Can the real Confederation baby please stand up?

Josh
Josh Pennell
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The title for Newfoundland’s first Confederation baby seems to be as controversial as Confederation itself.

Sharon O’Neil with some of her Confederation-baby memorabilia — a newspaper clipping of a picture of her and her mother in 1949.

No sooner had The Telegram printed the story of Marg Skehans, a woman from Bell Island whose deliverer, Dr. Walter Templeman, had tried to get her recognized as the first baby born in Newfoundland following Confederation, than the paper received word of whom Joey Smallwood had actually crowned with the title.

The last father of Confederation personally recognized Sharon O’Neil as the first baby born in the province following Confederation.

“I have lots of memorabilia. And I have lots of pictures, and pictures taken with Joey Smallwood,” O’Neil says.

She says she’s also recognized in several history books as being Newfoundland’s first baby to be born following the March 31, 1949, 11:59 p.m. union of Newfoundland and Labrador to Canada.

According to O’Neil, her time of birth was about 1:35 a.m., April 1, 1949.

Skehans told The Telegram last week that she was born a minute after midnight, but it seems that’s not an official time because Skehans was born at home and not in a hospital.

“As I understood it, you had to be born in a hospital because anybody could lay claim if they were born in a home and have anybody sign an affidavit and say that it was true,” says O’Neil.

Exactly how large the masses were who were trying to get these false affidavits signed is unclear, but Dr. Templeman did try to get Skehans recognized, according to Skehans and her nephew, MHA David Brazil.

“He went ballistic trying to get it certified,” Brazil told The Telegram last week.

But that was all in vain. O’Neil was Joey’s baby, regardless of whether Templeman said he delivered Skehans a full hour and a half before O’Neil was born.

The recognition came with a certain amount of splendor.

“I know when they made the book of Newfoundland I was only 17 then when they came to the house looking for a picture for that. The next thing was the 20th anniversary (of Confederation) where they had a big dinner into the university in the dining hall and I presented Mr. Smallwood with a silver tray,” says O’Neil.

With so much pride and privilege at stake, it’s perhaps no wonder there would be some controversy over who owned the title. Following The Telegram’s original story, the paper was contacted by at least one other person explaining they knew who Newfoundland’s first Confederation baby was, and in their mind it was neither Skehans nor O’Neil. The emailer claimed it was a grocery bagger from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, whose name they couldn’t recall.

 

josh.pennell@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Bell Island, Canada Brazil Happy Valley Goose Bay

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Recent comments

  • New Veteran
    April 14, 2014 - 09:32

    Congratulations to whoever it was. I do know that it wasn't me. I didn't arrive until 1956.

  • Krista
    April 12, 2014 - 15:55

    The first baby born was Joe Roberts in Channel.

  • wayne Osmond
    April 12, 2014 - 10:41

    We heard in our area it was a male from Channel.Port Aux Basques. I would be more interested in hearing who was the last real Newfoundlander born before midnight.

  • Jenn O'Neill
    April 10, 2014 - 20:15

    Hello Mrs. Skehans, this is Sharon O'Neill's daughter. I just wanted to say that my Mom didn't initiate anything, either. When the first article was printed, we discovered that a few of our family members and friends who had read it contacted the telegram on their own (wondering why Mom wasn't mentioned). Then the telegram reached out to my Mom to follow up and ask her a few questions. I think it's just a case of things being made out to look much more dramatic than they really are, haha. Best wishes to you and yours, also!

  • Marg (Brazil) Skehans
    April 10, 2014 - 11:58

    Regarding the article, be it known that I have absolutely no interest in depriving anyone of the title of the First baby of Confederation. I had not initiated any interest in telling my story; I simply answered a couple of general questions. I have always been aware of efforts made by Dr. Templeman for recognition. I, and my family, realize home deliveries' "time" were not considered official and accepted it unquestionably. I am surprised that the story should surface at this time - 65 years later. I have no interest in making this a controversial issue. Let the recognition and certification remain as it has for the past 65 years with the "officially" declared "First baby of Confederation" and I send best wishes.

  • Marg (Brazil) Skehans
    April 10, 2014 - 11:57

    Regarding the article, be it known that I have absolutely no interest in depriving anyone of the title of the First baby of Confederation. I had not initiated any interest in telling my story; I simply answered a couple of general questions. I have always been aware of efforts made by Dr. Templeman for recognition. I, and my family, realize home deliveries' "time" were not considered official and accepted it unquestionably. I am surprised that the story should surface at this time - 65 years later. I have no interest in making this a controversial issue. Let the recognition and certification remain as it has for the past 65 years with the "officially" declared "First baby of Confederation" and I send best wishes.

    • Teri Evans
      April 10, 2014 - 20:10

      I am a sister of Sharon O'Neill and while I can appreciate your comments concerning this issue, please know that it was not our family who contacted The Telegram after your article appeared. However, we were all grateful to the person who did., not because Sharon is the type of individual who enjoys attention brought to herself, if fact out of us all she is probably the least one. This title of "The Confederation Baby" was something that she held dear to her & to my parents and it was quite upsetting to read that it was questionable to others shown by the comments made to Sharon later. Her birth was the official certified time that was accepted due to it being a hospital birth. As you are well aware home deliveries were very hard to certify at that time & I'm sure they probably would still be today. There was no great ado caused by her birth & certainly no great government awards throughout her life, she didn't get any extra "baby bonus" or even so much as a free can of Carnation Milk by being the Confederation baby but she did get bragging rights, which she herself never used. It was however disheartening to her & all of her family & friends to have all of this brought up on that of the 65th Anniversary. But in answer to The Telegrams questions.... Yes, the REAL CONFEDERATION BABY CAN STAND UP.

  • anonymous
    April 10, 2014 - 10:52

    The real Conferderation baby was Bern Hynes, residing in Happy Valley Goose Bay

    • anonymous
      April 14, 2014 - 05:05

      I don't know about the first baby but the first triple was born in Twillingate later that year and was given by the Carnation milk free milk for one year