St. John's Municipal Politics, 1902-1914


Melvin Baker (c)1984

Originally published in the Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. LXXX, no. 2 (Fall 1984), 23-30

The Municipal Affairs Act of 1888 gave to St. John's the right for the first time to manage its own civic affairs. The Council created by that Act consisted of two government appointees and five citizens elected from municipal wards. (1) From the outset the political partisanship that injected colonial politics affected the municipal government with equal virulence. Consequently, in 1898 an amending Act was passed by the Legislature which eliminated the elective principle and gave over government of the town to an appointed commission of three. In 1902, Liberal Premier Sir Robert Bond, seeking both the restoration of democracy and reduced partisanship, provided for the quadrennial election, on the basis of household franchise of six councillors and a mayor. Bond instituted city-wide elections in place of the old ward system because he wanted candidates to "appeal to a larger constituency . . . not a purely pocket borough." He wanted the Council to consist of dedicated, competent businessmen to devote itself to economical administration, low taxation, and efficiency in the public service. (2)

Robert Bond

Bond's goal of a non-partisan Municipal Council was not to be because of the strong influence, which his longtime political rival and a member of his Executive Council St. John's West MHA Edward Morris exerted at the level of St. John's local politics. Consequently, when on June 19, 1902 the first election was held under the new Municipal Act, Morris either had his supporters or independents selected to the Municipal Council. In the mayoralty race Morris persuaded George Shea to run and St. John's West Liberal MHA and dry goods merchant John Anderson to withdrew. A commission merchant and large property owner, Shea came from a family long associated with St. John's politics. (3) Morris' strategy was to stop the election of Thomas White, one of the Commissioners of 1898 and a Tory with strong labour support. He had been closely identified with the Reid Newfoundland Company railway interest, which was the source of considerable employment through the construction of a new railway terminus and other facilities. (4) Shea however, won the election, defeating White 1,543 to 1,303. (5)

Edward Patrick Morris

Morris candidates also emerged victorious in the election of three councillors. Six Morris supporters ran as a "slate", styling themselves the "Big Six" and promising to provide an "energetic, united Council." The six were former municipal councillors, Michael Power and John Harris, and four newcomers to city politics: F. D. Lilly, a lawyer; Samuel Milley, a dry goods' merchant; William Ellis, a builder, and John Bennett a brewer and manufacturer. (6) Of the "Big Six" only Harris, a Legislative Councillor, Ellis and Bennett were successful. The other councillors elected were John Anderson and two other newcomers to local politics: Michael Kennedy, a building contractor; and Charles Muir who owned a stone and marble works. (7) The new Council had a decidedly Liberal flavour but it did not receive any special consideration from Premier Bond. Its career would be that of its predecessors: a constant struggle to maintain minimal services in the face of an inadequate tax base.

George Shea

The first priority of Council was to reorganize municipal finances. For the 1902 fiscal year, Council followed the estimates devised by the former Municipal Commission. These provided for only half-payment of the yearly interest on the civic debt owed the colonial government, while the other half was added to the debt itself. This had been a practice followed by the Commission since 1899 and one which Mayor Shea and his colleagues would be forced to adopt again in 1903 and 1904. (8) Council hoped to resolve its financial difficulties through receiving financial compensation from the government for the latter having transferred civic land known as the Marine Promenade to the Reid Company under the terms of the 1898 Railway Contract. (9) When the legislation containing this contract had been passed by the Tory Administration of Sir James Winter, the elected Council of the day had moved quickly to protect its interest, taking action in the Supreme Court to confirm its ownership of the Promenade and adjoining Municipal Basin. This land had been given in 1852 by Governor Sir Gaspard LeMarchant to the people of St. John's for use as a public park and since 1852 had been held in trust by a group of citizens. In March, 1898 the Court found in Council's favour. (10)

Rebuilt Anglican Cathedral that had burnt in the 1892 Fire

Subsequently, the Municipal Commission had sought legal advice concerning its right to be compensated by the government for the Reid takeover of this civic property. The solicitor's report, presented to the Commission on July 22, 1898, had argued that, while the legislature had the legal right to give the Reid Company the land and adjoining foreshore, the municipality was entitled to financial compensation. (11) When the Reid Company had attempted to start construction of a railway depot on the Municipal Basin in May, 1900, the Commission immediately had obtained an injunction in the Supreme Court preventing further work. (12) On this occasion, the Court ruled in favour of the Reids, and the injunction was dissolved since the Company owned the Basin under the 1898 Railway Act. (13)

