Melvin Baker (c)1988
"Originally Published in the Newfoundland Quarterly,
Vol. LXXX1V, No. 1, Summer 1988, pp. 5-11.
At the Council Board (excerpt from "a light operetta" by Charles E. Hunt, Christmas Bells, 1915)
Who can deny that we really try
To do the best we can
In every way by night and day
To help our fellow man;
Our funds are not exactly what
The citizens require
To have in hand, but understand
That all of us aspire
To better times when countless dimes
Will in our coffers flop,
When these days come, we'll make
And run a better shop.
(from the Council Letter Books, 12 June 1912)
Mr. James Murphy
Your letter's contents duly noted
Request therein discussed and voted
And granted you have been permission
To proceed with all expedition
To start your architectural stunt
And burnish up your house's front,
For after nineteen toilsome years
The house, indeed, must need repairs
I answer without fear or flattery,
John L. Slattery
On 9 May 1888 the Newfoundland Government passed legislation for the management of the local affairs of St. John's. Under the 1888 Municipal Act, a Municipal Council consisting of two government appointees and five councillors elected on a ward system basis governed the city. In 1898 the act was amended so that only three councillors, all appointed, managed the city. Four years later change again was the order of the day with St. John's residents now electing at large a mayor and six councillors. This elected system lasted until 1914 when the government appointed another commission. This commission's mandate was to draft new municipal legislation (the Charter, as it came to be known) based on its experience in administering the city. In 1916 St. John's reverted to its pre-1914 form of elected government with a new Council remaining in office until 1920. In that year another commission ran city affairs pending the legislative enactment in 1921 of the Charter. The 1921 City Act, which forms the basis of the present municipal government in St. John's, provided for the election at large of a mayor and six councillors. In 1969 the number of councillors was increased from six to eight, while in 1981 the city adopted a partial ward system. Under this new arrangement, citizens elect four councillors at large and four through a ward system.
James Goodfellow (1888-1890)
Born in 1830 in Tranent, Scotland, Goodfellow came to Newfoundland in 1850 to work as a clerk for McBride & Kerr, establishing his own fish supply business in 1869. In 1888 he accepted an appointment from Premier Robert Thorburn to be the first chairman of the Municipal Council. In May 1890 Liberal Premier William Whiteway, who had won the general election in November 1889, replaced Goodfellow with a Liberal nominee. On 23 January 1892 he re-entered municipal politics as a councillor for ward three, but did not seek re-election in 1896. Goodfellow suffered extensive financial losses in December, 1894, with the failure of the Commercial Bank, of which he had been a long-time director. The subsequent legal investigation of Newfoundland's banking system placed a heavy strain on his health, resulting in his death on 25 January 1898 at St. John's.
Michael Power (1890-1892, 1894-1898)
Born in St. John's in 1842, Power operated a large coopering business. He won election on 30 August 1888 as councillor for ward five and was re-elected in 1892 and 1896. A supporter of Premier Whiteway, in 1890 "Councillor Power", as he was popularly known, was the choice of the Liberal majority on Council to be Goodfellow's successor as Chairman, remaining in this position until 1892. Following various changes in the colonial government in 1894, he became Chairman again in that year and remained so until the establishment in 1898 of an appointed commission. In the 1902 election, he unsuccessfully attempted to win election as a councillor as part of a "Big Six" ticket of six candidates. Power was appointed in 1914 to the Legislative Council. He died at St. John's on 9 December 1927.
Thomas Mitchell (1892-1893, 1894)
Born in St. John's in 1842, Mitchell operated a bakery from the early 1870s until his death at St. John's on 25 August 1904. He advocated the development of local industries and was active in the Home Industries Society of the late 1880s. Appointed to the Council in 1892 by Premier Whiteway, Mitchell proved not to be a loyal Liberal and cast his lot with the Tory councillors who managed in February 1892 to have him elected Council Chairman, denying the Liberals an expected majority on Council. He was chairman when fire destroyed St. John's on 8 July 1892. Following the reselection of the Whiteway government in November 1893, Mitchell lost his place on Council to a more loyal government supporter, Thomas Edens. When the Tories assumed of flee in April 1894, Mitchell returned to Council. His tenure was again short lived, for in December the Liberals resumed office and again removed Mitchell.
