Unlike the municipal governments of the 1920s and 1930s to be
found in major Canadian cities, the City Council in St. John's
was greatly restricted in its jurisdiction over civic finance. In
Canada full incorporation was the norm with municipalities having
the power to raise loans and issue civic bonds to pay for needed
local improvements. By contrast, St. John's did not have such
financial independence in its civic administration for, though
the legislature had in 1888 granted St. John's a limited form of
self-rule, it had never been a fully incorporated municipal body.
The Council elected in 1888 had been given authority over water
supply, streets, sewers, the fire brigade, and building
regulations, but the legislature, to meet the fears of property
owners, had provided significant checks on municipal power in
respect of taxation and expenditure. Thus, the Council was
required to submit to the legislature an annual balanced
statement of its revenues and expenditures and to obtain
government approval for any taxation increase. This requirement
enabled the city's merchants and large property owners, through
influence in Cabinet and Assembly as well as in the Legislative
Council, to decide what taxes should be levied and what loans raised. (1)
The fact that St. John's could not raise loans on the strength of
its own credit often meant that Council could not carry out
needed civic improvements, although St. John's might have been
able to afford the loans necessary for doing so. Consequently,
the city's efforts to undertake any substantial expenditure in
town planning and slum clearance were marked by acrimonious
debate between the Newfoundland Government and the City Council
as to whether St. John's could afford such improvements, a
situation which Canadian municipalities by their very existence
of full incorporation did not have to confront. It was not until
1944 that the two levels of government were able to reach a
settlement on the longstanding issue of how the city debt should
be managed and what should be the respective responsibilities of
each government in respect of it. Only then were the two
governments able to agree upon a co-operative effort in town
planning that would allow for the development of new planned
suburbs to alleviate the overcrowding and poor housing situation
in the city's mixed residential-commercial district. The St.
John's Housing Corporation formed in 1944 was the result of this
An overcrowded and unsanitary central slum area had long been a
fact of life for St. John's residents. This area was bounded on
the north by Harvey Road, on the south by New Gower Street, on
the east by Carter's Hill, and on the west by Springdale Street.
(2) By 1925 there was in this area alone some 900 houses not
connected to the city sewage system. Some 80 per cent of those
were considered by municipal authorities to be unfit for human
habitation. The social, fire and public health problems
associated with this slum area were also being duplicated in a
new slum which had grown up in the suburb bounded by Merrymeeting
Road to the south and the Old Railway Road (now Empire Avenue) to
the north. Before 1921 this area had been outside the municipal
limits and under unregulated govenment control.
The living conditions of residents, especially those of young
boys, in both old and new St. John's was a matter of great
concern to the Rotary Club which had been organized in November,
1921, in the city. Dedicated to social service in the community,
the Club in 1922 undertook a survey of boy life, concentrating on
their educational, health, and recreational needs. (3) Appalled
by what they saw while visiting the unsanitary and dilapidated
houses of boys from poor neighbourhoods, the Rotarians were
convinced that a practical approach to improving quality of life
would be through a program of better housing.
In 1925 the Rotary Club joined with the recently formed voluntary
Charity Organization Bureau, whose role was to coordinate the
activities of the city's many charity associations and to study
all matters relating to social service, to consider what steps
should be taken to help alleviate the poor housing situation. A
joint committee of both organizations was subsequently appointed
under the direction of St. John's merchant, Leonard Outerbridge.
This committee visited the homes of the poor and brought the
worst housing conditions to the attention of the City Council
which forced landlords to make some repairs to their rented
properties. In the course of their investigations, the committee
found that in certain circumstances tenants paid no rent at all
to their landlords because the houses were practically worthless
and landlords were unable to collect rent on such dilapidated
dwellings. The only reason Council did not destroy these as unfit
for human habitation was that there were no alternative
residences. Rotary Club members proposed that an expert in urban
problems be brought to St. John's to study the city's housing
situation and physical development in quest of a permanent
On the recommendation of Toronto municipal authorities, (5) in
September, 1926, the Rotary Club secured the services of Arthur
Dalzell, a prominent Toronto town planner and civic engineer. The
Scotland-born Dalzell had worked for 14 years as an engineer in
Halifax, England, before qualifying in 1897 to become an English
Sanitary Inspector. In 1908 he took up the position of assistant
city engineer in Vancouver, Canada, where he remained until 1918.
The following year he was appointed an assistant to Thomas Adams,
the town planning adviser to the Canadian Government. During
Dalzell's stay in St. John's the Rotary Club instructed him to
report on the state of existing housing in St. John's and to make
suggestions as to how immediate relief could be given to needy
persons. Moreover, he was to set out a well considered permanent
town plan that would include ways over a long period of time
gradually to eradicate existing slum conditions and to prevent
the futher growth of new slum areas. The approximate three
thousand dollars needed to bring Dalzell to St. John's for his
six-week visit was raised by a committee of the Club. (6)
Dalzell's Report, entitled "To the Citizens of St. John's,
Newfoundland, Is All Well?", noted the immediate need for town
planning in St. John's. The means, he argued, already existed
under Section 92 of the 1921 City Act which allowed for the
appointment by government of a Town Planning Commission. (7) The
work of this Commission, as envisaged by former Mayor William
Gilbert Gosling (1916-1920), who had favoured a strong
administrative role for City Council and who had helped draft the
legislation on which the Act was based, was to study thoroughly
the lands and roads both within city limits and to the extent of
one mile outside the limits. The Commission of six was to
recommend periodically to the City Council on the opening of new
streets, the improvement and extension of new streets, the laying
out of building lots, the reserving of land for firebreaks,
parks, and playgrounds, and the overall expansion of St. John's.
(8) Council's concern over expenditure and its uncertainty as to
what work this proposed Commission of trained engineers and town
planners should carry out, it seems, help explain why Mayor
Tasker Cook (1921-1929), who was a well known opponent of
municipal involvement in the housing field, had not asked the
government to appoint such a planning body. (9)
To those in the community and on Council who feared that the
Commission might act independently of Council's wishes, Dalzell
explained that the Commission's powers would be derived from and
defined by Council and be strictly of an advisory nature. This
Commission, Dalzell suggested, would decide what areas of St.