The Commission's next move had been to claim compensation under the arbitration provisions of the 1898 Act from the government for damages the Reid Company had done to the Marine Promenade. (14) On July 6, 1900 the Commission had appointed Magistrate J. G. Conroy as its arbitrator and subsequently had asked the Bond Government to follow suit, the third member of the proposed arbitration panel to be decided in accordance with the Act. (15) The colonial government now refused to consider the Commission's claims for compensation, asserting that the municipality's interest in the Municipal Basin and the Marine Promenade had been provided for by the Winter government's reduction of the civic debt in 1898. The Commission, however, continued to pursue the matter, approaching the government once more in December, 1901 to name an arbitrator. Bond's response to this had been to demand from the Commission a clear case of liability; but when the Commission had done this it had still found the government unwilling to appoint an arbitrator. (16)

Council finally forced a resolution of the dispute in September, 1902 when the newly elected body refused the Reid Company street lines for the erection of several buildings until the government consented to arbitration. In November, 1902 Council agreed to the Reid Company's demands, (17) but in February, 1903 Council's threat of further obstructionist tactics towards the Reid Company had apparently finally persuaded the government to agree to arbitration. (18) The arbitration process lasted for more than a year but on May 4, 1904 Council was awarded $250,000, (19) and Government's appeal to the Supreme Court to set the decision aside was unsuccessful. Council scored a notable victory but in the event it was unable to collect any money until January, 1905. (20) The delay was occasioned in part by the general election of autumn 1904. In this election, Bond was returned with a large majority that included Mayor Shea and Councillors Bennett and Ellis. (21) Following this election, Bond acted on the arbitration award by transferring $240,000 to the credit of the civic debt held by the government and giving Council $10,000 to pay its arbitration expense. Thus, at the end of 1904 Council's outstanding interest account of $118,171.53 was liquidated and its total indebtedness to the colonial government reduced to $1,184,755.37. (22) With these changes Council was at last able to meet its annual interest payment to the government.

Council's financial problems prevented it from undertaking extensive and necessary improvements to the town's water system. No doubt the lingering arbitration dispute explains Council's failure in 1903 and 1904 to get the government to guarantee a loan to improve the water service. Council's resolve to seek such a loan followed a visit to the town in 1902 of C.E.L. Jarvis of Saint John, New Brunswick, representing the London Board of Underwriters. Unless the water service was improved, Jarvis informed Council, insurance rates on property would be increased by as much as 25%. One improvement Jarvis particularly favoured was the laying of a water main to the Water Street area from George's Pond, which had been abandoned as a source of water for the town following the completion in 1862 of a gravity flow system from Windsor Lake. (23) Council was sympathetic to Jarvis's comments because the memory of the tragic 1892 fire was still fresh in the minds of St. John's citizens. In August, 1902 Council decided to study the feasibility of using George's Pond as an alternate water supply for both fire protection and domestic consumption. (24) Although the Pond was found to be an ideal auxiliary source for fire protection, Council decided to let the matter stand over for further study. It did so because the development of George's Pond had one serious drawback: it would not ensure an adequate supply of water for domestic use on the Higher Levels (LeMarchant and Freshwater Road area), especially in winter when many householders elsewhere in the town left their water running to prevent it from freezing in their pipes. (25)

During the winter of 1902-1903, which was particularly cold, this practice led to dangerously low pressure levels in the main from Windsor Lake. (26) Accordingly, in May, 1903 Council approached the government to have the water service expanded both to remove the existing danger and to provide for future demand in the north and west of the town. Council presented this proposal as part of a larger plan to reorganize municipal finances and to increase taxation. Under this plan, it wanted the civic debt to bear an annual interest rate of 3 1/2% rather than the existing 4% rate and to have the sewerage increased. Moreover, it sought a stricter regulation on the installation of water closets. In future, all houses with an annual rental value of $60.00 - the existing limit under the 1902 Municipal Act was $ 100.00 - would have to have this facility. Council did not want these changes piecemeal. Rather, it argued, the financial and taxation changes should not be made unless the government authorized the construction of a new water service. (27) However, Bond refused Council's precondition for reorganizing municipal finances; consequently, the House of Assembly passed a bill revising the requirement concerning water closets. This bill would increase Council's suggestion of a $60.00 rental limit to $80.00. (28) Council was displeased with this change and requested Councillor Harris, who was also a member of the Legislative Council, to have the bill withdrawn from the legislature. Under government pressure Harris declined this task. (29)

Despite this setback, Council persisted in its advocacy of an improved water service. In August, 1903 it decided to hire a hydraulic engineer to examine the town's whole water system (30) and asked C.E.L. Jarvis for his opinion of the qualifications of John Galt, a Torontonian who had offered his services to Council the previous October. Having received a favourable reply from Jarvis, Council asked Galt to come to St. John's immediately. (31) His recommendations, made to Council on September 3, 1903, suggested a major change in the existing service from Windsor Lake that would cost St. John's approximately $80,000 to implement. In sum, Galt argued that the first 3,140 feet of the 24 inch main from Windsor Lake should be removed and replaced by a concrete conduit, which would carry the water from the Lake to a concrete compensating basin 1 1/2 miles nearer the town; here the water could settle and be screened for purity. The compensating basin would in turn be connected to two 24-inch mains, one of which was to be joined to the existing 16-inch main to the town. The other main would connect with a new 16-inch pipe to be laid specifically to serve the Higher Levels. St. John's would thus be divided into two water distribution districts, the existing 16-inch main continuing to supply Water Street and area. Galt dismissed the idea of developing George's Pond; this remedy could serve only to perpetuate the "fools paradise" outlook of many residents. (32)

