The establishment of Memorial's Institute of Social and Economic Research in 1961
Melvin Baker (c) 1999

Originally published in the Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. XCII, no. 3 (Winter 1999), 21-5.Used by permission of the Newfoundland Quarterly.

On March 31, 1949, the previously independent country of Newfoundland became the tenth province of the Canadian Confederation. This followed a referendum in the previous year in which Newfoundlanders voted by a narrow margin for the option of Confederation with Canada over a return to the responsible system of government which had existed in Newfoundland prior to 1934.(1) On April 1, 1949, Joseph Roberts Smallwood, the leader of the confederate campaign, became premier of Newfoundland. One of the first acts of the Newfoundland legislature, on August 13, 1949, was the enactment of legislation elevating the Memorial University College to full university status.

From its beginning in 1925 Memorial University College had been a junior college primarily offering the first two years of university level courses.(2) After 1949 the academic policy of the university was to proceed "slowly and surely so as to establish degree patterns on sound academic lines."(3) The initial emphasis was on a broad-based undergraduate program in the arts and sciences, followed later in the mid-1950s by graduate programs in selected disciplines. In 1961 Memorial established the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) to address specifically the social and economic problems of the province.

The appointment of a research body associated with the university was one of the recommendations made by Robert Newton in his 1952 consultancy report prepared for Memorial on its future academic development. A former president of the University of Alberta, Newton proposed that a Provincial Research Council be created along the lines of similar bodies in the other provinces. A provincial research council would promote the "wise and effective utilization of natural resources", help "old and new industries by investigating their problems", supply "Government departments with technical information as required", and generally work "for the betterment, welfare and progress of the country so far as this can be achieved by scientific research."(4)

Prior to 1950 the Newfoundland Industrial Development Board, established in 1942, played a role somewhat analogous to a provincial research council. The board included representatives from government, industry, and industrial trade unions and collected information on industrial, commercial and economic affairs. It also assisted in "providing contact between local enterprises and research institutions with a view to encouraging industrial and commercial research."(5) After Confederation the government wound up the board in favour of the department of Economic Development under Premier Smallwood. The government hired consultants to undertake research on the provincial economy during the early 1950s.

Memorial University developed a good working relationship with the government and the business community during the 1950s and its expertise was made available to both. President Raymond Gushue (1952-1966) and political science professor Moses Morgan advocated a strong public role for the university in promoting the province's social, economic, and cultural development. Before becoming president, Gushue had had a distinguished public career, including chairmanship of the Newfoundland Fisheries Board from 1936 to 1952. He served from 1955 to 1958 as a member of a federal royal commission on the Canadian economy chaired by Toronto businessman Walter Gordon.The Newfoundland-born and Oxford-trained political scientist Morgan joined the faculty in 1950, and became head of the newly established Department of Social Studies in 1955, assistant dean of arts and science in 1956, and dean in 1957. Morgan understood the province's social and economic problems and, along with historian Gordon Rothney, co-authored a provincial government report completed in 1957 on Newfoundland's fiscal position within confederation. Morgan was fiercely loyal to his native province and determined that the university play a leading role in the modernization of local society.(6)

The Newfoundland Research Committee, formed in 1954, provided a forum for the university's natural scientists, provincial and federal public servants, and industry representatives to exchange ideas on the conservation and use of the province's renewable natural resources such as agriculture, forestry, and wildlife. Committee members met regularly during the winter and spring and their seminar subjects included spruce and fir regeneration, the biology of arctic char, squid research, salmon migratory patterns, and economic aspects of bog land development.(7)

The university also responded to the province's social and economic needs by establishing new programs. One was the creation in 1955 at government's request of the position of Sociologist with the salary being shared between the provincial Department of Public Welfare and the university. The Department of Public Welfare used his services for offering short training courses to its welfare officers. Memorial's first sociologist was Donald Willmott, a British-born, American-trained sociologist. He resigned in August 1959 to take up a teaching position elsewhere. In September 1959 Ian Whitaker, a graduate of the universities of Cambridge and Oslo, replaced him. Whitaker came from the University of Edinburgh where he had been active in the Institute of Scottish Studies, an inter-disciplinary research institute.

