Peter Cashin’s fight for New­found­land

The Compass - - OPINION -

Those of us who read Peter Cashin’s book, “My Life and Times 1890-1919,” which was pub­lished in 1976, well re­mem­ber his con­clud­ing re­marks: “This por­tion of th­ese var­i­ous in­ci­dents in my hec­tic and stormy life con­cludes the first 28 years of my ex­is­tence. In the sec­ond vol­ume of this mem­oir, I will con­tinue my rem­i­nis­cences, re­fer­ring to the many sad as well as in­ter­est­ing events of my check­ered ca­reer. It should then make in­ter­est­ing read­ing for the younger gen­er­a­tion as well as some of those who will sur­vive me, and who may have had some knowl­edge of events in New­found­land since the begin­ning of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury.”

For those who are un­fa­mil­iar with Peter Cashin, he was born at Cape Broyle in 1890 and died at St. John’s in 1977. Ac­cord­ing to R.E. (Dick) Buehler, who edited the book, he was “a fiery pa­triot who, through his ef­forts to pre­vent New­found­land’s con­fed­er­a­tion with Canada, be­came a po­lit­i­cal leg­end in New­found­land.”

At times, many of us won­dered if the sec­ond vol­ume of Cashin’s mem­oirs would ever see the light of pub­li­ca­tion. Now, thanks to the in­de­fati­ga­ble ef­forts of Ed­ward Roberts, the prov­ince’s for­mer lieu­tenant-gover­nor (2002-08) and cur­rent Com­pass colum­nist, Cashin’s ac­count of the years be­tween 1919 and the end of his life has been pub­lished to wellde­served ac­claim.

We New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans are in debt to Roberts for his ju­di­cious edit­ing and an­no­tat­ing of the story of a man who was at the stormy cen­tre of New­found­land’s po­lit­i­cal and pub­lic life for more than 30 years. Known to many as “the fight­ing Ma­jor,” in a trib­ute to his wartime ser­vice with the Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment, he played a de­ci­sive role at ev­ery ma­jor stage in the po­lit­i­cal drama that trans­formed New­found­land from a Bri­tish Do­min­ion to a Cana­dian prov­ince.

Roberts notes that Cashin “is largely un­known to­day … and has be­come an al­most myth­i­cal fig­ure to those who do re­mem­ber him. His pas­sion­ate com­mit­ment to New­found­land — his coun­try — and his fierce de­ter­mi­na­tion to cham­pion her and her peo­ple have be­come the stuff of leg­end. His name is prayed in aid by those who trea­sure a nos­tal­gic vi­sion of New­found­land’s past glo­ries and by those who stand rock­solid still in their be­lief that the de­ci­sion to join Canada was an his­toric error of al­most imag­in­able pro­por­tions.”

Mean­while, Roberts sug­gests in a re­cent in­ter­view with The Telegram, “I don’t think (Cashin) fought Con­fed­er­a­tion. What he was bit­terly op­posed to is the way in which (Con- fed­er­a­tion) was done. He wanted New­found­land to re­vert to be­ing an in­de­pen­dent, re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment.”

The value of this lat­est vol­ume, “My Fight for New­found­land: A Mem­oir,” is en­hanced by sev­eral fea­tures, all of which help to place the au­thor in his proper his­tor­i­cal con­text.

For one, Michael Patrick Cashin con­trib­utes a fore­word to his late fa­ther’s book. He writes: “Dad, no doubt, was one of New­found­land’s worst driv­ers and he loved speed.” One day, Paddy Grace, who was known for his ra­zor-sharp wit, turned around to Michael when his fa­ther was driv­ing and asked, “Michael Patrick, have you said your Act of Con­tri­tion yet?”

Roberts retells Cashin’s early life for the sake of read­ers who have not read the first vol­ume. A chronol­ogy sum­ma­rizes the mile­stones of the years cov­ered in this mem­oir. Roberts adds 131 de­tailed end­notes spread over 61 pages. Fi­nally, per­haps the great­est in­no­va­tion is a col­lec­tion of bi­o­graph­i­cal notes prepared on more than 200 in­di­vid­u­als who had some con­nec­tion to Cashin. This in it­self is well worth the price of the book. A bib­li­og­ra­phy and in­dex close out the book.

“My fa­ther,” writes his son, Michael Patrick, “was con­vinced that New­found­lan­ders were Almighty God’s finest cre­ation. He loved the out­ports and the sim­ple life there. He loved the hon­esty, hospi­tal­ity and gen­eros­ity of their peo­ple, their nat­u­ral dig­nity and lively wit. He was at his best telling the crowd about his vi­sion for New­found­land and New­found­lan­ders … He daz­zled au­di­ences with his deep knowl­edge of the fi­nan­cial, cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal his­tory of the coun­try.”

Cashin — “not a man to mince words,” Roberts says — is the last of the great men to tell their story of a cru­cial era in our prov­ince’s his­tory. This is a doc­u­ment of en­dur­ing value, which wi l l go a long way to­wards fill­ing a la­cu­nae among the many books about New­found­land and Labrador that have ap­peared in the last 25 years. Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at


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