This week’s Just Won­der­ing col­umn by Bur­ton K. Janes can be found on

The Compass - - NEWS - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net

Ad­mis­sion: when I open The Com­pass each week, the first thing I look for is this col­umn. From Fe­bru­ary 2011 un­til De­cem­ber 2012, I looked in The Com­pass for another col­umn, “Past Im­per­fect,” a fort­nightly ef­fort by Ed­ward Roberts. He has now turned his 49 col­umns, plus one, into a book, “How New­found­lan­ders got the Baby Bonus.”

“Most New­found­lan­ders be­lieve we know some­thing about our his­tory,” he says. But, he adds, there’s a prob­lem. “Most schol­ars have es­tab­lished that New­found­land’s his­tory, as it was taught to most of us and as it has been por­trayed by books of ev­ery de­scrip­tion, very of­ten amounts to noth­ing more than a mix­ture of myths, mis­un­der­stand­ings, and out­right mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions … Mod­ern schol­ars ... have shown con­vinc­ingly that the tra­di­tional view of our past ... is ill-founded.”

Roberts, who has “a life­long in­ter­est in New­found­land his­tory,” was in­vited to write a bi­weekly col­umn about New­found­land his­tory for the com­mu­nity news­pa­pers pub­lished by TC Me­dia through­out the Prov­ince.

“There was no great plan or scheme as to what I wrote about,” he ad­mits. “I made a list of pos­si­ble topics, and added to it as time went by … The choices re­flect my in­ter­ests … The only com­mon theme was New­found­land and New­found­lan­ders.” His col­umn was and, sub­se­quently, his book is, “a se­ries of snap­shots about our past.”

“How New­found­lan­ders got the Baby Bonus” is di­vided into five sec­tions: Early Times, Our Reg­i­ment, The 1920s and 1930s, The Con­fed­er­a­tion Years, and Mem­o­rable Men and Times.

Read­ers will have their own pref­er­ences. Some may want to know if the But­lers are New­found­land’s old­est fam­ily. Oth­ers may ask why the Blue Put­tees wore blue. Yet oth­ers may won­der why we sur­ren­dered self-gov­ern­ment in 1933. Con­fed­er­ates, es­pe­cially, may scratch their heads as to why Con­fed­er­a­tion ac­tu­ally made it to the ref­er­en­dum bal­lot. Those in­ter­ested in the lives and ex­ploits of mem­o­rable in­di­vid­u­als may ask why Mar­coni left New­found­land.

I per­son­ally am in­trigued by the im­pli­ca­tions of this ques­tion: did the New­found­lan­ders face Adolf Hitler across a trench on the Western Front dur­ing the First World War? I won’t spoil it for the reader by re­veal­ing Roberts’ con­clu­sion. Suf­fice it to say ask, what would have hap­pened if a sharp-eyed New­found­land or Labradorian marks­man had shot him down?

I have long won­dered about Rock­well Kent, the so-called “Bri­gus spy.” Was he de­ported from the Con­cep­tion Bay town for be­ing, in fact, a Ger­man spy? Roberts, whose fam­ily come from Bri­gus, tack­les this ques­tion head-on in two in­sight­ful chap­ters.

A book of col­umns is pre­pared at a more leisurely pace than a se­ries of news­pa­per col­umns. A suit­able illustration ac­com­pa­nies each chap­ter in Roberts’ book. There­fore, the reader can study, for ex­am­ple, the ti­tle page of D.W. Prowse’s “mag­is­te­rial and iconic” book, “His­tory of New­found­land.”

There’s a de­pic­tion of per­haps the best-known car­toon in New­found­land’s his­tory, the so-called “Bow Wow Par­lia­ment.” The mu­sic, to which we sing “The Ode to New­found­land,” is re­pro­duced, so the mu­si­cally in­clined can ac­tu­ally play the se­lec­tion. Another illustration is a news­pa­per ac­count of an epic de­bate be­tween A.B. Morine and Wil­liam Coaker on the night of May 27, 1919. The il­lus­tra­tions pro­vide a sense of im­me­di­acy, as though the reader is par­tic­i­pat­ing in some of the his­tor­i­cal events.

Roberts ap­pends to his col­lec­tion a chap­ter of sug­gested read­ings for those who want to know more about New­found­land and Labrador his­tory. Those works in­clude gen­eral sur­veys, the po­lit­i­cal story, stud­ies of spe­cific pe­ri­ods, af­ter self-gov­ern­ment, eco­nomic his­tory, mil­i­tary and naval his­tory, and bi­ogra­phies and mem­oirs.

His­tory, Roberts sug­gests, “is not sim­ply a mat­ter of names and dates … Dif­fer­ent men and women look­ing at the same facts can draw dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions … New­found­land’s his­tory ... is filled with dif­fer­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions. Many of them are myths. Some lack any ba­sis in fact, and oth­ers sim­ply ig­nore in­con­ve­nient truths.” He makes a con­sci­en­tious and, I be­lieve, suc­cess­ful at­tempt at steer­ing a ju­di­cious course be­tween those “dif­fer­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions.”

Roberts does the reader a great ser­vice by bring­ing the im­pon­der­ables of New­found­land and Labrador his­tory down to the level of the av­er­age reader who may have no aca­demic train­ing in the field.

“New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans have ev­ery right to be proud of their his­tory,” the au­thor con­cludes. “It is a rich and fas­ci­nat­ing story, filled with tri­umphs and dis­as­ters alike. Our his­tory helped to make our prov­ince and our peo­ple what we are to­day.”

Roberts still has at least another 49 ar­ti­cles stashed away. My hope is they will soon see the light of pub­li­ca­tion in a se­quel to the present vol­ume.

“How New­found­lan­ders got the Bay Bonus: Sto­ries from our Im­per­fect Past” is pub­lished by Flanker Press of St. John’s.

— Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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