Newfoundland joined the Canadian confederation in 1949. The referendum was decided by a one percent margin. But 1949 was not the first time that Newfoundlanders had discussed – or fought over – confederation.
In 1869, Newfoundlanders voted in a general election to not join Canada. The two sides in the debate fired insults back and forth and the “No” side, the Anti-Confederates, waged a war of negative publicity that would be the envy of current political parties. The declared that :Newfoundland children would be drafted into the Canadian Army and die to be left unburied in distant sandy, dry Canadian deserts.” There was also quite evident an amount of anti-French sentiment.
In 1868, a local song written by Mark Walker summed up all the No arguments. It was called the Antis of Plate Cove.
Come all ye good people and listen
To what I have come here to say;
It’s concerning a band of vile traitors
That live at the head of our bay.
Their names for some time I’ll not mention,
I’ll apprehend them by and by.
Their leader he was a blind piper,
By the parson’s game-cock lost an eye.
The day that the poll-booth was opened,
The “Antis” and “Cons” they were there.
The flag of cursed Confederation
Was gallantly marched to the rear.
Keough struck Newell, the bearer,
And he trampled the ‘rag’ to the ground;
Mavourneen he struck Neddy Humby
And frightened the Abbots and Brown.
Then out came that chap of the Brennan’s.
A son to the leader in strife;
He took an oak stave in the morning
And he swore he would have “Antis” life.
He was soon perceived by those heroes,
Descendants of old Granu-Aile,
Who tumbled him into a mud pool
And followed clan Brennan’s on trail.
Then next was the great Patagonian,
Both matchless in manner and size;
He first talked in favour of “Antis”,
Then joined the confederate side.
The gang got a full tub of “soldiers”
And pelted him down to his door.
His mother did not recognize him
‘Til she washed him a dozen times o’er!
Oh, boys, if you saw the fair Jenny
I’m sure you would pity her case;
And if she was handy to Ridley
He might sympathize with her grace.
Poor thing, she is half broken-hearted
Since the “Antis” have now gained their day,
Short shoes and long corns may attend her –
Is the wish of all Bonavist’ Bay.
And now to conclude and to finish,
I hope a good lesson we’ve taught;
And the Touters sent here from the city
Have been told that Plate Cove can’t be bought.
Our fathers came here to find freedom,
Their sons will not trade it away;
Then hurrah! for the “Antis” of Plate Cove,
The “Fortress of Bonavist’ Bay”!
Morning Chronical, St. John’s, 29 Sept 1869
The song is rife with terminology that expressed the Anti’s ferocity on the issue. Take for example the phrase “The flag of cursed Confederation…”. The use of the term “Touters” in the final stanza refers to persons sent by the government to spy on the Antis and to to try to force them into changing their vote.
And were lots of “moneyed” people involved in the Anti movement.
Charles Fox Bennett, who founded The Bennett Brewing Company, Limited, St. John’s, in 1827, is one of the many colorful figures in the picture at the time. Born in the West of England, he came to the island colony in his teens he left his mark indelibly on its politics and economics. His leadership of the Anti-Confederate Party in the election of 1869 was instrumental in keeping Newfoundland outside the Canadian Confederation. He became Premier of Newfoundland at the age of 77 and remained in office until 1873. He died in 1883, at the age of 91.