Newfoundland and Labrador is the most easterly province of Canada. Situated in the country's Atlantic region, it incorporates the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador to the northwest, with a combined area of . In 2013, the province's population was estimated at 526,702. Approximately 92 percent of the province's population lives on the island of Newfoundland (including its associated smaller islands), of which more than half live on the Avalon Peninsula. The province is Canada's most linguistically homogenous, with 97.6% of residents reporting English (Newfoundland English) as their mother tongue in the 2006 census. Historically, Newfoundland was also home to unique varieties of French and Irish, as well as the extinct Beothuk language. In Labrador, local dialects of Innu-aimun and Inuktitut are also spoken.
Newfoundland and Labrador's capital and largest city, St. John's, is Canada's 20th-largest census metropolitan area, and is home to almost 40 percent of the province's population. St. John's is the seat of government, home to the House of Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador and the highest court in the jurisdiction, the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal.
A former colony and dominion of the United Kingdom, Newfoundland and Labrador became the tenth province to enter the Canadian Confederation on March 31, 1949, as Newfoundland. On December 6, 2001, an amendment was made to the Constitution of Canada to change the province's official name to Newfoundland and Labrador. In day-to-day conversation, however, Canadians generally still refer to the province itself as Newfoundland and to the region on the Canadian mainland as Labrador.
Human habitation in Newfoundland and Labrador can be traced back about 9,000 years. The Maritime Archaic peoples were groups of Archaic cultures of sea-mammal hunters in the subarctic. They prospered from approximately 7,000 BC to 1,500 BC along the Atlantic Coast of North America. Their settlements included longhouses and boat-topped temporary or seasonal houses. They engaged in long-distance trade, using as currency white chert, a rock quarried from northern Labrador to Maine. The southern branch of these people was established on the north peninsula of Newfoundland by 5,000 years ago. Maritime Archaic period is best known from a mortuary site in Newfoundland at Port au Choix.
The Maritime Archaic peoples were gradually displaced by people of the Dorset Culture (Late Paleo-Eskimo) who also occupied Port au Choix. The number of their sites discovered on Newfoundland indicate they may have been the most numerous group of Aboriginal people to live there. They thrived from about 2000 BC to 1,200 years ago. Many of their sites were located on exposed headlands and outer islands. They were more oriented to the sea than earlier peoples, and had developed sleds and boats similar to kayaks. They could burn seal blubber in soapstone lamps.
"Many of these sites, such as Port au Choix, recently excavated by Memorial archaeologist, Priscilla Renouf, are quite large and show evidence of a long-term commitment to place. Renouf has excavated huge amounts of harp seal bones at Port au Choix, indicating that this place was a prime location for the hunting of these animals."
The Dorset Culture (800 BC – 1500) were highly adapted to living in a very cold climate, and much of their food came from hunting sea mammals through holes in the ice. The massive decline in sea-ice which the Medieval Warm Period produced would have had a devastating impact upon their way of life.
The appearance of the Beothuk culture is believed the most recent cultural manifestation of peoples who first migrated from Labrador to Newfoundland around 1 AD. The Inuit, found mostly in Labrador, are the descendants of what anthropologists call the Thule culture, who emerged from western Alaska around 1000 AD and spread eastwards across the High Arctic, reaching Labrador around 1300–1500. Researchers believe that the Dorset culture lacked the dogs, larger weapons and other technologies that gave the expanding Inuit society an advantage. With the passage of time, groups started to focus on resources available to them locally.
The inhabitants eventually organised themselves into small bands of a few families, grouped into larger tribes and chieftainships. The Innu are the inhabitants of an area they refer to as Nitassinan, which comprises most of what is now referred to as northeastern Quebec and Labrador. Their subsistence activities were historically centred on hunting and trapping caribou, deer and small game. Coastal clans also practised agriculture, fished and managed maple sugarbush. The Innu engaged in tribal warfare along the coast of Labrador with the Inuit groups that had significant populations.
The Míkmaq of southern Newfoundland spent most of their time on the shores harvesting seafood; during the winter they would move inland to the woods to hunt. Over time, the Mi'kmaq and Innu divided their lands into traditional "districts". Each district was independently governed and had a district chief and a council. The council members were band chiefs, elders and other worthy community leaders. In addition to the district councils, the Mi'kmaq tribes also had (have) a Grand Council or Santé Mawiómi, which according to oral tradition was formed before 1600.