With this report in hand, Council in 1903 again asked the Bond Government for funds - but to no avail. Council, according to the government, had first to prove that it could meet the annual interest payments on the debt it owed the colony. (33) In December, 1903 a number of the town's merchants, led by Edgar Bowring, pressed Council for an immediate decision in favour of an improved water service. The merchants knew whereof they spoke: if the town did not act, the London Board of Fire Underwriters planned to increase insurance premiums on property in St. John's by 20% in January, 1904. (34) This new threat convinced the government to give Council a loan of $100,000 if the latter could offer the legislature at its forthcoming session a taxation scheme to put municipal finances on a sound financial footing. (35) In January, 1904 Council presented three schemes to the government. Bond rejected the first two because he was unwilling to accede to an increase in the annual road grants from the legislature or to place a tax on all telephone users in St. John's. Under the terms of the scheme eventually passed by the legislature, Council was to receive about two-thirds of its additional revenue of approximately $32,000 from an increase in the coal duty; another $2,200 was to come from an increase in the sewerage rate from 1/5 to 1/4 of the water rate. Other funds were to come from increased taxes on business stock and on banking and financial institutions. (36) In late January, 1904 Government approval of this scheme enabled Council to secure a commitment from the London Board of Fire Underwriters to withdraw their threatened premium increase. (37)

In April, 1906 Council brought John Galt back from Toronto to discuss how the new water works he had proposed the previous year might be constructed. Galt was subsequently hired as a consulting engineer by the town; but the actual supervision of the construction was done by Council's own engineer, John Ryan. (38) The building of the conduit, the laying of new pipe, and the digging of a new trench for the placing of the second main to the town was eventually completed in November, 1906 at a cost of approximately $200,000. This was more than what Galt had estimated, the increase being attributable to his having misjudged local construction conditions. (39)

The reorganization of municipal finances, the faithful payment by Council after 1904 of the interest it owed the colony, and the improvement of the water service were all substantial accomplishments and Mayor Shea based on them his hopes for victory at the municipal election for June 26, 1906. (40) On the eve of the election the Liberal Evening Telegram commented that St. John's needed a mayor who could "keep down burdensome taxation" while maintaining services and having "an eye to the city improvements which are pressing needs." Shea was obviously such a man. St. John's could not afford a mayor who would "spend money recklessly in order to gain popularity at the expense of the ratepayers." "Such a course," the newspaper continued, "would make it impossible to own a bit of property in the city limits, prevent industries being introduced, and tend to drive out the industries and businesses on which many of our citizens depend for their livelihood." (41)

In the Evening Telegram's view Shea's principal opponent, Michael Patrick Gibbs, a 36-year old St. John's born Roman Catholic lawyer and former Tory MHA for St. George's, posed exactly this threat. Gibbs was very popular with the working men of the town and this popularity stemmed from his great success as a union organizer, especially with the Longshoremen's Protective Union. (42) In his mayoralty campaign Gibbs expressed his abhorrence for the conditions under which the working poor lived and promised to bring water and sewerage services to their hovels. He also promised to change the town's land tenure system and make the British absentee landlords, who owned much of the most valuable commercial and residential land in the town, pay their fair share of local property taxation. (43) The existing system saw leaseholders covenanted to pay all of their landlords' taxation. (44)

Michael Gibbs

His appeal was a resounding success; he swept Shea from office 2,079 votes to 1,056, the third candidate in the race, John Anderson, being left far behind at 425. (45) Only two of the candidates elected in 1902 Ellis and Kennedy stood again in 1906 and both were successful. Two newcomers to town politics were elected James Martin, a cabinet maker and undertaker, and John Cowan, a St. John's merchant and former Liberal MHA for Bonavista. The other members elected were John Carew, a builder and undertaker, who had run unsuccessfully in 1902, and Samuel Collier, a wheelwright who had been defeated as a Tory in St. John's West in the general election of 1900. (46)

Gibbs lived up to his election promise concerning water and sewerage connections. Under the 1902 Municipal Act, as amended in 1903, landlords and their agents were required to install water closets only in those houses which rented annually for at least $80.00. Council could not compel owners to carry out this provision but it could do work itself and recover its costs before the magistrates. The problem with this system was that under the terms of many leases, landlords and their agents could pass the costs in question on to tenants. Consequently, many houses with the required rental value were not connected to the town's system. To solve this problem, Gibbs proposed a program to permit Council to subsidize residents of houses renting for $80.00 or more per year who wished to install water closets. (47)

