Christo­pher Moore

East Coast com­mu­nity cel­e­brates piv­otal Sec­ond World War meet­ing.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - Christo­pher Moore com­ments in ev­ery is­sue of Canada’s His­tory.

New­found­land com­mu­nity cel­e­brates se­cret Sec­ond World War meet­ing.

When Win­ston Churchill came to the New­found­land out­port of Ship Har­bour, it was in the darkest days of the Sec­ond World War. He did not have much time for the lo­cal peo­ple.

This year, for the event’s seventy-fifth an­niver­sary, from Au­gust 11 to 14, things are go­ing to be dif­fer­ent in Ship Har­bour.

In Au­gust 1941, the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter, ar­riv­ing aboard the bat­tle­ship Prince of Wales, met Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt, who ar­rived aboard the cruiser Au­gusta. The sum­mit at Ship Har­bour was their first: four days of in­tense and se­cret meet­ings with their most se­nior ad­vi­sors aboard the an­chored ships.

The Ja­panese at­tack on Pearl Har­bor was still four months away, and the United States was still at peace.

Churchill had come to New­found­land hop­ing to draw the United States into the war. Roo­sevelt hoped at least to shift Amer­i­can pub­lic opin­ion away from iso­la­tion­ism. The Ship Har­bour sum­mit ful­filled nei­ther hope. At first it was re­garded as a fail­ure.

Yet, in the war room of the Au­gusta, Roo­sevelt and Churchill had cre­ated the At­lantic Char­ter, a state­ment of the prin­ci­ples their na­tions stood for: the self-de­ter­mi­na­tion of na­tions, free trade and eco­nomic co-op­er­a­tion, and a per­ma­nent sys­tem of gen­eral se­cu­rity. As more na­tions joined the war against fas­cism, the At­lantic Char­ter be­came the blue­print for the post­war world, the germ of the United Na­tions Char­ter.

Pe­ter Rus­sell, a Toronto po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist, calls the Ship Har­bour sum­mit “a story of how the al­liance of the two big democ­ra­cies was truly bonded on the wa­ters of Pla­cen­tia Bay. ‘We are bonded now,’ El­liott Roo­sevelt said his fa­ther, the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, said to him as they walked back from the church ser­vice on the Prince of Wales. It was not just cal­cu­lated for­eign pol­icy. It was a per­sonal trust and un­der­stand­ing be­tween the two lead­ers. It is fair to say that the be­gin­ning of ef­fec­tive re­sis­tance to Hitler was in Pla­cen­tia Bay.”

The mem­ory of the At­lantic Char­ter sum­mit has en­dured at Ship Har­bour. In 1991, on the fifti­eth an­niver­sary, Parks Canada erected a hand­some mon­u­ment over­look­ing the an­chor­age. For the seventy-fifth an­niver­sary this Au­gust, New­found­land and Labrador will host an­other At­lantic Char­ter con­fer­ence. Prom­i­nent New­found­lan­ders, in­ter­na­tional schol­ars, a Churchill de­scen­dant, and Roo­sevelt bi­og­ra­pher Con­rad Black will gather in St. John’s and Ship Har­bour to re­call the great events of 1941.

The At­lantic Char­ter sum­mit was held in deep­est se­crecy. When the great ships ap­peared, lo­cals feared the worst: Just eight months ear­lier, the ar­rival of an­other naval force had meant the dis­place­ment of four hun­dred peo­ple for a naval base at nearby Ar­gen­tia. In 1941, lo­cal peo­ple learned noth­ing about Roo­sevelt’s and Churchill’s presence. Only Churchill went ashore, and only to stretch his legs at a de­serted cove.

This year, the peo­ple of Ship Har­bour, pop­u­la­tion about two hun­dred, and the At­lantic Char­ter Foun­da­tion they have es­tab­lished, are go­ing to be cen­tral to the com­mem­o­ra­tions. This Au­gust, their foun­da­tion will host a gar­den party, a church ser­vice, fire­works, a bar­be­cue, and a fish­ing derby, all wrapped up with a New­found­land kitchen party — “not ac­tu­ally in a kitchen,” said Tom O’Keefe, one of the foun­da­tion’s lo­cal ad­vi­sors.

The Pla­cen­tia Cul­tural Arts Cen­tre will launch New­found­land play­wright Agnes Walsh’s new At­lantic Char­ter play for the con­fer­ence del­e­gates — but re­ally for the whole com­mu­nity.

The play is not about Roo­sevelt and Churchill; it’s about lo­cal peo­ple and what they did while the great men con­ferred with each other off­shore.

The for­mal con­fer­ence about the At­lantic Char­ter sum­mit will be mov­ing and im­pres­sive. But, if you are in the area in Au­gust, the play and the Ship Har­bour’s kitchen party might be the re­ally hot tick­ets.

Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt, seated left, and Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill, seated right, meet at Ship Har­bour, New­found­land, Au­gust 1941.

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