John's were suitable for building based on the availability of
water and sewer services. It would also recommend to Council a
zoning system for the city with areas designated for residential,
business, and industrial purposes. Furthermore, steps would also
have to be taken to ascertain which houses in the central slum
area would have to be torn down and which streets widened or
extended. The proposed planning improvements in the slum areas
should take place over a long period of time and at a pace which
the city could afford. (10)
With regard to providing houses for the poor, Dalzell strongly
urged Council to make use of Section 88 of the 1921 City Act
which permitted Council to build houses itself and to give
financial assistance to those wishing to build workingmen's
houses. To defray the cost of such housing improvements, Dalzell
called on the Newfoundland Government to provide Council with
funds for the housing question was a "national not a local
problem." Good housing was a necessity, he asserted, to the
health and welfare of both capital and dominion. (11) This
assistance was absolutely necessary since Council could not
afford to do so on its own. Indeed, when in August, 1922, E.
Collishaw asked for assistance for his proposed formation of the
St. John's Building Society to construct homes for labourers,
Mayor Cook and Council refused to guarantee a Society building
loan of $50,000. (12) In fact, any significant civic improvement
could not take place, Cook noted in a 1925 "Bricks with Straw"
public address to the Rotary Club, until there was a great
increase in property taxation, an unpopular measure that neither
Cook nor his predecessors had been willing to implement. (13)
With Dalzel's Report in hand, a joint committee of the Rotary
Club and the Charity Organization Bureau was successful in
getting the government with Council's approval to appoint a Town
Planning Commission. On April 21, 1928, Supreme Court Justice
James Kent was named chairman of the six-man Commission whose
members were nominated for their particular expertise. (14) Thus,
William Howley was to be the Commission's legal adviser and J. J.
McKay the financial consultant. The remaining three were J. Boyd
Baird, an engineer who was the secretary of the Newfoundland
Board of Fire Underwriters, William J. Robinson, the assistant
Government Engineer, and Rudolf H. K. Cochius, a Dutch born
landscape architect and, since 1925, the Superintendent Engineer
of the Newfoundland Highways Commission. (15)
Cochius was in particular a fitting choice for the Commission. He
had first come to St. John's in 1912 to lay out a park outside
city limits that had been donated to St. John's residents by the
local firm of Bowring Brothers. This park had been designed by
Montreal landscape architect and town planner, Frederick G. Todd,
for whom Cochius had previously worked. (16) In 1917 he returned
to Montreal where he formed a partnership with Todd and in
1918-1919 served as a town planning adviser and surveyor to the
Quebec Government on its housing policy. (17) As a member of the
Newfoundland Highways Commission, Cochius had taken a strong
interest in St.John's town planning and how this could be carried
out. In 1927, for instance, he had made a plan of St. John's
which included an extensive boulevard system both in and around
the city limits. It also contained a major reorganization of the
central slum area to incorporate a new thoroughfare and the
tearing down of some dilapidated buildings and their replacement
by a better class of housing. However, since there are no known
surviving records of the Town Planning Commission, (18) it is
difficult to say to what extent Cochius's ideas influenced the
A voluntary body, the Town Planning Commission was given free
accommodation at City Hall by Council in addition to a monthly
grant of $50 to pay for its clerical expenses. Upon assuming
office in June, 1928, the Commissioners declared their main
priority to be ameliorating the poor housing situation. (20) One
of their earliest proposals was to open negotiations with some
private investors concerning the redevelopment of the central
area. This approach was quickly dropped when the Commission
refused to give the investors the great control of development
and the ownership of land they demanded and to pay the high
interest on the money the investors were willing to put up. In
any case, the Commission was against simply tearing down houses
in the central area unless alternate housing could be found for
those residents who would be displaced by such a course of
action. (21) Constructing houses in the suburbs for the working
poor whose homes could be torn down was a notion studied in
detail by the Commission in May, 1929, but one which was
abandoned on the grounds that it was not financially possible to
build these homes unless there was some government or municipal
rental subsidy involved. (22)
The next scheme embraced by the Commission in May, 1929, was the
development of Crown Land on the South Side Hills near the head
of the harbour. During the 1920s this area was settled by
squatters who could not find cheaper building lots elsewhere in
the city. What the Commission had in mind was for the government
through its Crown Lands Office to give building lots to the
employees of merchants whose premises were located on the south
side of the harbour. It was estimated by the Commission that
there were between 600 and 800 men employed in this part of the
city. For their part, the merchants would lend their employees
money to construct houses on the South Side Hills under City
Council control. In order to get this building scheme started,
later in 1929 the Commission had asked the Liberal Government of
Richard Squires to make available about $50,000 to construct an
adequate road to the proposed building site. It is not known if
the merchants were in favour of this housing scheme, but in any
case the matter was dropped when the Government refused the
Commission's request for funds. (23)
Despite this setback, the Town Planning Commission had gained in
the December 9, 1929, election strong allies in the persons of a
new mayor and five of six councillors who were all dedicated to
extensive civic improvements. New Mayor Dr. Charles Howlett, a 46
year-old dentist, had campaigned on a strong anti-government
platform and decried the close relationship which in the past had
often existed between colonial and municipal politicians. The
outgoing mayor had been a case in point; Cook's having held
office as a minister without portfolio since 1928 in the
unpopular Squires Government had been a significant factor in his
defeat by Howlett. This relationship, Howlett asserted, was
typical of how St. John's had been the "football of politicians
for years." In particular, he was critical of the fact that the
government refused to permit Council to borrow money in the open
market. Rather, the government itself borrowed the money and
charged the municipality a higher rate of interest than Council
would have paid had it borrowed directly. This situation had
existed, he believed, because Cook and other municipal
politicians had not demanded financial independence. This, he
proposed to change, since independence was necessary if a
comprehensive town planning and slum clearance program were to be
After assuming office, Howlett and his fellow Councillors set out
to seek a readjustment of Council's financial arrangements with
government. Howlett proposed complete financial freedom for the
city and, in effect, full incorporation. This was to be achieved
by the city raising a loan of $3,000,000 from Canadian financial
houses. With a civic debt smaller in comparison to Canadian
cities of a similar size, Howlett had found during a visit to
Canada in 1930 that St. John's could get this loan without a
government guarantee if it were to establish a sinking fund for
its repayment. From the proposed loan council would reduce its
funded debt to the government of approximately $1,600,000 by the
payment of $1,000,000 and would spend the remaining $2,000,000 on
civic improvements. In particular, Howlett proposed to use
$500,000 for the paving of Duckworth Street and another $500,000
for town planning and housing purposes. (25) Later in June,
Howlett had a municipal bill prepared and presented to the
legislature authorizing the city to raise this loan. However, the
Squires Government did not take the bill seriously, considering
the proposal ridiculous and the loan beyond the city's means.