In March, 1907 he approached the Bond Government to pass legislation embodying this scheme. Under this bill government was to lend Council $50,000 for the installation of water closets in qualified houses which were within 50 feet of a public drain or sewer. Council would also be empowered to install water closets in houses renting for less than $80.00 per annum if the work was considered necessary for public health reasons. When Council itself had to install a water closet in a house, the cost was to be paid by both landlord and tenant in equal amounts over a 10-year period. The bill also proposed the levying of a tax of 15% on the annual ground rents received by absentee landlords. This tax, Gibbs asserted, would affect only the ground landlord, leaseholders being specifically exempted by the bill. This new tax, Gibbs hoped, would add an extra $7,000 to the general revenue, its long-term purpose being to force absentee landlords to sell their freeholds to local leaseholders. Gibbs also proposed a tax on theatrical companies and other forms of entertainment. Again, those using water for commercial purposes, who now paid the same rate as householders, would henceforth pay a special rate. Moreover, factories were to be required to have separate lavatory facilities for men and women. (48)

The Bond Government refused to introduce Council's proposed legislative changes because the bill had been received too late during the 1907 session for it to be given the consideration it required. When the government declined Council's approach the following year, Gibbs went on the offensive, telling the press on February 28, 1908 that Premier Bond was unwilling to move against the absentee landlords by interfering with their lease arrangements. (49) Thereafter, Gibbs' concerns were overshadowed by the political and constitutional turmoil into which the colony was thrown by the general election held in November, 1908. This election resulted in a tie between government and opposition supporters.

Bond's leading opponent in the campaign was the formidable Edward Morris who had broken ranks with the Liberal party on July 20, 1907, ostensibly because the Minister of Public Works had not given him credit for a pay increase received by road labourers. During the 1907 session Morris sat as an independent but on March 5 he announced the formation of a new "People's Party" with a platform which emphasized public works. Morris united in this party the remnants of the old Tory party, the Reid interests, and a number of prominent individuals attracted by the strength of his personality. (50) Three of these were Mayor Gibbs (who had refused Bond's offer to a cabinet position after Morris's resignation in 1907), Councillor Michael Kennedy and St. John's West MHA John Bennett. In St. John's the result of the election that followed these changes mirrored the outcome in Newfoundland as a whole. In St. John's East the Liberals retained all three seats; there the Liberal and People's Party slates were headed respectively by incumbent George Shea and Mayor Gibbs. In St. John's West the People's Party swept the board, the members returned being Morris, Kennedy, and Bennett. The other municipal councillor to run in the election was William Ellis who was returned for Ferryland, a Liberal seat he had held since 1904. (51)

When Governor Sir William MacGregor (1904-1909) refused to grant him another dissolution, Bond resigned the premiership on March 2, 1909. He was succeeded by Morris, who had informed MacGregor that he could form a government, despite having only the same number of seats as Bond. One of the new ministers was Mayor Gibbs, who was sworn in despite his defeat. Not surprisingly, Morris himself quickly sought a dissolution, which was accepted as both sides had now attempted to form a government. In the general election which followed on May 8, 1909, he won handily over Bond. (52) Both parties included members of the Municipal Council on their slates in the St. John's districts. In St. John's East Gibbs once more failed to unseat Shea, but was rewarded for his efforts by appointment to the Legislative Council. In St. John's West William Ellis led the Liberal forces, but Morris, Kennedy, and Bennett were again all returned. (53) With Morris as Premier and Gibbs in his cabinet, the opportunity was now clearly possible for Gibbs to have his 1907 municipal bill adopted by the legislature.

Since then Gibbs himself had had a change of heart over certain sections of the proposed legislation. Specifically, he claimed that on the basis of a further examination of the lease situation in the town, he had come to doubt whether the proposal to tax absentee landlords was sufficiently rigorous. (54) What he now wanted was a loan from the government of $30,000, repayable in 50 years. This would be used to put water closets in all houses without them and which rented for at least $80.00 per annum. If the owner of a house refused its order to connect with the mains under this "Small Homes Sewerage System", Council could step in and do the work itself and bill the resister, who would have to pay in installments. Tenants were to be protected by various means. In the case of a lease with an unexpired term of less than 40 years, the ground landlord was to be responsible for payment; in the case of a lease with a term of between 40 and 60 years, both the ground landlord and tenant were to be equally liable; in the case of a lease with an unexpired term of 60 years or more, the tenant was to be liable. Gibbs' revised bill also required ground landlords and tenants to maintain houses renting for $50.00 or less per year in a habitable state, Council having the right of inspection to see that this was being done. Again, the new bill provided for the raising of $60,000 to extend the water system on the Higher Levels, to appropriate land adjoining Windsor Lake so as to protect the town's water supply, and to provide other services. (55)

