Smallwood Letter to Mrs. Walter Stoodley, 1958
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PROVINCE OF NEWFOUNDLAND
OFFICE OF THE PREMIER
9 January, 1958
Mrs. Walter Stoodley,
Manfield's Point, G. B.
Dear Mrs. Stoodley:
I have read with very great interest your important letter to me on the subject of centralization of population. There is scarcely a word in your letter with which I disagree. That is to say, I agree with practically every word of it.
You do seem, however, to be under one very grave misunderstanding. You seem to think that the Government has some plan or intention to force people to move. That is the last thing on this earth that we will do, or even think of doing. Whether we like it or not some people will move. They always did move, and they always will. They always chose for themsleves [sic] the places they would move to, and in many cases their choice was wise and in many cases very unwise. That is human nature.
The Government would be willing to help people to move, provided certain conditions were met. These conditions will be laid down by the Government, and no one else. In the first place, we will help people to move only if their move is absolutely voluntary. In the second place, we will help them to move only in cases where the whole population of a place, after meeting and discussing the matter, agree practically unanimously that they want to move. Third, we will help them to move only in cases where the Government
itself approves the place to which they will move. We certainly do not intend to spend public money to help people to jump from the frying pan into the fire. There will be no cases of our helping people to move from places where they have a fair amount of land and good local conveniences of that kind, to places where, as you say in your letter, they haven't got much more than enough land to put up a clothesline. It would not do Newfoundland one bit of good to move people from settlements into other places where they could not live a decent kind of life.
Right now we are doing nothing at all in this matter, except to gather information. We are gathering two kinds of information; first, to find out the names of the places from which, in the opinion of such people as clergymen, school inspectors, magistrates, doctors, nurses, businessmen, etc., etc., etc., conditions are not good (it is not because certain people
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think that the population should leave a settlement that the population themselves think so; and it is not because doctors, clergymen, etc. think so that the Government thinks so. Nevertheless, we want their opinions, and all other opinions that we can get.) Having found, perhaps, out of a total of 1,300 settlements in Newfoundland there are less than say, 150 settlements that really are not very good, then at least we will know the size of the problem; we will know what it would cost for those people to move if they decide to move; we will know how many families and how many people would be in these settlements; we would know what conveniences and what space and what land they would need in the new places they would move to; we would know what school accommodation, church accommodation, and other accommodation they would need in the settlements to which they, moved; we would know a lot of things that we do not know now.
I think from what I have said that you will see that we are only now at the very beginning of a very important study of this whole problem. It will be years and years yet before any really large number of people will actually move from their present settlements, and before that happens a great deal of study has got to be made.
Letters such as yours, written by intelligent and thoughtful and patriotic people, will be of very, very great importance to us in shaping our ideas. Believe me, we are not dictators, but only ordinary Newfoundlanders like yourself who are trying to face up to a problem that has almost crushed the life out of Newfoundland for hundreds of years past. We do not think for one moment that we have all the answers to all the problems, but at least I am sure you will want to give us credit for trying to find out what we can while we are looking for the answers.
With kindest personal regards, and an expression of my warmest appreciation of the trouble you have taken in your splendid letter,
Very sincerely yours,
J. R. SMALLWOOD, Premier.
P.S. I have just prepared a statement for all the newspapers and radio stations and I am enclosing a copy of it for you.
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Premier Smallwood issued the following statement today:
“The Committee set up under the chairmanship of Professor Gordon Goundrey to conduct a survey of settlements in Newfoundland where the people might wish to move to larger places has been receiving in recent months many hundreds of letters from people who are offering their opinions of the Government's centralization plan. Many of these letters say that their writers are very, very strongly in favour of the Government's centralization plan. Some letters say that their writers are very, very strongly against the Government's centralization plan. Some of these letters express the strangest kinds of opinions it would be possible to imagine, and I think it is now necessary, before we go any further, to straighten out some of these peculiar ideas. That is the purpose and the hope I have in this present statement.
“First of all, let me say that the Government have no centralization plan. We may have one in the future, and we may not. That will depend on what the people think. All we are doing at the present time is to try to find out all the information we can on what the people want. After we know what the people want we will be able to make a plan, and not before.
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“There are about 1,300 different settlements around the coast of Newfoundland. In hundreds of these settlements there are only ten or fifteen or twenty families. Some of them have no school, and some never will have a school as long as they may live, for the simple reason that nobody can find a school teacher who will go and live in such tiny settlements. Some of them have no post office, and never will, because of course no Government in the world will ever be willing to go to the expense of putting up hundreds of post offices in tiny settlements. Many of these very small settlements will never have road connections, because there never was and there never will be enough money to build roads that will connect up all of the hundreds of very small settlements that may be found along the 6,000 miles of our Newfoundland coastline. In spite of these discouraging facts, the people in all of these small settlements may still want to stay in them. They may not want to move out of them. That is their right as British subjects. While the Union Jack flies over us people have the right to live in small settlements, even if there is only one family in that settlement. Certainly I will never be in any Newfoundland Government that would try to take that right from them. There will be no force or compulsion in any centralization plan. We are trying to find out, as best we can, whether any of these settlements would like to move to some other places. If we
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find that they would like to do so, some time in the future, then we will try to work out a plan of helping them to move.
“We will never be willing to spend public money to help people to move from one settlement to another settlement unless the settlement they are going to move to is such bigger and better than the one they are going to leave. The survey we are making at the present time is not only a survey of the small places where people might wish to leave. It is also a survey of the large places that they might wish to move to. It would be a waste of time and money for people to move to a settlement where they did not have enough land, where they could not make a living, where there was not enough school accommodation, and all the other things that go to make a settlement pleasant and convenient. It would be a waste of money, and the Government will certainly not have any plan to help people to move to such places.
“Another very important point is this, that we will never be willing to give any help for people to move from any settlement, unless all, or practically all, the people of that settlement are themselves willing and anxious to move. It will not be enough if half of them want to move, and half do not. It will not be enough if three-quarters of them want to move, and three-quarters do not.
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It will not be enough if 90% of them want to move, and 10% do not. It will have to be practically everybody in the settlement --- not necessarily everybody, but practically everybody.
“Some persons have written expressing fear that they would be hurt by a centralization plan. This applies especially to small shopkeepers and local businessmen. I want to give them our assurance that the Government will not adopt a centralization plan that will be designed to hurt them or damage their interests seriously. In cases where people have already moved from their settlements, on their own, without even telling the Government, and without getting any financial help from the Government, the businessmen have moved with them and are now carrying on in the new places that the people moved to.
“Finally, I want to make it as clear as words can do that the Government have no centralization plan; we are only trying to gather all the information we can; we invite everybody to give us opinions and information; after we have got all the information together, we will compile it and examine it and find out what the people want; and then, and not before, we will try to work out a centralization plan; that plan will be designed to help people, and not hurt them; and no one will be forced to do anything.
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“We hope to have all our information in hand by the middle of the present year, and we hope to have a plan worked out some time next year. It might then take anything up to eight or ten years before all the people removed themselves, with Government help, from the hundred or two hundred settlements that they might wish to leave.”