Given Howlett's past vocal criticisms of the Government, it is
not surprising that Squires failed to act on Council's request.
Nevertheless, Howlett pressed forward with his quest for full
incorporation. In February, 1931, he finally achieved some
measure of independence when the Squires Government agreed to
allow Council without any government guarantee to float a bond
issue of $250,000 in the Canadian financial market and to
establish a sinking fund to repay the bond. The proposed loan
would be used to pave Duckworth and New Gower Streets and to
build a street northwest of Merrymeeting Road to open a new area
for house construction. (27) Nevertheless, Council did not act
immediately to raise the bond because the government had offered
the municipality another financial proposal. Under a loan act the
legislature passed on May 15, Squires proposed to raise a total
of $8,000,000 which was to be used to redeem government loans and
to give Council $1,000,000 for civic improvements. Out of this
loan from government, Council had proposed to spend $250,000 for
water and sewerage extension, $300,000 for paving Water,
Duckworth and New Gower Streets, and $150,000 for town planning
and housing schemes. (28) To enable Council to carry out this
work, separate legislation was passed empowering the Town
Planning Commission to prepare an official plan of the city and
of the area one mile outside the city limits. (29)
By the end of May, it was clear that the government would be
unable to raise the loan because of the effects of the
international depression on the Newfoundland economy. With the
Island unable to sell its fish in the world market, by mid-1931
the government's revenue had fallen off drastically and its
international credit was almost exhausted. On June 30, 1931, the
government's default on its payments on the national debt was
narrowly averted by the intervention of the Canadian banks which
agreed to advance a loan of $2,000,000. A similar arrangement was
negotiated by the government for the interest payment due on
December 30, 1931. In return, the bankers extracted from the
Squires Government a commitment to strict economy in public
With the government unable to provide Council with the necessary
funds for municipal improvements, Mayor Howlett on June 30, 1931
asked the Squires Government for authority to raise a bond issue
of $500,000 instead of the $250,000 authorized on February 28,
1931. The extra money was requested, Howlett claimed, because
investment houses would not be interested in the smaller amount
that would entail much trouble and expense on their part. If the
loan were raised, he wanted the bond to be made a first charge on
the city revenue and the Island's Trustee Act changed in order
that the bond be recognized as a legal investment for trust
funds. Indeed, Howlett was so confident of the city's credit that
he wanted to borrow a total of $3,500,000 from Canadian investors
to pay off the civic debt owed the government and to effect
needed improvements in the city. Only when the city can use
"every dollar it can borrow up to its capacity to provide for
interest and sinking fund," he once more informed the government,
could the "slum clearance problem, for example, with the
resultant necessity of providing new housing . . . be tackled."
(31) Since the proposals to make the bond a first charge on the
city revenue and to change the Trustee Act would require amending
legislation at the 1932 session of the legislature, the Squires
Government authorized Howlett to raise only $500,000 under the
terms already agreed upon for the $250,000 loan. (32)
In the event, during his visit to Toronto in July, Howlett
arranged to raise a loan of $157,000 from the Royal Bank to pay
for a paving contract for Duckworth and New Gower Streets. His
success in getting this loan approved had been made possible only
after the Warren Bituminous Paving Company of Toronto, the
contractor Howlett had secured, had agreed to accept $75,000 in
municipal bonds if and when they were floated. (33) At this time
this Company had also apparently acted as an intermediary for
some Toronto financiers who wanted to develop the central slum
area of St. John's by spending several million dollars. The exact
nature of this development was unknown even to the city's Town
Planning Commission (34) but, in any case, the scheme was
evidently dropped in 1931 when the Toronto investors backed out
on the development because of the worsening Canadian depression.
In anticipation of the improvements Council hoped to make in slum
clearance once it had floated its own municipal bonds, Council
brought Montreal town planner Frederick G. Todd to St. John's in
late 1931 to help with the preparation of an official plan as
provided for under the 1931 Municipal Act. During his two week
visit, Todd made plans for the realignment of streets in the
central slum area and offered a proposal for its redevelopment.
What Todd had in mind was for Council or some public body to
purchase the land in the central slum and tear down 490
buildings. In the space thus vacated only 200 buildings could be
constructed with the remaining space devoted to street widening
and the construction of small parks. The total cost of this
development was estimated at $1,732,500, with approximately
$400,000 of this cost recoverable from the sale of the proposed
200 buildings. Todd's plan for street realignment was
subsequently approved by Council but the ability of the Town
Planning Commission in 1932 to carry out any further survey work
based on the plan was greatly hindered by insufficient funds.
Indeed, Council's financial problems worsened in 1932 as the
Newfoundland Government itself was on the verge of bankruptcy. On
June 30, 1932, default had been narrowly averted once more when
the Squires Government acquired funds from the Imperial Oil
Company in return for a petroleum monopoly on the island. Default
on December 31, 1932, was again avoided when the Government of
Frederick Alderdice, who had defeated the unpopular Squires
Government in a general election held earlier in the year, agreed
to accept a joint loan from the British and Canadian governments.
In return, Alderdice consented to a British-Canadian inquiry into
Newfoundland public affairs. The findings of this inquiry, which
reported on October 4, 1933, to the British House of Commons, was
that Newfoundland needed a respite from politics for a number of
years until the Island became self-supporting again. In the
meantime, the legislature would be temporarily replaced by a
commission of three representatives from the United Kingdom and
three from Newfoundland under the chairmanship of the governor.