Having achieved these changes - the bill was passed by both Houses of the Legislature in March, 1910 - Gibbs decided not to seek re-election as mayor in 1910. (56) He was succeeded by William Ellis, the only candidate to declare for the position. In his election platform Ellis promised to continue the efforts by Gibbs to provide better housing for residents. (57) Interestingly, none of the 12 candidates for the election held on June 27, 1910 bothered to call a public meeting the traditional forum of St. John's politics. The 1910 campaign lacked the partisanship of the 1902 and 1906 contests, where the daily newspapers had vigorously supported or opposed candidates on the basis of party affiliation. With the exemption of James Martin, who was the only councillor to seek re-election, all the successful candidates were new to municipal politics. Four of the new councillors - John Coaker, James Mullaly, Martin Myrick, and Charles Ryan - were either builders or manufacturers. The sixth member elected was James Channing, a druggist. (58)

The general lack of interest in the 1910 municipal election soon prompted the recently formed Board of Trade to take a more active role in municipal affairs. One of the main organizers behind the Board's interest was William Gilbert Gosling, a Bermudian born merchant with the St. John's fish export firm of Harvey & Co. The Board of Trade and Gosling decided to consider the general state of local government in St. John's because of the still inadequate fire protection in the Water Street area. Despite the money Council had spent since 1904 to improve the water system, Water Street remained poorly equipped to face an emergency, because the system could not at times deliver enough water at an adequate pressure to fight a major fire. (59) The town also needed a fire boat in the harbour. Following a major fire in October, 1908 which destroyed a large mercantile premises valued at $600,000, (60) the Newfoundland Board of Fire Underwriters urged upon the Municipal Council and the Board of Trade the need for this additional service. Unless it were provided, the Board of Fire Underwriters threatened to raise premiums on property in the Water Street area. The Board of Trade estimated the cost of such a boat at $10,000 with an equivalent maintenance cost. The need was clear; but Council proved most uncooperative. With the threat of an insurance rate increase hanging over them, the merchants found themselves caught in a jurisdictional battle. Council could not provide the boat because it could not afford it; the Morris Government was willing to lend the Council the money to purchase the boat, yet would do nothing to maintain it. (61)

William Gilbert Gosling

Gosling first brought the subject of fire protection and other municipal problems before the Executive Committee of the Board of Trade on May 5, 1911. The first step taken by the Board in its quest to stimulate greater public discussion of municipal problems was the formation of a committee consisting of Gosling, John Harvey, his close friend and business associate, and John Harris, to enlist the support of the Municipal Council. The Council accepted in principle the need for such civic awareness, but refused the proposal for a joint meeting to discuss municipal problems. Instead, the Council suggested the Board form a watchdog citizens' league. (62)

The only possible way for Council to provide the improvements in fire protection and other services sought by the Board of Trade was through an increase in the property tax. This solution clearly posed its problems. As matters stood, Council was just able to meet its fixed financial obligations - interest payments to the government, the annual contribution to the Fire Department, and salary and service payments. (63) Council's difficulties were, moreover, compounded in this period by the problem of tax arrears; since 1905 the number of defaulters had gradually increased, particularly among those who lived in tenements renting for between $40.00 and $60.00 annually. These delinquents possessed little property against which writs of attachment could be issued in the local courts and the cost of hiring lawyers to recover such small amounts was prohibitive. (64) At the end of 1905 municipal arrears had stood at $52,963.90; by 1913 this figure had almost doubled to $98,706.28. (65) In 1911 the Council received legislative authority to impose a 6% annual charge on all taxes outstanding for more than one year; (66) but in 1912 the Morris Government refused Council's request to turn off the water to householders who had not paid their taxes. Morris argued that such action was not only arbitrary but also dangerous to the health of the miscreants. Moreover, though in arrears on direct taxes, the defaulters still had contributed to the municipal revenue through the duty imposed on all coal imported into St. John's for the benefit of Council. (67)

While Council thus continued to struggle over the next few years to provide the essential services St. John's needed, Gosling and his Board of Trade refrained from criticism. Although Gosling professed that he needed time to study the general issue of municipal government in St. John's and elsewhere, his delaying tactics may have had a further motivation; in all likelihood he did not want a citizens' reform association until the existing Council's term ended in June, 1914. In this way any change that might be proposed in the town's system of municipal government would not be misconstrued as a partisan attack on the Council; nor would it be sullied by the general election that would have to be held before the municipal election.

