The orange and the green
A look back at Newfoundland’s colourful sectarian troubles
As adolescents, David Dawe of Bay Roberts and his Uncle Tom Lawrence of Carbonear routinely wrote and exchanged short stories with each other.
The experience held Dawe in good stead, last week culminating in the official release of his book, “ Riots and Religion in Newfoundland.”
“ It’s a topic I’ve long been very interested in,” he told The Compass last week. “ You might even say passionate about.”
He began his research a dozen years ago, but there were frequent work stoppages.
After all, his wife, Corinne, and their children, Meagan and Aaron, deserved some attention from their husband and father.
Then, h i s students at Holy Redeemer Elementary in Spaniard’s Bay demanded nothing less of their teacher.
Dawe explains: “ It was something I’d take up for a couple of months and then something would come along ... and I’d have to put it down and probably wouldn’t touch it for another couple of months.”
Two years ago, he set his mind to completing the work.
Now, he can tell you all about the clash between Protestants and Roman Catholics in the early set- tlement of Newfoundland.
“ I was always aware of the bitter- ness between the religions in the old days,” he says.
Some of the research he uncovered was a tad unsettling, and he admits he “ was very surprised with the level of violence that actually occurred.
“ I almost look at it as Newfoundland’s version of the Wild West.”
Dawe relives history in chapters with titillating titles like A Flame Not Easily Subdued; The Exhibition of the Body of a Malefactor ; A Wretched, Sinful Woman; and A Pure Love of Dissension.
Dawe hopes the fact that he’s Protestant — Anglican — hasn’t skewed his interpretation of the facts of history, especially his understanding of Roman Catholicism.
“ I don’t want the general public thinking I was trying to ... make champions of o ne ( side) and villains of the other,” he says with a smile.
In his final chapter, Dawe makes much of an allusion in his sources to a threat of civil war in Newfoundland during the turbulent election of 1861.
“ I’m not sure how serious it was, but ... if people were actually saying it in print, people were probably talking about it in closed circles,” he states. “ Maybe people were just using scare tactics.”
The Newfoundland of 1754-1861 — the scope of Dawe’s book — is a far cry from the Newfoundland of the 21st century.
“ Back 150 years ago, the Church had a lot more authority and power than it does today,” he says.
“ We’ve become more of a secular — and tolerant — society than we were back in those days.”
Dawe is expecting mixed reaction to his book.
Religion “can be somewhat of a touchy subject, especially for the older generation,” he admits.
Regardless of public reaction, “in all honesty, (riots and religion) are as much a part of our history as are the first and second world wars,” he says.
“ It’s something we shouldn’t brush under the rug.”
David Dawe lives in Bay Roberts and teache s at Holy Redeemer Elementar y, Spaniard’s Bay.