This Commission of Government took office on February 16, 1934.
In its efforts to maintain financial solvency in 1932, the
Squires Government withheld several public grants totalling
approximately $60,000 from the City Council. These were the
annual legislative subsidies for the upkeep of Bowring Park and
the maintenance of the city's lighting and sanitary services, and
road and bridge system. In addition, since 1925 Council had
received half of the fees collected by the government for motor
and driving licenses issued to persons residing in St. John's. In
1932 the government reduced Council's share of this revenue from
one-half to one quarter, a move which along with the other
actions resulted in Council defaulting on its interest payments
to the colony for that year. (38) In an act of desperation at
1932 session of the legislature, the Squires Government in April
passed legislation incorporating the plan of debt adjustment
proposed by the late mayor, Charles Howlett who had died the
previous month. Under this act, Council was empowered to borrow a
sum not exceeding $3,500,000 by the issue of municipal bonds, and
to make this loan a first charge on the assets and revenue of the
city, once Council had repaid the government a total of
$2,000,000 it owed the dominion for the funded debt and
government guarantees on civic loans. (39)
Despite this additional borrowing authority, Council's financial
problems prevented it from raising the full loan. Consequently,
in August, 1932, Council floated only the $500,000 bond that had
been authorized by the government the previous year, but now
under different terms. By the terms of the issue which was
guaranteed by the government, Council was required to establish a
sinking fund for the repayment of the principal and interest of
the bond which was due in 1947. To ensure that there would be
sufficient revenue for this sinking fund, Council agreed to turn
over to the banks one-half of the monies it received from the
government from the duty placed on all coal imported into St.
John's. The money from this bond issue was to be used to repay
the amount Council owed the Warren Bituminous Paving Company of
Toronto for paving St. John's streets and for general municipal
improvements. (40) With the money available from this bond issue
and with a reduction in January, 1934, in the annual rate of
interest the government charged Council for its share of the
national debt, (41) Council was able after 1934 to meet its
general expenditure through strict economy, so strict in fact
that the annual $600 subsidy to the Town Planning Commission (42)
was discontinued and the commission consequently went quietly out
With the establishment of Commission of Government in February,
1934, Council initially found its working relationship with the
dominion no improvement over its previous experience. The
difficulties between the governments centred on Council's
financial affairs, which the Commission considered to be
inefficiently managed by an incompetent "road and sewerage
board." Noting that Council was the only remaining elected body
in Newfoundland, Finance Commissioner E.N.R. Trentham, a British
Treasury official, stated in 1936 that the Council and the
citizens of St. John's would rather treasure the "illusion of
responsible government" than the "improvement in the City's
condition which [Council's] removal would produce." (43) In 1934
the Commission offered Council a $500,000 loan for city
improvements and a start on a slum clearance program. It was
refused by Council on the grounds that the Commission wanted
complete jurisdiction over all city expenditure until the loan
had been repaid. (44) Two years later the Commission gave serious
consideration to the notion of abolishing the Council and
appointing in its place a city manager, but shied away from this
course of action because of its political unpopularity. (45)
Council's hostility towards the Commission was in part the result
of its reaction to the latter's disdain for it. Furthermore,
Council believing as it did that the city's past and present
financial problems were caused by government interference, felt
that it had a legitimate grievance the Commission should address.
Indeed, much of the city's debt, argued Mayor Andrew Carnell, an
undertaker and populist politician who had replaced Howlett in
1932 and had been returned by acclamation in the 1933 municipal
election, had been accumulated because St. John's was made the
"victim of political intrigue and gross injustice" by past
governments. Hence, Council pressed the Commission to have the
city's funded debt of $1,648,904.54 owed to the Dominion reduced.
Of this debt, $607,000 represented the purchase price of the
privately owned General Water Company which had supplied St.
John's with water before 1888. Council now asserted not only that
it should never have been made responsible for this purchase, but
that in any case much of what had been purchased had been in poor
shape and had subsequently cost a lot of money to improve.
Another portion of the debt had arisen because of government
expenditure made after the great fire in July, 1892 when the
government of the day was in charge of the rebuilding and spent
money needlessly for its own political purposes, including
providing relief work for outport residents. Moreover, Council
claimed that between 1900 and 1930 successive governments had
retained for themselves over $ 1,000,000 in road grants which
properly should have been spent by Council. Finally, Council
wanted the Commission to restore the several legislative grants
the Squires Government in 1932 had taken away from the city. (46)
With Council remaining steadfast in its position, the Commission
decided in June 1937 to encourage a better working relationship
with Council by making the city an annual grant and by reducing
the funded debt to $1,000,000. (47)
While the Commission of Government by 1937 had been unable to
promote a housing scheme for St. John's through the City Council,
it did have some success in the housing field through the
activities of the Railway Employees' Welfare Association. Formed
on March 12, 1927, by the employees of the publicly owned
Newfoundland Railway, the aims of the Association were to provide
for its members both social and athletic activities and welfare,
health, educational, and financial benefits. With regard to
housing assistance, the association decided to establish a
savings and provident fund to enable members to "borrow money at
reasonable rates of interest and on easy terms of repayment for
the purpose of acquiring homes." A rental purchase plan was
subsequently set up which saw the Association take over the
mortgages held by its members and charge them a lower annual
interest rate. In 1931 this scheme was augmented by an "Own Your
Own Home" Fund. Under this scheme, the Association purchased a
number of houses for rental to members at a low annual payment
that would eventually lead to ownership. (48)
The success of this scheme by 1934 prompted the Association to
adopt a more ambitious housing scheme. In August of that year it
bought a large tract of land just outside the city's western
limits on Craigmillar Avenue and Topsail Road. With loans of
$235,000 from the Commission of Government and $50,000 from the
Bank of Montreal, the Association had constructed, by the end of
1935, 123 houses that were available to its members for rental
monthly payments of between $15 and $30 over a ten-year period.