The general election was eventually held on October 30, 1914. Both Mayor Ellis and Councillor Charles Ryan were candidates in Robert Bond's Liberal Party, but neither was elected in the St. John's districts in which they ran. (68) With the election out of the way Gosling at a December 22 meeting called on the Board of Trade, of which he was now President, to act. It was necessary for the Board to provide civic leadership because it was the "only independent, non-political, non-sectarian body in the community." Noting that the Boards of Trade of Saint John and Halifax had recently taken similar initiatives, he called for a civic improvement agitation which would be "wholly impersonal." Improvement, he said, would mean greater taxation because there would have to be a considerable increase in both Council's current expenses and debt. Gosling noted that taxation in St. John's was "comparatively light", the total collected in the town being only about one-third to one-half that collected in cities of similar size in Canada and the United States. With Mayor Ellis present the meeting unanimously agreed to the appointment of a four-man committee to be chaired by Gosling. This committee was to issue 300 invitations to a public meeting to be held on December 29 for the purpose of forming a citizens' committee to assist Council in its work. (69)

One hundred citizens answered Gosling's appeal; their public meeting elected him chairman of a five-man committee charged with selecting an executive committee of 25, with power to increase their number. The executive committee in turn was to make a thorough study of the town' problems; its recommendations were to be presented to the House of Assembly during its 1914 session, having first been approved at a public meeting. (70) Gosling chose his associates judiciously; they all had backgrounds in municipal politics or in occupations or professions which concerned the issues to be examined. Premier Morris headed the list of politicians, which also included John Bennett, the Newfoundland Colonial Secretary; St. John's East MHA James Kent, who had succeeded Bond as Liberal leader in January, 1914; former mayor George Shea; and Legislative Councillors John Anderson, Michael Gibbs, John Harris, and John Harvey. The committee also consisted of the Inspector-General of the Constabulary and the Fire Department, the town's Medical Health Officer, and the president of the Longshoremen's Protective Union, the town's largest labour body and the negotiator of the wages and working conditions of municipal labourers. The remaining committee members were merchants, lawyers, and educators. (71)

The Municipal Council dissociated itself from the work of the Citizens' Committee; but it did make information available to its various sub-committees dealing with municipal administration. As one of the town's largest builders, Mayor Ellis served on the housing sub-committee, but avoided any other participation lest it conflict with his position as mayor. (72) In January, 1914 the Council itself attempted to secure popular changes to the 1902 Municipal Act. These were the division of the town into nine wards with a councillor elected for each (the mayor to be elected by the town as a whole) and the enfranchisement of women property owners who paid water and sewerage taxes. (73) However, this initiative was abandoned the following month when the Citizens' Committee released its larger plan of reform.

Having identified the main municipal problems in the areas of housing, sewerage, public health, lighting, street repairing and cleaning, water supply, fire protection, and taxation, the Committee called on the legislature to postpone for one year the municipal election scheduled to be held in June, 1914. In the interim, the Committee proposed, St. John's would be administered by a committee of 12 citizens appointed by the Governor-in-Council who would serve without remuneration and would prepare a new municipal act based on their experience in governing the town. This draft act would first be submitted to the people in a plebiscite; if the popular verdict were favourable, it would then be presented to the legislature during the 1915 session. (74)

The proposal to establish a temporary commission to govern St. John's was readily accepted by the Morris Government. The Citizens' Committee was well represented on the Commission when its membership was announced. Out of 12 Commissioners, nine, including Gosling, had served on the Committee. Eleven of the twelve Commissioners had commercial or industrial backgrounds; the twelfth was the President of the Longshoremen's Protective Union. (75) Several of the Commissioners had previous municipal experience and included from the outgoing Council, Mayor Ellis and Councillor Mullaly. Members of the previous Councils appointed to the Commission were John Anderson and John Harris. Ellis had accepted a place from Premier Morris on the understanding that he would be named chairman, a position he claimed to be rightfully his because of his long record of municipal service. (76) But this was not to be. On July 2, at the first meeting of the Commission, Gosling moved that the chief executive be selected by majority vote. He then easily defeated Ellis on the first ballot, the latter resigning in disgust the following day. (77) Gosling had come to personify reform in St. John's and his election reflected the determination of the new Commission to make a clean break with the past. In this fashion the chain of events which culminated in the charter of 1921, the basis of present-day municipal government in St. John's, was set in motion.


1. Melvin Baker, Aspects of Nineteenth Century St. John's Municipal History (St. John's, 1982), 48-61.

2. Statutes of Newfoundland, 2 Edward Vll, cap. 6; and Robert Bond in Assembly Debates, April 11, 1902, in Evening Telegram May 13, 1902.

3. "Candidates for the Coming Municipal Election," Newfoundland Quarterly (March, 1906), 1.

4. Evening Telegram, December 22, 1905; and Daily News, December 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 1905.

