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Harbour Grace to relive the battle of Confederation next week

He’s back and ready to campaign. Joey Smallwood, a.k.a. as writer and historian Pat Collins, will debate Major Peter Cashin, otherwise known as local storyteller Dave Moriarity, on the pros and cons of Confederation next Wednesday in Harbour Grace.

By Olivia Bradbury / Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace will commemorate the 75th anniversary of Newfoundland’s confederation with Canada with a special event July 10 that will once again pit the leader of the Confederation movement against one of the biggest defenders of Responsible Government.

The event will feature a free public lunch hour concert that will be interrupted by none other than Mr. Joey Smallwood.

The late ‘Father of Confederation’ will be played by Pat Collins, a writer and former director and chairman of the museum. When decked out in his dark hat, wide-rimmed spectacles and bow tie, Collins has more than a passing resemblance to the Little Man from Gambo who overturned the politics of Newfoundland.

Collins well knows the history of the person he will play and the politics and passions of the time. During the first referendum, Harbour Grace voted heavily against confederation with Canada. 

“It voted for responsible government,” Collins said. “It wanted to be independent, still connected to Britain somewhat, and fly the Union Jack forever.” 

Collins said a big factor behind that sentiment was the Roman Catholic Church, which was against confederation. Archbishop Edward Roche of St. John’s wrote to parishioners all over Newfoundland asking Catholics to vote against union with Canada. 

“They felt it would erode the powers of the Church itself,” Collins said. 

Another reason Harbour Grace voted against confederation is that it was a merchant-based town with a huge retail base that served settlements around the island. The merchants feared that if Newfoundland joined Canada, it would lead to more industry and competition from mainland Canada that would force them to lower their prices and have to compete harder for sales. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, when the second referendum saw confederation with Canada win the vote, the majority of voters in Harbour Grace still sided with Responsible Government.

The idea of the upcoming museum event is that it is an imagining: what if Joey Smallwood visited Harbour Grace between the first and second referendums to try to convince residents to vote to join Canada? That is what the museum will be depicting. Smallwood, played by Collins, will show up at the concert and go to the podium. Addressing the attendees, he will make a case for why it is more beneficial for Newfoundland to join Canada than to choose responsible government and remain tied to Britain. Some of the benefits he will tout include Canada sharing its rich resources, Newfoundlanders receiving a pension when they are older, children receiving a monthly allowance, and merchant prices going down. Collins noted that at the time of the referendum, Canada had a surplus of millions of dollars, while Newfoundland had a deficit of fifty million. “Smallwood” will also  highlight the types of facilities confederation was said to bring including access to universities, trade schools and hospitals.

But he won’t go unchallenged. 

“Who shows up to that event but none other than Peter Cashin,” Collins said. “And that was Smallwood’s nemesis.” 

Cashin opposed confederation with Canada and did not even want it to be an option on the ballot. During the event, Cashin, played by local storyteller Dave Moriarty, will turn up at Smallwood’s campaign to challenge his points. There will also be actors staged in the audience playing various roles, such as workers and fishermen, who will either heckle Smallwood or voice their support for him.

The performance will last for roughly 20 minutes and will serve to help attendees imagine what might have transpired if Smallwood had visited Harbour Grace between the two referendums that ultimately led to union with Canada.

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