Since the development was outside the city limits, the St. John's
City Council extended water and sewerage mains to the area only
after the Association agreed to pay the cost of the work. In
November, 1935, the Association opened a co-operative store for
the residents of the Railway Houses where they could purchase
food supplies at a reasonable price. (49) Despite the success of
this housing scheme, the Association did not pursue any further
large development, presumably because of a change in 1937 in the
composition of the Commission of Government. The new Commissioner
evidently was simply not as symptheticas his predecessor to
public assistance for such schemes. (50 )
This reluctance to provide government money in the housing field
was critical to the failure of a housing scheme put forward by
the City Council in May, 1939. In a resolution approved on May 4,
Councillor John Meaney called on the co-operation of both the
Commission of Government and Council in the formation of a
building organization to provide houses for the working poor.
Since it was not profitable for private investors to build such
houses and since Council was not in a financial position to do
so, Meaney called on the Commission to raise the necessary
capital outlay of $1,250,000. This money would be spent within a
period of two years for the construction of 500 houses that would
range in cost from $1,800 to $3,600 each. A resident of this
housing estate, which was to be built within city limits, could
own his own house and land on which it stood after a period of 15
years in return for a monthly rental payment to the building
organization of an amount between $16 and $36. The construction
of the houses and the management of their operations to the end
of the 15 year amortization period, Meaney proposed, should be
carried out by some form of a public or semi-public organization
which would be greatly assisted in its management by the small
building societies already existing in St. John's. (51)
Besides raising the necessary capital for the housing scheme,
Meaney also wanted the Commission of Government to provide this
money to the building organization at an annual interest rate of
3 per cent, a rate which was necessary for the scheme to be
economically viable. If the government could not provide the 3
per cent rate, then Meaney wanted it to assume responsibility for
the payment of interest over and above the rate of 3 per cent per
annum. For its part, Council would be asked to levy a lower rate
of taxation on the proposed houses than that placed on a similar
class of low income housing already existing in the city. (52)
The Commission's response to this housing scheme on May 12 was to
refer it to a committee of three of its members who subsequently
raised serious objections to the plan. (53) What the
Commissioners found most difficult to accept was the large
financial commitment the government would be asked to undertake
while Council's responsibility was minimal. The Commissioner for
Finance, J. H. Penson, informed his colleagues on August 1, 1939,
that the scheme was impractical financially and took the position
outlined ten years earlier by the Town Planning Commission with
regard to providing houses for the working poor. That is, such
houses could not be constructed unless there was some government
or municipal rental subsidy involved. In any case, Penson thought
that a thorough study of housing conditions was necessary before
an extensive building program should be undertaken. (54) When no
reply to the housing scheme was forthcoming from the Commission
of Government, on March 7, 1941, the City Council wrote the
Commission for an answer to its May 4, 1939, proposal. (55) On
this occasion the Commission simply informed Council that it
could not assume the responsibility for finding the money to finance the scheme. (56)
With the two levels of government unable to agree upon an
acceptable housing scheme, the matter was taken up in November,
1941, by a recently formed Citizens' Committee with Eric Cook, a
lawyer and a son of a former mayor, as one of its main
organizers. Supported by both business and labour, this Committee
wanted a slum clearance scheme immediately undertaken under the
direction of a city-wide master plan and a housing program
started with the help of money from the government along the
lines of the 1938 Canadian National Housing Act. (57) Under this
Act, a prospective house owner was generally required to put up
20 per cent of the cost of the house, while the remaining 80 per
cent would be provided by a financial lending institution and
guaranteed by the Government. (58) If such a plan were adopted
for St. John's Cook and his associates confidently predicted that
some 50 to 100 houses could be constructed each year. (59)
No doubt, the Committee was formed to press for the election of
candidates sympathetic to this housing proposal in the municipal
election to be held on December 15, 1941. In the event, Cook was
a candidate and polled the highest votes among those running for
one of the six Council positions and became the city's new Deputy
Mayor. (60) In the mayoralty race, Mayor Carnell was easily
returned by a sizable majority over his opponent, businessman P.
R. McCormac, who had promised to carry out the recommendations of
the 1927 Dalzell Report and implement a 15-year housing program.
By contrast, Carnell declared that he, too was in support of a
housing scheme, including one that would erect homes for the
working poor, but noted that any scheme must be financially sound
and not discourage citizens from building their own houses. (61)
Soon after the new Council took office in January, 1942, Deputy
Mayor Cook moved to have Council act quickly on the housing
question. Representatives of various segments of the community
were approached to serve on a commission of enquiry into St.
John's housing conditions Council proposed to ask the Commission
of Government to appoint. After securing the nomination of 12
prominent citizens to represent the city's Anglican, Roman
Catholic, United Church, and Salvation Army congregations, the
Board of Trade, the Child Welfare Association, the Railway
Employees' Welfare Association, the Newfoundland Federation of
Labour,and the St.John's Longshoremen's Protective Union, on
April 11, 1942, Council asked the government to appoint the
commission. The terms of reference for this proposed commission,
Council suggested, would be to make a thorough survey of the
housing situation in St. John's and to devise a system to create
better housing for the working poor, the unemployed, and the
casually employed. In addition, the commission of enquiry would
consider how St. John's could best be planned under an extensive
slum clearance and housing program. Moreover, Council wanted this
proposed commission's report to be made to it and become the
property of the municipality, the government's only involvement
being simply to appoint the body of enquiry without delay. (62)
On April 17, 1942, the Commission of Government agreed to appoint
the enquiry on the understanding that it report also to the
government. When Council agreed to this condition, on May 12 a
13-member commission was appointed by the Governor-in-Commission
and consisted of the representative groups suggested earlier by
Council in addition to its representative, Deputy Mayor Cook.
(63) At the first meeting of the Commission of Enquiry on Housing
and Town Planning in St. John's held later that month, Supreme
Court Justice Brian Dunfield, who had been selected by the
Housing Commission as its chairman, put forward a course of
action for the enquiry to follow if it were to devise a "sound
working scheme for improving the housing situation, a scheme
which the Municipal Council and the Government can see their way
to adopt and put into operation." Noting that any financing for a
housing development probably would not take place until after the
war, Dunfield considered the moment opportune to undertake an
exhaustive survey of the different forms of housing in the city
and of the social and economic condition of their inhabitants.