The oldest confirmed accounts of European contact date from a thousand years ago as described in the Viking (Norse) Icelandic Sagas. Around the year 1001, the sagas refer to Leif Ericson landing in three places to the west, the first two being Helluland (possibly Baffin Island) and Markland (possibly Labrador). Leif's third landing was at a place he called Vinland (possibly Newfoundland). Archaeological evidence of a Norse settlement was found in L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, which was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1978. There are several other unconfirmed accounts of European discovery and exploration. One tale by men from the Channel Islands being blown off course in the late 15th century into a strange land full of fish, and another from Portuguese maps that depict the Terra do Bacalhau, or land of codfish, west of the Azores. The earliest, though, is the Voyage of Saint Brendan, the fantastical account of an Irish monk who made a sea voyage in the early 6th century. While the story itself became a part of myth and legend, some historians believe it is based on fact.
In 1496 John Cabot obtained a charter from English King Henry VII to "sail to all parts, countries and seas of the East, the West and of the North, under our banner and ensign and to set up our banner on any new-found-land" and on June 24, 1497, landed in Cape Bonavista. Historians disagree on whether Cabot landed in Nova Scotia in 1497 or in Newfoundland, or possibly Maine, if he landed at all, but Bonavista is recognised by the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom as being Cabot's "official" landing place. In 1499 and 1500, Portuguese mariners João Fernandes Lavrador and Pêro de Barcelos explored and mapped the coast, the former's name appearing as "Labrador" on topographical maps of the period. Based on the Treaty of Tordesillas, the Portuguese Crown claimed it had territorial rights in the area visited by John Cabot in 1497 and 1498. Subsequently, in 1501 and 1502 the Corte-Real brothers explored Newfoundland and Labrador, claiming them as part of the Portuguese Empire. In 1506, king Manuel I of Portugal created taxes for the cod fisheries in Newfoundland waters. João Álvares Fagundes and Pêro de Barcelos established seasonal fishing outposts in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia around 1521, and older Portuguese settlements may have existed. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, provided with letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I, landed in St John's in August 1583, and formally took possession of the island.
Colony of Newfoundland
In 1583 Newfoundland became England's first possession in North America and one of the earliest permanent English colonies in the New World when it was claimed by Sir Humphrey Gilbert for Queen Elizabeth. Though English fishing boats had visited Newfoundland continuously since Cabot's second voyage in 1498 and seasonal fishing camps had existed for a century prior, similar was true of Basque, French, and Portuguese ships and camps, thus pressure to secure the island from foreign control led to the appointment of Proprietary Governors to establish colonial settlements on the island from 1610 to 1728. John Guy was governor of the first settlement at Cuper's Cove. Other settlements were Bristol's Hope, Renews, New Cambriol, South Falkland and Avalon which became a province in 1623. The first governor given jurisdiction over all of Newfoundland was Sir David Kirke in 1638.
Basque fishermen, who had been fishing cod shoals off Newfoundland's coasts since the beginning of the sixteenth century, founded Plaisance (today Placentia), a haven which started to be also used by French fishermen. In 1655, France appointed a governor in Plaisance, thus starting a formal French colonization period of Newfoundland as well as a period of periodic war and unrest between England and France. The Mi'kmaq, as allies with the French, were amenable to limited French settlement in their midst and fought with them against the English. English attacks on Placentia provoked retaliation by New France explorer Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville who during King William's War in the 1690s destroyed nearly every English settlement on the island. The entire population of the English colony was either killed, captured for ransom, or sentenced to expulsion to England, with the exception of the those who withstood the attack at Carbonear Island and those in the then remote Bonavista. After France lost political control of the area after the Siege of Port Royal in 1710, the Mí'kmaq engaged in warfare with the British throughout Dummer's War, King George's War, Father Le Loutre's War and the French and Indian War. The French colonization period lasted until the Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession and France ceded its claims to Newfoundland to the British (as well as its claims to the shores of Hudson Bay) and to the French possessions in Acadia. Afterward, under the supervision of the last French governor, the French population of Plaisance moved to Île Royale (now Cape Breton Island), part of Acadia which remained then under French control.
From 1763 to 1767 James Cook made a detailed survey of the coasts of Newfoundland and southern Labrador, while he was commander of the HMS Grenville. The following year, 1768, Cook began is his first circumnavigation of the world. In 1796 a Franco-Spanish expedition again succeeded in raiding the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador destroying many of the settlements.
