Edward Roberts packages columns into new book
Former lieutenant-governor, politician wrote Past Imperfect for TC Media weekly newspapers
For Edward Roberts, the journey that led to the recent publishing of his latest book, “How Newfoundlanders Got the Baby Bonus,” began during a conversation three years ago with two newspaper editors at a restaurant in St. John’s.
Roberts was approached by the editors about the possibility of writing a regular history column for the chain of weekly newspapers owned in the province by TC Media.
Drawn by Roberts’ 40-year involvement in the province’s political scene, one reaching to the very highest echelons of power, and his deep passion for Newfoundland and Labrador history, the editors felt the former lieutenantgovernor and longtime Liberal politician could shine a fresh new light on some very important issues and people.
The offer intrigued Roberts, who was less than two years’ removed from the high-profile post of lieutenant-governor, a job he held for five years. Interestingly, during his time at Government House, Roberts earned a masters degree in history.
Over the next two years, he would pen 49 columns, aptly named “Past Imperfect.” His well-researched accounts of topics such as the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Newfoundland place names, the fishermen’s union, Confederation and much more developed a loyal following with readers.
He even put to rest a long-held belief that the Newfoundland Regiment may have faced future German leader Adolf Hitler in battle during the First Word War.
He shed new light on the lives — and in some cases the deaths — of well-known personalities such as Joey Smallwood, Peter Cashin, Const. William Moss, Rockwell Kent and Douglas Haig.
“There was no great plan or scheme as to what I wrote about,” Roberts states in the book’s preface.
He brought it all together — along with a previously unpublished column on Sir John Berry — in his latest book, which is published by Flanker Press Ltd.
The compelling book title, “How Newfoundlanders Got the Baby Bonus,” comes from a column published by TC Media papers, including The Compass, in September 2012.
During his research, Roberts gathered data from a wide range of books and articles, and other documents.
He said one column often led to the next, and the only common theme was this province and its people.
“This book is nothing more than a series of snapshots about our past,” he explained.
Myths and misunderstandings
In his book, Roberts sets out to dispel a few myths or misunderstandings about some morsels of Newfoundland history. He also aims to add clarity to others that have remained in the shadows.
“Each story when you read it will either tell you something you didn’t know about Newfoundland history — usually what you thought was the case, wasn’t — or it’s something you didn’t know, but wanted to know,” Roberts said during a recent interview with TC Media.
One of the biggest misconceptions in this province’s history since Confederation, he explained, is that Joey Smallwood is responsible for the baby bonus.
“There was a tremendous and very successful campaign by federal public servants that began months and months and months before we became part of Canada,” Roberts said.
Shortly after Newfoundland joined Canada, the cheques started coming in, as they did elsewhere in Canada. Smallwood got the political credit for the work of the public servants.
One column Roberts particularly likes is the story of the Blue Puttees, the nickname afford- ed to the “First 500” men to sign up with the Newfoundland Regiment at the outbreak of the First World War.
“There’s a myth,” Roberts noted, that the uniforms were blue because the material to match the British uniforms wasn’t available here. That’s not so, said Roberts. “It was a deliberate decision by the men responsible for giving out the first 500 — those were the ones involved — to give them uniforms that were distinctively Newfoundland.”
A counting conundrum
And what book on straightening out a few wrinkles in the local history tapestry would be complete without embracing the vote that brought this province into the arms of Canada? There are still plenty of people who believe the Confederation ballots were miscounted.
“I don’t know if they were or not, but I lay what I think is a very strong case to support the suggestion that they were counted accurately and there was no fraud,” Roberts said. “Can I prove it? No. But what I can tell you is that the other side can’t prove it, either.”
He knows not everybody is going to be convinced by some of his findings, but they are what his research has shown. The province is the perfect setting for such a book.
“I doubt that any place has a history as rich or as interesting as Newfoundland,” Roberts added.
The province has attracted a huge variety of interesting people since Europeans made landfall.
“Some were scoundrels. Some were heroes,” Roberts mused.