Peter Cashin’s fight for Newfoundland
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