By the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), French fishermen were given the right to land and cure fish on the "French Shore" on the western coast. They had a permanent base on nearby St. Pierre and Miquelon islands; the French gave up their rights in 1904. In 1783, the British signed the Treaty of Paris with the United States that gave American fishermen similar rights along the coast. These rights were reaffirmed by treaties in 1818, 1854 and 1871 and confirmed by arbitration in 1910.
In 1854 the British government established Newfoundland's responsible government. In 1855, Philip Francis Little, a native of Prince Edward Island, won a parliamentary majority over Sir Hugh Hoyles and the Conservatives. Little formed the first administration from 1855 to 1858. Newfoundland rejected confederation with Canada in the 1869 general election. Prime Minister of Canada Sir John Thompson came very close to negotiating Newfoundland's entry into Confederation in 1892.
Dominion of Newfoundland
Newfoundland remained a colony until acquiring Dominion status in 1907. A dominion constituted a self-governing state of the British Empire or British Commonwealth and the Dominion of Newfoundland was relatively autonomous from British rule.
Newfoundland's own regiment, the 1st Newfoundland Regiment, fought in the First World War. On July 1, 1916, the German Army wiped out nearly the entire regiment at Beaumont Hamel on the first day on the Somme. The regiment went on to serve with distinction in several subsequent battles, earning the prefix "Royal". Despite people's pride in the accomplishments of the regiment, the Dominion's war debt due to the regiment and the cost of maintaining a trans-island railway led to increased and ultimately unsustainable government debt in the post-war era.
Since the early 1800s, Newfoundland and Quebec (or Lower Canada) had been in a border dispute over the Labrador region. In 1927, however, the British government ruled that the area known as modern day Labrador was to be considered part of the Dominion of Newfoundland.
Commission of Government and confederation with Canada
Due to Newfoundland's high debt load, arising from World War I and construction of the Newfoundland railroad, and decreasing revenue, due to the collapse of fish prices, the Newfoundland legislature voted itself out of existence in 1933, in exchange for loan guarantees by the Crown and a promise it would be re-established. On February 16, 1934, the Commission of Government was sworn in, ending 79 years of responsible government. The Commission consisted of seven persons appointed by the British government. For 15 years no elections took place, and no legislature was convened.
When prosperity returned with World War II, agitation began to end the Commission, and reinstate responsible government. But, the British government created the National Convention in 1946, reflecting efforts in self-determination among European nationalities that followed WWII. The Convention, made of up representatives from throughout the country, was formally tasked to advise on the future of Newfoundland. Chaired by Judge Cyril J. Fox, it consisted of 45 elected members from across the province.
Three main factions actively campaigned during the leadup to the referendums. Smallwood led the Confederate Association (CA), advocating union with the Canadian Confederation. They campaigned through a newspaper known as The Confederate. The Responsible Government League (RGL), led by Peter Cashin, advocated an independent Newfoundland with a return to responsible government. Their newspaper was The Independent. A third, smaller Economic Union Party (EUP), led by Chesley Crosbie, advocated closer economic ties with the United States. The EUP failed to gain much attention, and merged with the RGL after the first referendum.
The first referendum took place on June 3, 1948; 44.5% of people voted for responsible government, 41.1% voted for confederation with Canada, while 14.3% voted for Commission of Government. Since none of the choices had gained over 50%, a second referendum with only the two more popular choices was held on July 22, 1948. The official outcome of that referendum was 52.3% for confederation with Canada and 47.7% for responsible (independent) government.
After the referendum, a seven-man delegation was picked by the British governor to negotiate Canada's offer on behalf of Newfoundland. After six of the seven-man delegation signed, the British Government passed the British North America Act, 1949 through Parliament. Newfoundland officially joined Canada at midnight, March 31, 1949.
As documents in British and Canadian archives came available in the 1980s, it became clear that both Canada and the United Kingdom wanted Newfoundland to join Canada. Some have charged that it was a conspiracy to manoeuvre Newfoundland into Confederation, in exchange for forgiveness of Britain's war debt and for other considerations, but most historians who have examined the government documents have concluded that while Britain engineered the inclusion of Confederation in the referendum, Newfoundlanders made the final decision themselves although it was a close vote.
Subsequent to the referendum, there has been hearsay that the referendum was narrowly won by the responsible government side, but the result was fixed by the British governor. The governor ordered the ballots from the referendum to be burned shortly afterward. Some have argued that independent oversight of the vote tallying was lacking but the process was supervised by respected Corner Brook Magistrate Nehemiah Short who has also overseen elections to the National Convention.