5. Trade Review, April 19, May 17, 1902; and Evening Telegram, June 21, 1902.

6. Evening Telegram, May 15, 1902.

7. Ibid., June 23, 1902.

8. St. John's Municipal Council, hereafter St. J.M.C., Letter Book, Chairman Burchell to Deputy Colonial Secretary Mews, April 23, 1902: St. J.M.C. Minutes, October 24, 1902, November 20, 1903; and Council's Annual Financial Statements for 1901, 1904 in St. J.M.C. Minutes for January 31, February 17, 1902, April 24, 1903, April 11, 1904, March 31, 1905 (located at St. John's City Hall).

9. St. J.M.C. Minutes, December 3, 1902, and memorandum in reference to Finances of Municipal Council, April 24, 1903.

10. Municipal Council Meetings, March 4, April 1, 1898, as reported in the Daily News, March 5, April 2, 1898.

11. St. J.M.C. Minutes, July 13, 22, 1898.

12. Registry of Newfoundland Supreme Court, "Burchell v Reid, May 12, 1900"; Evening Herald, May 14, 16, 17, 1900; St. J.M.C. Minutes, July 4, 20, 1900; and St. J.M.C. Letter Book, Chairman Burchell to Acting Minister of Justice Horwood, July 4, 1900.

13. Evening Herald, May 18, 1900.

14. Marine Promenade Award, May 4, 1904, copy of which was recorded in St. J.M.C. Minute, May 13, 1904.

15. St. J.M.C. Minute July 6, 1900, and Letter Book, Chairman Burchell to Colonial Secretary Bond, December 21, 1900.

16. Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, hereafter PANL, Acting Colonial Secretary to Municipal Council Chairman Burchell, September 1, 1900, and Colonial Secretary Bond to Burchell, January 29, 1902. See also St. J.M.C. Letter Book, Chairman Burchell to Premier Bond, February 8, 1902.

17. St. J.M.C. Minutes, September 5, November 5, 21, 1902.

18. Ibid., December 3, 1902, February 27. March 6, 1903. See also PANL, GN 9/1, Minute of Executive Council, August 1, 1903.

19. Marine Promenade Award as recorded in St. J.M.C. Minute, May 13, 1904; and PANL, ON 9/1, Minute of Executive Council, May 4, 1904.

20. St. J.M.C. Minute, July 11, 1904, January 25, 1905.

21. S.J.R. Noel, Politics in Newfoundland (Toronto 1971), 34-5; and Daily News, November 2, 1904. On Ellis's election in Ferryland, see Peter Cashin, My Life and Times, 1890-1919 (St. John's 1976), 28-9.

22. St. J.M.C. Minute, February 24, 1905.

23. Ibid., August 22,25, 1902. See also Melvin Baker, "The Politics of Assessment: The Water Question in St. John's, 1844- 1864," Acadiensis, vol. Xll, no. I (Autumn, 1982), 59-72.

24. St. J.M.C. Minutes, August 29, September 19, 1902.

25. "Report of John Galt on St. John's Water System, September 3, 1903," enclosure in St. J.M.C. Minute Book, vol. 3, August 18, 1902, to September 4, 1903; and St. J.M.C. Minute, July 24, 1903.

26. E. B. Foran, "St. John's City: Historic Capital of Newfoundland," in J.R. Smallwood, ed., The Book of Newfoundland, vol. 2 (St. John's 1937), 18.

27. St. J.M.C. Minutes, April 24, 1903, containing a memorandum in reference to Council's proposed reorganization of its finances. See also ibid., May 7, 1903; and Municipal Councillor Charles Muir to the Daily News, May 29, 1903.

28. Assembly Debates, May 15, 1903, in Daily News, May 16, 1903.

29. St. J.M.C. Minutes, May 19, 22, 1903; Daily News, May 21, 26, 27, 1903; and Statutes of Newfoundland 3 Edward Vll, Cap. 13.

30. St. J.M.C. Minute, August 7, 1903.

31. Ibid., October 17, 1902, August 17, 28, 1903.

32. "Report of John Galt on St. John's Water Supply, September 3, 1903."

33. St. J.M.C. Minutes, September 8, 18, October 16, 23, 27, November 10, 1903.

34. Ibid., December 11, 21, 1903.

35. Ibid., December 24, 1903.

36. Ibid.,January 2, 12, 16,22, 1904; and Daily News, January 25, 1904.

37. St. J.M.C. Minute, January 29, 1904.

38. Ibid., February 19, March 22, April 14, 28, 30, May 13, 1904. 39. Foran, "St. John's City: Historic Capital of Newfoundland," 18; and Proceedings of the Newfoundland House of Assembly, 1911, 440-41.

40. Evening Telegram, June 22, 1906.

41. Ibid., June 23, 1906.

42. Daily News, May 17, 23, 1903, February 5, June 2, 1904. Gibbs continued to support the town's labour unions after his election in 1906 as mayor, staying on as counsel, for instance, of the Longshoremen's Protective Union. For his activities in this and other unions, see Daily News, May 6, August 22, October 10, November 4, 6, December 11, 1907, January 14, 28, February 7, March 16, September 8, 1908.

