Ed­ward Roberts pack­ages col­umns into new book

For­mer lieu­tenant-gov­er­nor, politi­cian wrote Past Im­per­fect for TC Me­dia weekly news­pa­pers

The Compass - - THE COMPASS - Ed­i­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

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.

Ed­ward Roberts

“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.

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