J.R. Smallwood, Coaker of Newfoundland: The Man who led the Deep-Sea Fishermen to Political Power (London: The Labour Publishing Company, Limited, 1927), 58-64, excerpt on the town of Port Union.
Joseph Roberts Smallwood

The business of the Trading Company was growing so fast that the premises began to be cramping, and Coaker made up his mind that he had to have something more elaborate as a headquarters for the commercial and other activities of the movement. For this purpose he acquired, in the name of the Trading Company, the exclusive ownership of an uninhabited harbour in Trinity Bay. The harbour was deep, the space surrounding it commodious, and shortly after the outbreak of war Coaker got a large number of men to work cutting away the trees, digging foundations and building a small town. Great warehouses and stores were constructed - the biggest and most modern storage buildings for fish that the country can boast to-day. Several large piers were built, as well as residences, a church, a town hall, and a fine shipyard. The Fishermen's Union Shipbuilding Company was launched upon some new capital subscribed by the fishermen, and has since then built a couple of dozen trim sailing vessels that engage in the coast-wise and foreign trade. The Union Electric Company was started to generate and supply electric light, heat and power, not only to the town, but to other settlements for miles around. It was a proud day for Coaker and every F.P.U. follower that the town was at least completed and its name given it - Port Union. A trim little bungalow was built for Coaker himself, in the centre of Port Union, and furnished by the fishermen as a token of their regard for him. To Port Union were transferred the central activities of the whole F.P.U. movement, an office being retained in St. John's merely as a buying and trans-shipping centre. A big new building had been purchased in St. John's as a home for the Union Publishing Company, which was now publishing a morning and an afternoon paper, as well as a weekly organ. The best commercial printing plant in the country was later installed, and under the management of Mr. R. Hibbs, M.H.A., this plant soon developed into the position of being the best printing house in Newfoundland. At Port Union Coaker soon added a new woodworking factory, turning out doors and sashes and other parts for houses and buildings. A small plant for the manufacture of temperance drinks was another feature of the town, while a moving-picture theatre was later added to provide amusement for the population of Port Union, every man in which was a member of the F.P.U. and an employee of one of the companies. A club was started for debating and social recreation. Schools were, of course, started. Then Coaker secured the services of a community nurse - an Englishwoman who was a pioneer in this work in Newfoundland. The most recent addition to Port Union is Congress Hall, a handsome wooden structure fashioned after St. Paul's Cathedral, as a national convention hall and home of the F.P.U. Port Union is built on the side of a hill that slopes gently back from the water's edge, and Congress Hall surmounts this hill, so that when lighted up at night with hundreds of electric lights, inside and out, it can be seen for miles out to sea. The whole of Port Union is brilliantly lighted and casts a glow in the sky that can be seen fifteen miles away. It was not long after Port Union was built that Coaker secured a branch of the railway linking up the town with the Bonavista branch of the main line. A pier and shed were constructed at Port Union for the Newfoundland Government coastal steamers, so that the town became served by both means of transportation. With Port Union as a headquarters the Union Trading Company was able to engage in the regular fish business of the Island, and this soon became the biggest branch of the movement. At Port Union the fishermen could be outfitted or "supplied" in the spring, and to Port Union in the fall they could bring their fish for sale. By means of the vessels built in the Port Union shipyard this fish could be shipped to the markets in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Brazil and the West Indies. The fish side of the Trading Company's business has steadily expanded, until to-day they are buying and exporting more than 100,000 quintals - over 11,000,000 lbs - of salt dried codfish a year. That is much more than any other one fish firm handles in a year, and some of the fish firms have been in existence for nearly 200 years. With its fish and general groceries, drygoods and other business, the Union Trading Company is now the biggest commercial concern in Newfoundland.

The great advantage of Port Union to the fishermen is that, up to the capacity of the Trading Company, they do not need to proceed to St. John's to sell their fish. The price paid for fish each season, now, is determined by what the Trading Company pays. That sets the market price, and the other buyers have to fall in line. While 100,000 quintals does not bear a great proportion to the total available for sale - 1,500,000 quintals - it is sufficiently big to be the deciding factor where price is concerned.

At Port Union Coaker has seen greater happiness than at any time in his life. His greatest joy is to go about in an old suit, without collar or tie, and personally supervise the most minute detail of the endless ramifications of the different branches of the town's activities. One minute he is out on the wharves giving a help; another he is in the cooperage; then you will see him in the interior of the great fish stores inspecting the packing of the fish in drums, or seeing how his experiment of drying fish by electric heat is getting along. Boys from the telegraph office chase him around in a stream with messages from all parts of Newfoundland, as well as the various fish countries where the Trading Company ships fish and is represented on the spot by full-time agents sent from Newfoundland. The top floor of one of the big buildings is given over to offices, and there Coaker has his suite of offices. It is doubtful if he has been inside them a dozen times in the past three years! His work is done where he happens to be standing at the moment. A telegram is handed him; he reads it between giving instructions to a number of men loading a ship for market, and pauses only a second to scribble, with a stub of pencil, a reply which is going to cause - is certain to cause - mixed feelings in its recipient. Coaker has never been known to write with a pen. Letters are always written, enveloped addressed, with a stub of pencil. There is a tradition in Newfoundland that it is the same stub of pencil that he used ever since the F.P.U. was started in 1908! His handwriting is at once the admiration and despair of printers. In the Advocate office there was always one printer, one alone, who could set in type his manuscripts. That poor fellow went mad. The editors who served under Coaker, when they received an article from him, never thought of attempting to decipher it. They sent it to that poor printer to set.

Coaker is, as may be imagined, proud of Port Union, and never tires of showing visitors around. It is at Port Union that all annual conventions of the F.P.U. are now held, and when some 200 delegates pour into the town each fall, Coaker's own bungalow, the town hotel and every house in it are crowded with the fishermen-representatives of the Northern Bays. Each time there is a convention Coaker manages to have something new in Port Union to show the delegates.

From the branch of a bank in a nearby place Coaker secured an able assistant in the person of Mr. H.A. Russell, who was manager of the branch bank at Catalina. Mr. Russell, with his intimate knowledge of financing, became Assistant General Manager of the Trading Company and associated concerns, and he proved a very valuable support to Coaker. His salary was considerably in excess of that paid to Coaker himself, who, after the first few years of union's existence, consented first to take fifty dollars, then later one hundred dollars a month, not from each company and the union, but the single amount from all combined.

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