Between November, 1942, and January, 1944, Dunfield and his
associates produced five reports on housing and town planning in
St. John's based on a detailed statistical survey of households.
Dunfield proposed that the government and Council co-operate in
the making of a new planned garden suburb in the valley north of
the city. To rebuild on the site of the central slum area, the
Housing Commission found, would not be a practical solution to
the housing problem. "The elements of the situation," it
observed, were that "most of the houses in the older parts of the
town need twice the land they have, that a large part of the
population needs twice the room-space it has, and that a great
part of our houses are of very low grade." The Housing
Commission, therefore, appealed to the community "to look a
generation ahead now, make a bold, united effort and lay our
plans for more space and better houses once and for all." (65) In
their deliberations, Dunfield and his associates were strongly
influenced by developments in the town planning field in the
United Kingdom where the government since 1937 had conducted
extensive studies into urban problems leading in 1943 to the
creation of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, which gave
local authorities more central control in the reconstruction of
cities after the war. (66)
Dunfield proposed an active role for the state in the suburb to
be developed. To acquire the necessary land and to build the
houses, he suggested that a public housing corporation be formed
that would be independent of both levels of government and be
managed on strict business principles. While acknowledging the
merits of the Canadian housing example where the Government made
mortgage financing more readily available to its citizens,
Dunfield believed that a public corporation would be more
effective in providing new housing for low income groups. By
being both the general builder and landlord, a public corporation
could ensure the quality of the house to be constructed and
prevent its entry into the speculative market, thus probably
driving up its price. This corporation would be able to sell its
houses to prospective home owners at a price they could afford.
Once a sufficient number of houses had been constructed in this
northern suburb to relieve the pressure on housing in the city,
the public housing corporation would then turn its attention, the
Housing Commission noted in its Third Interim Report in June,
1943, to a possible program of slum clearance. This would be
achieved by demolishing the most dilapidated houses and erecting
a better class of buildings in their place. To pay for this large
housing scheme, the Housing Commision suggested that the
necessary funds be obtained from the Commission of Government and
the City Council. (67)
By early 1944 Council's ability to contribute to this program
depended to a great extent on its efforts since August, 1942, to
have the city's funded debt to the dominion of $1,000,000
readjusted and if possible abolished. Council's view in part was
the same it had taken in the mid-1930s, but its resolve was also
strengthened by the rapid deterioration that was taking place in
its streets. This deterioration was being caused by the heavy
motor traffic on city streets resulting from the large number of
American and Canadian armed forces personnel stationed in St.
John's because of the war. Consequently, Council asked the
government for a road grant large enough to cover the increased
cost of maintaining the streets. Because the government had been
taking in each year an ever increasing amount of revenue from
license fees and its duty on gasoline, Council also wanted part
of this additional revenue. It proposed, moreover, to increase
the property assessment of 5 per cent it levied on government
property in the city, a rate 11 per cent lower than that levied
on private property. Although Council was in no pressing need for
this additional revenue, it, nonetheless, argued that more
revenue was critical for the city to undertake further borrowings
for capital improvements once the war had ended. Only in this
way, Council declared, would St. John's be able to extend water
and sewerage service to the proposed new northern suburb and to
give financial assistance to the new housing corporation to be
set up. (68)
The government's initial response to Council's demand for more
revenue was that the 1937 readjustment in the city's funded debt
was a final settlement to its claims against the dominion. If the
Commission of Government could not find its way to provide this
revenue, then Council subsequently suggested that the city's
funded debt of $1,000,000 be waived, thus saving the city $30,000
in annual interest payments to the dominion. Because the
government had not established a sinking fund for the repayment
of the civic funded debt, this $30,000 represented in effect a
perpetual payment on Council's part to the Newfoundland
Government. In the end, spurred on by a recent recommendation of
the Fifth Report of the Housing Commission that the debt be
cancelled, on March 3, 1944, (70) the Commission of Government
agreed to waive the debt in order that Council's borrowing power
could be greatly enhanced for the financing of the housing scheme
and other capital works. This cancellation was to take the place
of the revenue Council had sought from the government. (71) As
part of the agreement, Council consented not to raise the
property assessment on government property in the city. (72)
With the question of the readjustment of the debt finally
resolved to Council's satisfaction, in November, 1944, the city
secured legislation authorizing it to issue bonds on the credit
of the city for an amount not exceeding $3,000,000. The money
from the sale of these bonds, which were repayable within 25
years, was to be used to repay the city's outstanding
indebtedness to the banks for past civic improvements and to pay
for future municipal projects. Of this $3,000,000 loan,
$1,200,000 was to be lent to the St. John's Housing Corporation,
set up in July, 1944, by the Commission of Government, to
undertake the housing scheme proposed by the Housing Commission.
In addition to the money received from Council, the newly
established Housing Corporation was given a total of $5,338,939
between 1944 and 1949 from the Commission of Government for the
development of the northern suburb. (74) Consisting of nine
members appointed by the Governor-in-Commission and approved by
the City Council, the Housing Corporation was an independent body
with legal authority to purchase land for development and to
build houses for sale. (75) With Brian Dunfield as its first
chairman, the Corporation was able to commence operations in
October, 1944, with the construction of a road system in the
proposed new suburb, which became known as Churchill Park. Having
laid the foundation of its first house on July 6, 1945, in the
next five years the St. John's Housing Corporation constructed
239 houses and 92 apartment units in addition to major streets,
water and sewer works. (76) From the beginning of the
Corporation's work, the public body was faced with the difficult
task of convincing citizens that Churchill Park was not too far
from the city's harbourfront and the nearby commercial area. With
little public transportation available to the area until the
suburb was substantially built up, the new suburb was often
referred to by citizens as the "New Jerusalem." (77)
However, Churchill Park was not to be the answer to the city's
continuing slum problem. Indeed, the houses constructed by the
Corporation were designed for use by the city's returning war
veterans and middle class whose vacated homes in the city,
corporation Chairman Dunfield had hoped, would be taken over by
lower income groups. With regard to the city's slum problem,
Dunfield and the Corporation had subsequently decided that it was
first necessary to build a sufficient number of new houses in
order to ensure that the total number available both in the city
and the northern suburb would exceed the total number of
families. Only then, Dunfield believed, could the Corporation
start to pull down one slum house for each new house built and
also address the question of reconditioning substandard houses.
