous opinion'

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and that 'the Q.C. Opinion was his own and not that of the government."

This letter from Mr. Fenelon and the extracts from the fishery protection reports give a fair idea I think of the chaos following on the existence of the French claims. One asks did Fr. Sears take any steps towards having these remedied? Though he had striven against the situation from the first, he was particularly active on the point in l880, while in St. John's; we can make a shrewd guess at his mode of attack from Fenelon's letter, but another letter, addressed to Hon. W. J. Donnelly and a draft of which I have found among his papers, is even more illuminating. His reason was never obscured by his zeal:

"Grand River, Codroy, April 15, '79.
"Dear Sir
. . . . . . . . . .

I regret to hear there is so much distress in Placentia and St. Mary's. Unfortunately that will ever and always be the case with Newfoundland till the fertile plains that lie here now a howling wilderness will be placed within reach of the Agriculturist. Then only will the population be so increased and the wealth of the Colony so augmented by so many industries that will follow that in the event of these periodical failures the able-bodied will find employment else-where and the number left to suffer will be so insignificant comparatively speaking. that to extend the necessary relief will be a mere nothing. . . .

"I am sorry to perceive by the tenor of your letter that there seems to be a disposition on the part of the Legislature to ignore us on the West Coast here and to do nothing for us. I fear the Executive will find

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when too late that this is a wrong policy. The reason which you assign in your letter, viz: that they are not willing to give money grants till such time as the power to issue land grants has been given us. Dear Sir, any person conversant with the condition of this part of the Country will see that this is a great mistake for may reasons.

"First: it is an injustice to the rapidly increasing population of this most important part of our Colony to deprive them of free trade with the neighboring Colonies, in a word, to tax them equally with the other Colonists, even to tax them without representation (but this would be endured for a time), but to tax them and then turn round and tell them coolly that they are to participate no more in these taxes till Great Britain will do so and so. This is, to say the least of it, an act of injustice that bids fair to find a parallel in the history of civilized Legislation. What! is the population of these parts to be taxed and then not allowed to derive any benefits from these taxes till England and France will make a new Treaty regarding the rights of the latter on these shores? Why this may require scores, nay hundreds of years as all former endeavors of the kind amply prove, and we to pay taxes all this time and no more money is to be expended on our Coast. OF ALL THE MISLGISLATION EVER KNOWN IN H1STOY THIS IS THE MOST UNJUST. . . .

"There is another remark of yours that I would like to call your attention to viz: that the Legislature looks upon money expended on this Coast as money thrown away.' I am really astonished at so honorable a body of men entertaining such an idea. So will any man that will consider the following facts: The French Shore now forms part and parcel of the Colony of Newfoundland. its inhabitants have been

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subjected to the same laws, pay the same revenue as the rest of the inhabitants of the Island. Where then is the rule of equity that would warrant these people being deprived in the right of participating in the disbursements of this Revenue?

"Secondly: 'The amount expended last year was entirely too large.' Well, be that as it may, it was nothing more than the revenue derivable from the place would warrant. Our population, according to the last census, was 8,654, increasing at the rate of over fifty per cent per annum for the four years previous. Now suppose it did not increase any since (which is not the case), 8,654 of a population will yield at the rate of over $42,000. The expenditure of last year was not over that. I have proved time and again that our population was contributing indirectly all along largely towards the revenue. Last year the whole proceeds of duties must have gone into the provincial funds, as we were in no way allowed to deal out of the Colony without paying duty. The fact that the whole amount of duties was not collected on this side of the Island only goes to prove the amount of trade that has been done between here and the Capital. Consequently see what is to be gained by retaining our trade within ourselves.

"You see Sir, from these facts what reason our people have to complain if the policy you speak of pervades the minds of the majority of our Legislators I fear that at the foot of this there is a wrong principle. The idea with the Legislature seems to be 'Force the inhabitants of the west into violent measures ignore them crush them until such time as they will commit deeds of violence and outrage. This will he the only means we have to coerce Great Britain to accede to our views.' Now, as a friend, I tell you that this policy will not do. We are not such idiots on this

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side to be caught in such a snare. We have it in our power to lay our grievances before the home department. . . . I feel sure the present Legislature has it in it's power in this session to clear up all the difficulties of the French Shore. This could he done on the principle of O'Connell, To take advantage of the concessions made and take these the means of getting others.' If the Legislature would only consider this plan I have laid down for commencing at once a system that would inaugurate the era of prosperity that is in store for Newfoundland and they should soon surmount the French Shore difficulties.

"Believe sincerely,

"THOMAS SEARS Pre. Ap.
"Hon. W. J. Donnelly,
"M. L. C."

The force of these arguments is irresistible but it took some hard work at the same time to get them home on the different Governments concerned. For several years before this he had been using other arguments. Arguments, the accumulation of which I presume to say, finally influenced the Legislature. He educated at every opportunity the people to a full realization of their abandonment. From that knowledge as he foresaw developed a series of petitions couched in inexorable logic and permeated with loyalty to law and order with which the Legislators in St. John's were literally bombarded for years so that one wonders whether to admire more the tenacity of the one in asking and the other in denying. If the politicians thought to silence Thomas Sears by delay they were mistaken. If they thought to face him in logical battle they had surely found a foeman worthy of their steel. Success waited at length on his efforts. His views were adopted. In the year 1881 Sir Frederick

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MOST REV. MICHEAL F. POWER, D.D.
Second Bishop of St. George's, (1911 - 1920)

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Carter, administrator, announced in the speech from the throne:

First: That the local government was authorized to make grants of land on the French Shore.

Secondly: That the residents there were now to elect two representatives to the House of Assembly.

Thus the boon so long desired was at length attained. All restrictions on territorial rights were removed. One-half of Newfoundland and it would appear the most valuable half was now for the first time thrown open for settlers in the real sense of the word. Vexatious arguments such as those used in the letter of Mr. Fenelon. were no longer available. The Imperial Government need no longer Veto the erection of a Cross Country Railway "as its terminus would be on the French Shore." Money from the revenue in due proportion could no longer be described as "money thrown away." Settlement railways roads were possible for those who were wise enough to use concessions already gained as a means of gaining more. There was no longer to be Taxation without representation. Sir Frederick Carter in his speech from the throne had indeed promulgated West Newfoundland's Magna Charta.

 

 

Transcribed by Bill Crant, Elmsdale, NS Canada, by permission of St. George's Diocese, St. George's, Newfoundland

Page Revised: February - 2003 (Terry Piercey)

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