The government also sought economic advice from the university. Following his appointment to the university in 1954, Gordon Goundrey served as a consultant to the province's Royal Commission on Forestry. He later resigned from the university in 1957 to be the government's Director of Economic Research, a position he held briefly before accepting employment outside Newfoundland.(8) His successor at Memorial was Parzival Copes who came to the university in 1957 from the Dominion Bureau of Statistics in Ottawa. In 1958 the Newfoundland Board of Trade had Copes study the structural changes in the Newfoundland economy since confederation. The report was published in May 1961 as St. John's and Newfoundland: An Economic Survey.(9) Copes observed that "there is little doubt that any really significant improvement in our conditions will require well-planned co-ordinated action by business and government. It is intended that this report should add to the documentary background for any plans of economic development supported by the business community or representations made to government authority."(10)

To address the need for better economic analysis Dean Morgan in 1859 asked Copes to outline the administrative structure and academic mandate for a proposed research institute at the university. Copes proposed the creation of an "Institute of Economic and Social Research" that would respond to the "host of economic and social problems which for their extent, severity and urgency are unmatched in any other region of Canada. The standards of material welfare obtaining in Newfoundland, by almost any measure, are far below those achieved on the mainland." Newfoundland needed its own expert opinion because in the past it had obtained technical expertise through the hiring of expensive, outside consultants to "report on specific economic questions." Advice from consultants had been confined to "strictly circumscribed subjects and has been composed by authors who had no benefit of long-term exposure to the local economic and social atmosphere." The need was urgent because the province had no "professionally qualified economists or sociologists who are in a position to devote a major portion of their time to research work, though there are, of course, federal and provincial civil servants engaged in the day-to-day administration of economic affairs and social welfare." The university's qualified economist, Copes, and sociologist Donald Willmott were fully occupied with the teaching aspects of their work and had insufficient time to "devote a specified portion of their time to research work as a condition of their academic appointment."(11)

The proposed institute would provide background information to give "guidance in the organization and administration of projects designed to promote economic and social welfare in the province." Its research would be broadly based on "current economic and social conditions and should be capable of providing practical advice in public policy." The emphasis on applied research would therefore dispel "fears that financial support to the Institute would be 'wasted' on academic exercise of benefit only to its participants." The value of theoretical research was not ignored ; Copes argued that the existence of an institute of applied research would assist in stimulating theoretical research discussions. The institute must be careful to ensure that its researchers not be seen as providing a "cut-rate consulting service" and must avoid undertaking projects that would otherwise be commissioned to professional consultants for financial remuneration. Such projects would include royal commission reports and commercial surveys. Instead, the institute would concentrate on long-term fundamental research that government and business would not consider to have any immediate urgency to undertake.(12) The institute would consist of full-time faculty members having both teaching and research functions. Administratively, the institute would be managed by a Board of Control - a director (economic research), and possibly two deputy directors, one involved in sociological research and one associated with educational research.

Seeking Consensus Support

Gushue and Morgan approved the report and sought the opinion of other academics, federal and provincial officials, and prominent Newfoundland businessmen on the proposed institute. All the universities canvassed except the University of Toronto endorsed Memorial's proposal. Earl Beach, professor of economics at McGill University, wrote that the proposal "looks very interesting" cautioning the importance of selecting the first director for the institute who should "very carefully and continuously concoct scheme for special projects, large and small, financed by various projects." University of British Columbia economist John Deutsch, a member of a federal commission that had examined the province's fiscal position as required under Term 29, considered the proposal "well conceived and well prepared." He noted that

there is a crying need in Newfoundland for sustained and objective research on economic and social problems. As you know there have been many ad hoc studies and enquiries in the form of royal commissions, consultants and experts of various descriptions, but these have often been 'flashes in the pan' which had momentary notice and then forgotten or ignored.
The "long run value" of such an institute would
depend upon the degree to which the more basic educational objectives are kept in mind. However, such an Institute will undoubtedly have many demands for research on day to day and immediate questions which are of interest to both governments and business. It would be quite appropriate for the Institute to try to meet some of these requests but should not allow itself to be diverted too far from its basic purpose. There is much to be said for the general policy that work done on specific requests, either by governments or by business, should be undertaken on a fee basis so that the general resources of the Institute would be available for its continuing research effort. Also, such a policy would discourage proliferation of ill-conceived projects and would cause the results to be taken more seriously.
Support also came from Don Martindale, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota. He wrote Morgan "your project sounds most exciting... It could conceivably supply a basic reference point for every sociologist in North America who is concerned with the transformation of the local economy by processes generated in the institutions of the mass society."(13) University of Toronto sociologist Samuel Clark was less encouraging, observing that the institute was simply a means of attracting money to the university, which it otherwise would not get. He wrote:
As a means of attracting funds for fundamental research there is nothing to be said for an institute. To get funds for such research you need only one thing: good people who are doing scholarly work. An institute can defeat the very purpose for which it was set up. Its tendency is to pull people away from what they want to do and thus discourage scholarly work. Foundations are suspicious of bodies organized for research. Funds given to such organizations tend to be diverted to the salaries of directors or to be frittered away on the kind of superficial research which can be planned and directed.
Clark believed that an institute would not attract good scholars to the university; they would shy away from an institution where an "appointment involves an obligation" and they prefer freedom to pursue their own interests. Memorial required a larger teaching staff committed both to good teaching and research. In summary, an institute was a "snare and delusion if seized upon as a way of getting money to secure people to get research done." To get greater public support and "healthy support for what a university does, will not be accomplished by "thinking up gimmicks to get money when the money has to be used to do things which are not the proper functions of the university."(14)

