Family reflects on Confederation
March 31 was just another day for Victor Pittman and his sister Minnie Goodyear, despite the fact it marked an anniversary of an event that forever changed their lives and the lives of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
© Shawn Hayward photo
Victor Pittman gets his Royal Canadian Air Force ensign ready for the 65th anniversary of Newfoundland joining Canada.
The former Dominion of Newfoundland became Canada’s 10th province on March 31, 1949, 65 years ago. Its residents changed overnight from subjects of the British Empire to Canadian citizens.
For Pittman, who was then living in Gander, the change brought an end to a debate that had been raging for some time.
“Gander at that time was built for the war,” says Pittman, who now lives in Shoal Harbour. “Just after the war the Newfoundland government took it over. We were living in military barracks, eating in military mess halls. Some of the arguments, especially in the mess halls, got pretty heated both for and against Confederation.”
Pittman was too young to vote in the referendum of a year before, when just over half of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians voted to join Canada. The arguments against Confederation were mostly sentimental, according to Pittman; Newfoundland was Britain’s oldest colony. While some reacted to Confederation with mourning, others showed apathy.
“Some people flew the flag at half mast, other people put down their blinds,” he says. “Some people didn’t react one way or another. In Gander, as I recall, it was just another day. ‘Well, guys, as of today we’re Canadians. So what?’”
Apathy or not, Confederation changed Pittman’s life forever. Four months after Confederation he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, beginning a 25-year career that brought him around the world.
“It was a positive move for me,” he says. “I was driving a taxi in Gander when Confederation happened for $90 a month out of which I had to pay room and board. I joined the Air Force at $59 a month with room, board and uniform included.”
For others, joining Canada brought a $5 baby bonus per child, and old age security, among other things.
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Minnie Goodyear, Pittman’s sister, was 25 when Newfoundland and Labrador joined Confederation.
“We didn’t know much about the political part of it, but some of the older people were dead set against it, and a lot of people were for it because we weren’t doing very well and they figured whatever we got we’d do better than what we had,” says Goodyear.
In December of 1949 Goodyear moved to Toronto where her husband was already living and running a painting business with his brothers. Goodyear says being a Canadian at that point made the transition to Toronto a lot easier. She says a lot more people started to move to Canada for work.
Before that Goodyear says the United States was a more popular choice, at least for her family. If there was a choice to join the U.S. instead of Canada, she thinks many would have chosen to become Americans.
“Canada was a foreign country to us up until that time,” she says. “Who knows what would have happened if we had joined U.S.A.? We had had enough of trying to govern ourselves and being a colony of Britain. We never seemed to get ahead.”
Both Pittman and Goodyear say they wouldn’t be doing anything special to mark the 65th anniversary of Confederation, but both say it was a day that changed the course of their lives in positive ways.
“The Newfoundland flag comes first to me, but I’m proud of the Canadian flag, proud to be part of Canada,” says Goodyear. “We’ve had it for so many years now, it grows on you.”