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Newfoundland and Labrador

History and Politics

Vikings visited the area of Newfoundland c.1000 and briefly established a settlement (the sole confirmed Viking site in North America) on Newfoundland at L'Anse aux Meadows. After the two voyages of John Cabot at the end of the 15th cent., fishermen and explorers from several European countries came to the area. In 1535–36, Jacques Cartier sailed through the Cabot Strait and the Strait of Belle Isle. Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed Newfoundland for England in 1583, and the first year-round settlers arrived in 1610. France contested England's claims, and Newfoundland changed hands several times.

The Treaty of Paris of 1763 definitively awarded Newfoundland and Labrador (where the French had established trading posts) to Great Britain. France retained the fishing rights on the northwest coast of Newfoundland that had been granted by the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 and was also awarded St. Pierre and Miquelon. In 1783 the "French Shore" was redefined to include the entire western coast.

In the early 19th cent. the Hudson's Bay Company developed the fur trade, and this, together with the expansion of the fishing industry, led to increased immigration from Europe, particularly Ireland. Representative government was introduced in 1832 and parliamentary government in 1855. The port of Heart's Content became the western terminus of the transatlantic cable in 1866. In 1869, Newfoundland voters rejected union with Canada; in 1895, after a disastrous fire in St. John's and the failure of local banks, negotiations to join Canada resumed but were unsuccessful.

Relatively little attention had been paid to Labrador, but in 1895 iron ore was discovered in the Grand Falls (now Churchill Falls) region. As part of the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale of 1904, France abandoned the French Shore. Possession of Labrador was disputed by Quebec and Newfoundland until 1927, when the British privy council demarcated the western boundary, enlarged Labrador's land area, and confirmed Newfoundland's title to it. The Canadian government accepted the decision, but Quebec has never officially recognized the boundary.

During the depression of the 1930s, Britain suspended Newfoundland's self-government and assumed administrative and financial control. Actual authority was exercised by a joint commission of Newfoundlanders and British. During World War II, U.S. and British military bases were established in Labrador and on Newfoundland.

After the war Newfoundland voted to join Canada, and in 1949 it became Canada's 10th province. Joseph Smallwood, a Liberal who led the drive to join Canada, became premier and held office until 1972, when the Progressive Conservatives gained a majority under Frank Moores and later (1979) A. Brian Peckford. Peckford was displaced 10 years later by Liberal Clyde K. Wells, and Wells was succeeded in 1996 by Liberal Brian Tobin, who was reelected in 1999. In the mid-1990s the province faced high unemployment and was hurt by the collapse of the cod-fishing industry, although a 1992 government ban on all cod fishing was partly lifted in 1997.

Liberal Roger Grimes succeeded Tobin as premier in 2001; the province was officially renamed Newfoundland and Labrador the same year. The reclosing of the Altantic cod fisheries in 2003 led to tensions between the province and the national government. In the 2003 assembly elections the Progressive Conservative party swept the Liberals from power; Danny Williams became premier. In 2005, as a result of a land claim settlement, Nunatsiavut, a large, self-governing Inuit area in N and central E Labrador, was established. Williams and his party won handily again in 2007. Williams retired in 2010 and was succeeded as premier by Kathy Dunderdale; the Progressive Conservatives remained in power after the 2011 elections.

Newfoundland and Labrador sends six senators and seven representatives to the national parliament.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Canadian Political Geography


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