43. Daily News, May 28, 1906, February 28, 1908.

44. Melvin Baker, "Absentee Landlordism and Municipal Government in Nineteenth Century St. John's" (paper presented to the Canadian Historical Association, June, 1984).

45. Evening Telegram, June 28, 1906.

46. Daily News, June 30, 1906; "Candidates for the Coming Municipal Election," Newfoundland Quarterly, (March, 1906), 1-4; and "The New Municipal Council," Newfoundland Quarterly (October, 1906), 17.

47. Proceedings of the Newfoundland House of Assembly, 1910, 379-89; and Proceedings of the Newfoundland Legislative Council, 1910, 694-706.

48. St. J.M.C. Minutes, March 11, 20, May 10, 1907; and Mayor Gibbs interview in the Daily News, February 28, 1908. The bill was printed in the Daily News, March 23, 1907.

49. Daily News, February 28,1908, and St. J.M.C. Minutes, January 25, 28, February 14, 1908.

50. Noel, Politics in Newfoundland, 46-7.

51. Daily News, November 10, 1908.

52. Noel, Politics in Newfoundland, 68-76; and Daily News, March 4, 1909.

53. Daily News, May 12, 1909.

54. Proceedings of the Newfoundland Legislative Council, 1910, 701-02.

55. Ibid., 694-707. See also Proceedings of the Newfoundland House ofAssembly, 1910, 379-90, 410-13; St. J.M.C. Minutes, January 7, 14, February 14,1910; and Statutes of Newfoundland, 10 Edward Vll, Cap. 7.

56. Daily News, May 11, 1910.

57. Ibid., June 16, 18, 1910. See also "The New Mayor," Newfoundland Quarterly (July, 1910).

58. Daily News, June 18, 27, 30, 1910.

59. PANL, P8/B/II, Board of Trade Papers, 1914, Special File, "Report of the Executive Council of the Citizens' Committee,

February 12, 1914," 11-3.

60. H. M. Mosdell, When Was That? (St. John's 1923), 42.

61. PANL, P8/B/II, "Report of the Executive Committee of the Citizens Committee, February 12, 1914," 18: P8/B/I I. Board of Trade Minute, April 18,1912; ' Quarterly Report of the Board of Trade," published in Daily News, April 9, November 12, 1912; and St. J.M.C. Letter Book, Secretary-Treasurer J. L. Slattery to Colonial Secretary R. Watson, January 23, 1912.

62. PANL, P8/B/11, Board of Trade Minutes, May 5, 9, 12, 1911; P8/B/I I, Board of Trade Letter Book, G. E. Fearn, Secretary, Board of Trade to J. L. Slattery, Secretary-Treasurer, St. John's Municipal Council, May 5, 1911; and St. J.M.C. Minutes, May 5, 12, 22, 1911.

63. See, for instance, Mayor Gibbs' comments at the public meeting announcing his retirement from civic of fire, reported in Daily News, May 11, 1910.

64. Ibid., March 24,29, April 21,1913. See also "Report of Citizens' Committee on the City Taxes," in Evening Telegram, May 19, 1914.

65. "Report of Municipal Board for Six Months, June 30th to December 31st, 1914," in Daily News, February 16, 1915. For a discussion of some of the problems Council encountered in its efforts to collect tax arrears, see Isaac Morris to ibid., October 10, 1916.

66. Statutes of Newfoundland, I George V, Cap. 6.

67. PANL, GN8/1, Prime Ministers Papers, Edward Patrick Morris, folder 35, Edward Morris to J. L. Slattery, March 8, 1912.

68. Daily News, September 27, 29, 30, November 3, 1913.

69. Ibid., December 23, 1913. See also PANL, P8/B/II, Board o Trade Minutes, December 12, 26, 1913.

70. Daily News, December 30, 1913; and PANL, P8/B/II, "Report of the Executive Committee of the Citizens' Committee, February 12, 1914," 3-5.

71. Ibid., See also St. J.M.C. Minute, June 30, 1908.

72. PANL, P8/B/II, "Report of the Executive Committee of the Citizens' Committee, February 12, 1914," 5; and William Ellis to Evening Telegram, February 12, 1914.

73. St. J.M.C. Minutes, January 29, February 16, 1914; and Daily News, February 4, 1914.

74. PANL, P8/B/II, "Report of the Executive Committee of the Citizens' Committee, February 12, 1914"; and William Gosling and John Harris to Evening Telegram, February 23, 1914.

75. St. J.M.C. Minute, July 2, 1914.

76. Ibid., June 23, 1914.

77. Ibid., July 2, 1914. See also Daily News, July 3, 1914; and PANL, GN 2/5, Special File of the Colonial Secretary, file 27-G, William Ellis to Colonial Secretary John Bennett, July 3, 1914.