Businessmen canvassed by the university for their views included Albert Martin of Bowater's Newfoundland Pulp and Paper Mills Limited, and Harry Renouf, executive manager of the Newfoundland Board of Trade. Martin approved "wholeheartedly the proposal" that would "without doubt give not only the students, but the staff of the university a much better idea of our social and economic problems which, although great, are not insurmountable." He suggested that a meeting of those interested take place in the near future as the best means of exchanging opinions on what he considered a worthwhile proposal.(15)

In seeking support of the business community for the institute, university's officials were interested in helping Newfoundland adjust to a rapidly industrializing society. President Gushue and Dean Morgan had extensive first-hand experience with the province's industrial scene. Gushue had served since 1946 as chair of the Woods Labour Board until 1958 when it was dissolved during a controversial loggers' strike by the Newfoundland local of the International Woodworkers of America (IWA). Morgan was a prominent labour arbitrator and was familiar with the labour and economic problems associated with Newfoundland's industrialization problems, including the working conditions that led to the strike by the IWA. "The lack of economic diversification in the province until very recent times and the individualistic method of prosecuting the fisheries," Gushue later observed in 1961, "have favoured the development of idiosyncratic attitudes towards employment. These are in conflict with the industrial needs resulting from the economic development that is now taking place in the province. Social welfare benefits introduced at Confederation have affected work attitudes and motivation. These are major problems for employers who find labour extremely difficult to recruit in some areas, even when there is a high level of unemployment elsewhere in the province."(16)

The need for such an institute again presented itself on November 30, 1960 when Premier Smallwood announced the convening of a conference to study the "problems that would arise on the Baie Verte Peninsula as a result" of the "decision by the Johns Mansville Corporation to go ahead with the development of the asbestos deposits at Baie Verte." The premier proposed a three-day conference of industry, community, government officials, and educators to be held commencing January 16, 1961 at St. John's. Besides the mining sector, the conference would also examine problems associated with logging and fishing operations on the peninsula. In a press release Smallwood acknowledged that in previous industrial developments in Newfoundland (all of which pre-dated 1949) there were

serious mistakes... because of the failure to lay proper plans for orderly and systematic development in housing, medical care, education and in a number of other fields. While it is impossible to for any Government to foresee the future, yet we feel that by calling a conference now of all interested parties, we can make a study of these problems and perhaps determine just what has to be done by the various Governments concerned - Canadian, Newfoundland and municipal - and also by the corporations which will be operating in that area.(17)
Institute is established

On December 8, 1960, Gushue invited several prominent businessmen to discuss the desirability of an institute of economic and social research. Its primary role would be the collection and publication of vital social statistics and would not undertake projects "normally ... commissioned to professional consultants." "The sort of investigations" to be undertaken would be the sociology of changing employment status; the employment patterns in fisheries, woods and other industries; effect of mechanization on woods labour and other industries; relative immobility of labour; sector analysis of Newfoundland's Gross National Product; and development capital for small enterprises in Newfoundland.(18) Businessmen who accepted Gushue's invitation included Ross Moore (president of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company, Grand Falls), Albert Martin (president and general manager, Bowater's), Claude Howse (of the Iron Ore Company of Canada and a member of the university's Board of Regents), Edward Martin (general manager of the Buchans Mining Company), V.J. Southey (general manager of Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation, Bell Island), Frederick Russell (Newfoundland Board of Trade), E. Harvey (Newfoundland Fish Trades Association), and Arthur Johnson, provincial deputy minister of Economic Development and chairman of the Atlantic Provinces Research Board, which co-ordinated economic research in the four Atlantic Provinces and was based at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton. The board's sponsors included the four Atlantic provincial governments.