In any case, Dunfield noted in 1947 that the Corporation could
only provide housing for the poor, if the government made
available a subsidy equal to approximately 50 per cent of the
monthly rent. (78)
While the St. John's City Council after 1945 was unwilling to
commit further city revenue to a slum clearance scheme because of
its large financial involvement in the St. John's Housing
Corporation, the Commission of Government, too, was reluctant to
act on its own, taking the view that the issue of slum clearance
was strictly a municipal responsibility which the Island should
not be asked to finance on its own. (79) Consequently, any future
concerted effort to rid St. John's of its slums had to await
Newfoundland's entry in 1949 into the Canadian Confederation and
the subsequent infusion in the 1950s and 1960s of Federal funds.
This new funding resulted in the demolition of much of the
central slum area and the resettlement of its residents to
government supported housing projects in the suburbs.
1. On the incorporation of St. Iohn's in 1888, see Melvin Baker, Aspects of Nineteenth Century St. John's Municipal History (St. John's 1982), 48-63.
2. Trade Review Commercial Annual, March 26, 1910.
3. St.John's Rotary Club Minute Book, 1922-1923, and "History of the Rotary Club," 7-11 (records in the possession of St. John's Mayor John J. Murphy); and Charles E. Hunt,"The Rotary Club," in J. R. Smallwood, ed., The Book of Newfoundland, vol. 2 (St. John's 1937), 91.
4. Evening Telegram July 23, 1926.
5. Daily News, September 30, 1941.
6. Ibid. See also Evening Telegram, July 23, 1926, and Journal of the Town Planning Institute (October 1926), 6-7.
7. Arthur Dalzell, To the Citizens of St. John's, Newfoundland, Is All Well? (Toronto 1926), 10.
8. Statutes of Newfoundland, 12 George V, Cap. 13.
9. Evening Telegram, March, 7, December 2, 8, 1925, November 27, 1929.
10. Dalzell, To the Citizens of St. John's, Newfoundland, Is All Well? 10-6.
12. Evening Telegram, August 4, 5, 1922.
13. Ibid., March 7, 1925.
14. Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, hereafter PANL, Minute of Executive Council, April 21, 1928; and GN2/5, Special File of the Colonial Secretary's Office, City Clerk J.J. Mahoney to Colonial Secretary John R. Bennett, May 6, 1927.
15. Newfoundland Who's Who, 1930 109, 167; and Newfoundland Who's Who, 1937 237.
16. A plan of Todd's design for Bowring Park is available at St. John's City Hall.
17. Newfoundland Who's Who, 1927 145-46.
18. Evening Telegram, January 27, 1927.
19. PANL, S5-2-1, Commission of Government, 1934-1948, Public Utilities, Engineering and Building Division, file "St. John's Housing Scheme," newspaper articles on the disappearance of the records of the Town Planning Commission.
20. Evening Telegram, June 20, 1928; and Public Archives of Canada, hereafter PAC, MG 30, E 82, vol. 17, C.A. Magrath Papers, file 61-80, "Evidence of Andrew Carnell, #80," 16.
21. PAC, MG 30, E 82, vol. 18, "Evidence of the Town Planning Commission, # 112," 2-13.
22. PANL, S5-2-1, file "St. John's Housing Scheme, 1941," J. H. Penson to J. C. Puddester, August 1, 1939.
23. Ibid. See also PAC, MG 30, E 82, vol. 18, "Evidence of the Town Planning Commission, # 112," 3-4; and PANL, GN2/5, file 504, J. F. Downey to Arthur Mews, October 16, 1929.
24. Evening Telegram, November 2, 9, 25, December 6, 11, 1929; and William J. Browne, Eighty-four Years a Newfoundlander: Vol. 1, 1897-1949 (St. John's 1981), 167, 180.
25. Evening Telegram, June 20, 21, 1930.
26. Ibid., July 3, 14, 1930.
27. PANL, GN2/5, file 550, 1931-1936, Mayor Charles Howlett to Prime Minister Richard Squires, January 9, 1931, and to Colonial Secretary Arthur Barnes, February 20, 1931; and GN9/1, Minute of Executive Council, February 28, 1931.
28. Statutes of Newfoundland, 22 George V, Cap.33; and Proceedings of the Newfoundland House of Assembly, 1931, 387.
29. Statutes of Newfoundland, 22 George V, Cap. 9.
30. S.J. R. Noel, Politics in Newfoundland (Toronto 1971), 186-203.
31. PANL, GN2/5, file 550, 1931-1936, Mayor Howlett to Secretary of State Barnes, June 30, 1931.
32. PANL, GN9/1, Minute of Executive Council, July 14, 1931.
33. Daily News, September 25, 1931.
34. It is also not possible to know what this proposed development was from a search of City Council records. Under a 1976 amendment to the 1921 City Act, Council may "impose, grant permission to any person to view for historic or academic reasons any minutes of any special or privileged meeting of Council held prior to 1925." For the public minutes of Council held after 1925, Council does not permit public access to them for research purposes on the grounds that the regular and private minutes are filed together.
35. Daily News, September 25, 1931; and PAC, MG30, E82, vol.18, "Evidence of the Town Planning Commission, #112," 4.
36. PANL, S5-2-1, file "St. John's Housing Scheme, 1941," J. C. Puddester to W. W. Woods, April, 1941, and enclosure from Frederick G. Todd, GN2/5, file 550, 1931-1936, "Todd's Slum Plan"; PAC, MG 30, E 82, vol. 18, "Evidence of the Town Planning Commission, # 112," 1-8; and Andrew Carnell's election manifesto in Evening Telegram, December 12, 1941.