Herbert C. Burchell (1898-1902)
Born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, on 7 August 1855, Burchell was Newfoundland Government Engineer from 1884 to 1905 and served as Municipal Commission Chairman from 1898 to 1902. As Chairman, he oversaw the paving of Water Street and the building of a street railway system by the St. John's Street Railway Company, owned by the Canadian railway builder Robert Gillespie Reid.
George Shea (1902-1906)
Born in St. John's on 4 July 1851, Shea in 1886 became managing partner of Shea & Co, a shipping and commission firm owned by his uncle, Ambrose Shea. He was the Member of the House of Assembly (MHA) for Ferryland (1885-1889 and 1897-1900) and St. John's East (1904-1913). From 1904 to 1908 he was a minister without portfolio in the government of Liberal Premier Robert Bond. On 19 June 1902 Shea won election as the first mayor of St. John's. During his mayoralty Council brought stability to the city's finances, which for a decade had operated at a deficit, and implemented major improvements to the water system. Shea failed in his bid to win re-election in 1906. In 1920 Liberal Premier Richard Squires appointed him to the Legislative Council, and during the 1920s he occasionally served as Acting Premier when Squires was absent from the Island. He died at St. John's on 13 September 1932.
Michael Patrick Gibbs (1906-1910)
Born in St. John's on 25 March 1870, Gibbs was called to the Newfoundland Bar in 1895. Active in Tory political circles, he was the MHA for St. George's from 1897 to 1900. In the early 1900s he provided legal advice during the formation of city labour unions. He was especially helpful in the formation of the Longshoremen's Protective Union in 1903 and served as the Union's solicitor until his death. With labour support, he won the mayoralty in the 26 June 1906 election. His administration saw St. John's improve working and living conditions for labourers and the poor. Because of his pressing professional and other political commitments, Gibbs did not seek reselection in 1910. In 1909 Premier Morris appointed him to the Legislative Council and he remained a member of the Council until the suspension of Responsible Government in 1934. On 7 November 1943 Gibbs died at St. John's.
William James Ellis (1910-1914)
Ellis, born in St. John's on 9 July 1857, and his brother, John, had established their own construction business by 1890. In the early 1890s they built the main tunnel for a new city sewerage system and after the fire of 8 July 1892 put up many of the city's new buildings. In 1902 and 1906 he won election to the Municipal Council, in the later election polling the highest vote for coun- cillor and becoming Deputy Mayor. In the 27 June 1910 election, Ellis won the mayoralty by acclamation. During his term as mayor from 1910 to 1914, Council continued former mayor Gibbs' program of sanitary and housing improvements for the poor, while in 1911 it opened the first municipally owned city hall. From 1904 to 1909 he was the MHA for Ferryland and was a member of the Legislative Council from 1917 to 1926. He died on 19 April 1926 in New York City while returning to Newfoundland from California, where he had gone for the winter for health reasons.
William Gilbert Gosling (1914-1921)
Born on 8 September 1863 at Paget, Bermuda, Gilbert Gosling came to St. John's in 1881 to work as a clerk for the fish exporting firm of Harvey & Co. Concerned over social and urban problems, the Board of Trade under his direction organized a citizens' committee to investigate municipal matters in the city. The result was legislation in 1914 which replaced the elected municipal council with an appointed commission which drafted a new municipal charter under Gosling's chairmanship. The legislature refused to pass this charter in 1916, instead restoring the elective form of local government. Gosling won the mayoralty in the 29 June 1916 civic election. Under Gosling's dynamic leadership between 1916 and 1920, Council revised the taxation system, started a public housing program, and championed public health causes. When the government in 1920 failed to pass the charter, Gosling agreed to serve as chairman of a temporary appointed commission until the enactment the following year of a charter. In 1921 he withdrew from civic life for business and health reasons and subsequently retired in 1927 to his native Bermuda, where he died on 5 November 1930. His wife later donated his extensive collection of books to the people of St. John's to form the basis of the city's public library, which opened in 1936.