The January 6, 1961 meeting was held at the Newfoundland Hotel in St. John's. Business representatives endorsed the establishment of an institute, the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER), and the future possibility of committing some funds to sustain its research efforts, but believed that the institute should stay "clear of contract research, because of the observed experience of other research organizations which collapsed after contract research projects ran out." University officials agreed to prepare a constitution for the institute for approval of the Board of Regents, which on March 9, 1961, approved the creation of the institute and approved funding for $15,000 to help the institute' during its first year while external funding was found for future years. The board's appointees to ISER's governing committee were its vice-chairman (Gordon Winter) and Claude Howse.

Gushue confidently wrote Premier Smallwood on May 22, 1961, that ISER "will be making a fundamental contribution to the economic and social life of Newfoundland." By providing "fundamental information for the rational formulation of policies and measures," ISER would be of "invaluable assistance" to the provincial government and local industry. One immediate area of research for ISER would be a community study in the Baie Verte Peninsula.(19)

ISER would have two directors as its managers. The university's senior economist would be the director of economic, and the senior sociologist the director of sociological, research. Research work would be undertaken by associates appointed for one or two years and they would have a master's degree and be enrolled in a doctoral programme at another university with the research completed under the auspices of the institute doubling "as a thesis for a doctor's degree." Whitaker explained that this approach would act as a "double check on the quality of the work ... obtained - by the Institute and by the university for which the dissertation was being prepared."

ISER's constitution was adopted at the first meeting of the governing Committee held on May 12, 1961. Dean Morgan was elected chair of the committee and Whitaker and Copes appointed co-directors for sociology and economics respectively. ISER's first sociology research project was a two-year study on "social change in the emerging industrial community of Baie Verte;" Tom Philbrook, Don Martindale's doctoral student from University of Minnesota, was appointed ISER's first research fellow and his research would form the basis of a doctoral dissertation for Minnesota.


In 1961 Memorial symbolized the modernization of post-confederation Newfoundland. ISER's establishment in 1961 was a response to the university's desire to encourage economic and social research in the province. A new campus officially opened on October 9, 1961 amid much pomp and ceremony which was enthusiastically described by Premier Smallwood as the university's "mammoth housewarming."(20) The premier regarded the granting of university status in 1949 as one of the three major events in Newfoundland's history, the other two being the island's discovery in 1497 by John Cabot and the second being Newfoundland's confederation with Canada in 1949.(21)



1. See Peter Neary, Newfoundland in the North Atlantic World, 1929-1949. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1988.

2. See Malcolm MacLeod, A Bridge Built Halfway: A History of Memorial University College, 1925-1950. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990 and ed., Crossroads Country: Memories of Pre-Confederation Newfoundland. St. John's: Breakwater Books, 1999.

3.Memorial University, Files of the President’s Office, PO-44, file “Grants, Canada Council, English Department,” Gushue to the Canada Council, December 21, 1964.

4. Robert Newton, Memorial University of Newfoundland: A Survey. St. John's: Memorial University, 1952, pp.54-5.

5. A.M. Fraser, ed., The Story of the Newfoundland Industrial Development Board. St. John's 1949, p.13.

6. See Cyril F. Poole, Moses Morgan: A Life in Action, St. John's: Harry Cuff Publications, 1998, pp. 119-130.

7. Newfoundland Research Committee, Symposium on Land Use sponsored by the Department of Mines and Resources and Memorial University of Newfoundland. St. John's 1959, pp. 7, 74-9.

8. See Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives, Coll-75, file 3.08.021.

9. Parzival Copes, St. John's and Newfoundland: An Economic Survey, St. John's: Newfoundland Board of Trade, 1961.

10. Ibid., p.2.

11. Box PO-45, file "Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1961", Copes to Morgan March 12, 1959


13. M.O. Morgan, "Remarks on the 30th Anniversary of ISER," in Special Anniversary Edition, ISER Research and Policy Papers No. 15 (November 1992), p. 39.

14. Box PO-45, file "Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1959," Deutsch to Gushue, May 15, 1959, Clark to Morgan, May 6, 1959, and Beach to Morgan, May 19, 1959.

15. Ibid., Albert Martin to Morgan, June 2, 1959.

16. PO-45, file "Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1961" Gushue to A.W. Trueman, Director, Canada Council, August 24, 1961.

17. PO-44, file "Government, Provincial - Department of Highways, Baie Verte Peninsula Conference," press release by Premier Smallwood, November 30, 1960.

18. PO-45, file "Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1961," Gushue to T.R. Moore, December 8, 1960.

19. Ibid., Gushue to Smallwood, May 22, 1961.

20. "Memorial at Home on New St. John's Campus," School Progress (July 1962), p.42.

21. Evening Telegram October 6, 1961.