37. Noel, Politics in Newfoundland, 204-43.
38. Evening Telegram, March 11, 1932; PANL, GN2/5, file 550, 1937, Finance memorandum 4-37, January 11, 1937.
39 Statutes of Newfoundland, 22 George V, Cap. 5.
40. "City of St. John's Bond Issue" advertisement in the Newfoundland Quarterly (Summer 1933); PANL, GN9/1, Minutes of Executive Council, July 29, August 13, October 28, 1932; and
Statutes of Newfoundland, 23 & 24 George V, Cap. 14.
41. PANL, GN2/5, file 1931-1936, Minute of Executive Council, January, 1934.
42. Accounts of the St. John's Municipal Council, 1935-1945.
43. PANL, GN 1/31A, Governor's Office, Box #202-237, Municipal Council, file 237/36, Thomas Lodge to Captain Schwerdt, July 3, 1936, and E.N.R. Trentham to Thomas Lodge, June 30, 1936.
44. PANL, GN2/5, file 1931-1936, Natural Resources Department memorandum 102, Mayor Andrew Carnell to Sir John Hope Simpson, October 9, 1934, and Simpson to Carnell, October 10, 1934; and S5-2-1, file "St. John's Housing Scheme, 1941," newspaper article entitled "Housing Scheme."
45. PANL, GN 1/3/A, Box #202-237, file 237/36, E. J. Harding to Vice Admiral Sir Humphrey Walwyn, May 20, 1936.
46. Ibid., Mayor Carnell to Governor Walwyn, September 12, 1936 and GN2/5, file 550, 1931-1936, Finance memorandum 35-36, November 13, 1936, with enclosure from the City Clerk on the subject of the city debt.
47. PANL, GNI/3/A, Box #202-237, file 237/36, Governor Walwyn to Secretary of State Malcolm Macdonald, June 17, 1937; and GN38, Minute of Commission of of Government, 320-37, June 11, 1937.
48. T.J. Dalton, "The Railway Employees' Welfare Association A Great Achievement," in Smallwood, ed., The Book of Newfoundland, vol. 2, 95-8; and Railway Employees' Welfare Association, hereafter REWA, Minute Book, March 12, 1927 (located in the St. John's headquarters of the REWA, 538 Water Street).
49.Dalton, "The Railway Employees' Welfare Association," 95-8; REWA Tenth Annual Report, 26-7; and The Railway Employees' Welfare Association Limited, 25th Anniversary (1952), n.p.
50.Browne, Eighty-four Years a Newfoundlander, 237.
51. PANL, S5-2-1, file "St. John's Housing Scheme, 1941," Finance memorandum 53-39 J. H. Penson to Commission Secretary W. J. Carew, May 10, 1939, enclosing Meaney's housing proposal.
53. PANL, GN38, Minute of Commission of Government, 350-39, May 12, 1939.
54. PANL, S5-2-1, file "St. John's Housing Scheme, 1941," J. H. Penson to J. C. Puddester, August 1, 1939.
55. Ibid., City Clerk J. Mahoney to Commission Secretary W. J. Carew, March 8, 1941.
56. Daily News, May 15, 1941.
57. Evening Telgram, November 1, 7, 19, 20, 1941.
58. David G. Bettison, The Politics of Canadian Urban Development (Edmonton, 1975), 69-81.
59. Evening Telgram, November 19, 1941.
60. Ibid., December 18, 1941.
61. Ibid., December 6, 12, 16, 1941.
62. PANL, S3-1-2, Commission of Government, 1934-1948, Home Affairs and Education, memorandum 16-42, Mayor Carnell to H. A. Winter, April 11, 1942.
63. PANL, GN38, Minute of Commission of Government, 230-42, April 17, 1942; Oliver L. Vardy, "The Housing Corporation Success Story," in J. R. Smallwood, ed., The Book of Newfoundland, vol. 4 (St. John"s, 1967), 392; and First Interim Report of the Commission of Enquiry on Housing and Town Planning in St. John's (St. John's, 1943), 3.
64. Evening Telegram, May 21, 1942.
65. Third Interim Report of the Commission of Enquiry on Housing and Town Planning in St. John's (St. John's, 1944), 110-12.
66. Ibid, 6-9, 87-96. See also PANL, GN2/5, file 550, "St. John's Slum Clearance," Brian Dunfield to Governor Sir Gordon Macdonald, November 28, 1947; and Gordon Cherry, The Evolution of British Town Planning (New York, 1974), 120-25.
67. Third Interim Report of the Commission of Enquiry on Housing and Town Planning in St. John's, 60-1, 102, 114.
68. PANL, GN 1/3/A, Box #299-677, 1943, file 658/43, Governor Walwyn, to Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, Viscount Cranborne, December 13, 1943, and Despatch No. 71, February 12, 1944, Walwyn to Cranborne.
70. Fifth Interim Report of the Commission on Housing and Town Planning in St. John's (St. John's, 1944), 36-1.
71. PANL, GN38, Minute of Commission of Government, 186-44, March 3, 1944; GN 1/3/A, Box #299-677, file 658/43, I. Wild, Commissioner for Finance, to Mayor Carnell, March 4, 1944 and Evening Telegram, March 6, 7, 10, 1944.
72. Statutes of Newfoundland, Act No. 50 of 1944.
73. Ibid., Act No. 51 of 1944.
74. St. John's Housing Corporation, An Era of Progress. A Review of the St. John's Housing Corporation Activities from July 1944 to December 1961 (St. John's, 1961), 2-3.
75. Statutes of Newfoundland, Act No. 36 of 1944. 76. Report of St. John's Housing Corporation, 1944-1950, n.p.
77. Vardy, "The Housing Corporation Success Story," 393.
78. See Dunfield's address to Rotary in 1945 published in the Evening Telegram, April 14, 1945; and PAN L, GN2/5, file 550, "St. John's Slum Clearance," Brian Dunfield to Governor Sir Gordon Macdonald, November 28, 1947.
79. Ibid., City Clerk Mahoney to Commission Secretary Carew, April 24, May, 28, 1947, and Carew to Mahoney, May 20, June 7, 1947.