Isaac C. Morris (1921)
Born in St. John's on 11 June 1857, Morris operated a sailmaking business. An appointed member of the Municipal Commission from 1914 to 1916, he won election to Council in 1916. In 1920 he accepted an appointment to another Municipal Commission. Following Gosling's resignation, Morris served as Chairman for nearly six months in 1921 until the election of a new Council. He ran unsuccessfully for the mayoralty on 15 December 1921. Morris was a prolific writer for the local press on the social and political issues of the day and was also a popular public speaker. He died at St. John's on 5 June 1937.
Tasker Cook (1921-1929)
Born in St. John's on 30 June 1867, Cook managed a ship's chandler business and later a tinsmith firm. He won election as mayor on 15 December 1921 and by acclamation in 1925. His term in office saw Council undertake various public works improvements and in 1928 make a start on civic planning with the appointment of a Town Planning Commission. Generally, Council's ability to effect any significant improvements, as Cook noted in a 1925 "Bricks without Straw" address to the Rotary Club, depended on increased taxation, an unpopular measure at the best of times and one on which Cook and his predecessors proved unwilling to act. He lost to Charles J. Howlett in the 9 December 1929 election. Premier Squires appointed Cook to the Legislative Council in 1928 and to his cabinet as a minister without portfolio as well as chairman of the Newfoundland Railway Commission. For many years he was the Newfoundland Consul for the governments of Portugal, Denmark, and Norway. He received a Knighthood in 1931. On 25 September 1937 he died at St. John's.
Charles Joseph Howlett (1929-1932)
Born in St. John's on 25 January 1885, Howlett graduated in dentistry from the University of Toronto in 1901 and the Philadelphia Dental College in 1905. From 1916 to 1929 he was President of the Newfoundland Dental Board. His concern for improved civic services prompted him to run for mayor in the 9 December 1929 election, defeating incumbent Tasker Cook. Under Howlett's mayoralty, the city's financial and administrative systems were reorganized and Duckworth and New Gower Streets were paved. In January 1932 he helped establish the Civic Relief Committee to provide coal and other assistance to help the city's poor through the economic depression of that time. It was also in 1932 that Council, through Howlett's efforts the previous year, convinced the Squires Government to float its first bond issue of $500,000. Howlett died at St. John's on 31 March 1932.
Andrew Greene Carnell (1932-1949)
Born in St. John's on 10 April 1877, the son of former councillor John T. Carnell, he assumed the management of his family's carriage and undertaking business in 1903. After two unsuccessful forays into colonial politics in 1908 and 1919, Andy Carnell found the municipal arena more to his liking. In 1929 he polled the highest vote for councillor and became Deputy Mayor. Following the death of Mayor Howlett in 1932, he served as Acting Mayor until the 1933 election, when he won the mayoralty by acclamation. He repeated this feat in 1937, and in 1941 and 1945 he easily defeated his opponents. Carnell proved to be a popular mayor and, during the period from 1934 to 1949 when Newfoundland was governed by a British-appointed Commission of Government, citizens often referred to him as the "Mayor of Newfoundland." Carnell and his Councils stood up to the Commission in championing the city's rights; in 1937 and 1944, for instance, the city negotiated reductions in the civic debt the municipality owed the government. During the early 1940s, Council, with Deputy Mayor Eric Cook in the lead, played a strong role in convincing the Commission to undertake public housing reforms, resulting in the 1944 organization of the St. John's Housing Corporation. This Corporation was responsible for the Churchill Park housing development and other suburban housing in the late 1940s and the 1950s. In 1948 Carnell helped establish a citizens' committee to raise funds for the construction of Memorial Stadium which was opened in 1955. Also referred to as "The LaGuardia of St. John's," Carnell's Councils maintained a vigorous program of sewer, water, and street improvements, while simultaneously providing taxpayers with "Solvent, Sane and Square Civic Government." On 8 November 1949 Carnell failed to win his fifth term as mayor. He died at St. John's on 26 January 1951.
H. G. R. Mews (1949-1965)
Born in St. John's on 18 December 1897, Harry Mews, an insurance company manager, won a seat on Council in a 1943 by-election. Re-elected in 1945, he defeated Carnell for the mayoralty in 1949 and won re-election four times until his retirement in 1965. Mews provided strong leadership in guiding the city through its rapid demographic, physical and economic growth in post-Confederation St. John's. During his tenure, Council successfully dealt with the severe financial problems brought on by lost revenue sources, the result of federal- provincial taxing agreements Newfoundland had entered with its new federal government after 1949. His Councils initiated a slum-clearance program in the city's congested centre, pursued the development of public housing projects in various parts of St. John's, planned a large surburban housing development in the city's northeast area and undertook extensive sewer and water extensions. In 1957 Council assumed control of the privately owned bus service and subsequently operated it as a public concern under the management of the St. John's Transportation Commission. In the early 1950s, Mews established a secret fund, which by 1966 had grown to $2 million out of various service fees and city land sales; this fund was subsequently used to build on New Gower Street a new city hall which opened in 1970. In 1949 Mews unsuccessfully led the Progressive Conservatives against Liberal Premier Joseph R. Smallwood in Newfoundland's first provincial election. He died at St. John's on 6 January 1982.
William Gilbert Adams (1965-1973)
Born in St. John's on 17 June 1923, Bill Adams was a 1952 graduate of Dalhousie Law School. He won election to the Municipal Council on 14 November 1961 and became Deputy Mayor. With the retirement of Harry Mews in 1965, he defeated Alec Henley, a city councillor since 1957, for the mayoralty on 16 November 1965, be ingre-elected as mayor in 1969. During his eight years in of rice, Council continued substantial water and sewer improvements required for the city's rapid suburban growth and entered into a Neighbourhood Improvement Program agreement for the urban renewal of the Mundy Pond area. Adams was the Liberal MHA for St. John's West from 1962 to 1966 and for Twillingate from 1971 to 1972. In 1979 he was appointed Chief Judge of the Newfoundland District Court.
Dorothy Wyatt (1973-1981)
Born in St. John's, Wyatt was a nursing graduate of the General Hospital in St. John's in 1952 and worked for many years as a nurse in both the public and private sectors. In 1969 she received a Bachelor of Nursing degree from Memorial University. Later that year she won election to Council as the city's first female councillor and in the 13 November 1973 election she defeated incumbent Mayor Bill Adams to become the city's first female mayor. A colourful and popular mayor, she won re-election in 1977. During her mayoralty, St. John's hosted the Canada Summer Games in 1977, changed its century-old taxation system from a rental-value to a capital-value system in 1980, and adopted a partial ward system in 1981. The 1970s also saw the city approve the construction of modern high-rise office buildings in the Water Street commercial district. Defeated in her try for a third term as mayor in the 3 November 1981 election, Wyatt returned to civic politics in the 12 November 1985 election as a councillor at large.
John Joseph Murphy (1981-present)
Born in St. John's on 24 September 1922, John Murphy worked for several years as a radio news announcer and an advertising executive. In 1953 he became associated with the wholesale firm of Halley and Company and developed a local chain of the popular Arcade stores in the city. After unsuccessful forays into provincial politics as a Liberal candidate in 1966 and 1970, he won election on 13 November 1973 to City Council as councillor and became Deputy Mayor. Defeated in his first try for the mayoralty on 8 November 1977, on 3 November 1981 he defeated incumbent Mayor Wyatt. In 1985 he won re-election by acclamation. During his tenure to date, Council has devised a detailed zoning and planning procedure, which rationalized what was, up to then, ad hoc planning arrangements for commercial and residential development. Council has also made strong efforts to preserve the historical character of older sections of the city and has begun work on an imaginative infill housing scheme in the older areas of the city, in the process winning nationally recognized awards for its efforts.
1888-1898 P. W. Kelly
1898-1899 John L. Slatterly
1899 M. K. Greene
1899-1920 John L. Slatterly
1920-1952 J. J. Mahoney
1952-1970 Edward B. Foran
1970-present Rupert J. Greene
1888-1890 Charles J. Harvey
1890-91 F. H. Balfour (Acting Engineer)
1891-92 R. M. Pratt
1892-1893 A. J. Waghorne (Acting Engineer)
1893-1894 S. M. Chapman
1894-1896 R. M. Pratt
1896-1920 John Ryan
1920-1944 William P. Ryan
1944-1949 Grant Jack
1949-1959 Ronald Martin
1959-1963 Duncan Sharpe
1963-1979 Eric Mercer
1979-present James Finn