William Wesley Halfyard
Melvin Baker

Originally published in the Newfoundland Quarterly (Spring/Summer 2000): 19-20.

William Wesley Halfyard was born on 16 October 1869 at Ochre Pit Cove, Conception Bay, the son of William and Anne (Carnell) Halfyard. Educated at Ochre Pit Cove and later at the Methodist College in St. John's, he began teaching school in 1892 at Bluff Head Cove, near Twillingate. He next taught briefly at Greenspond before moving to Catalina where he remained for 15 years and was the principal of the Methodist school.(1) In December 1909 he married Margaret Mary Diamond, daughter of Caleb and Elizabeth Diamond(2) of Catalina and they had one daughter.

At Catalina, he became interested in the Fishermen's Protective Union (FPU) which William Coaker had organized on 3 November 1908 at Herring Neck, Notre Dame Bay. Coaker organized a branch of the FPU at Catalina in April 1910 and Halfyard was one of its first members with a great interest in the "work of improving the social and industrial conditions of the fishermen."(3) By 1914, the FPU had over 21,060 members - about half the fishermen of Newfoundland - who were organized into 206 councils.(4)

In July 1912, Coaker, "recognizing in him faithfulness, honesty and integrity,"(5) appointed Halfyard cashier of the Union Trading Company which had its headquarters in St. John's. Halfyard was also chosen secretary-treasurer of the FPU at its convention in December 1912 at Bonavista. He held this position until his appointment in 1919 as vice-president of the FPU. His work for the union and its companies was critical to their overall success for two decades.

Part of the FPU's efforts to achieve social and economic reform was the election of union-sponsored representatives to the legislature. In the general election held on 30 October 1913, which resulted in the re-election of the incumbent government of People's Party leader Edward Morris, the FPU formed an electoral alliance with the Liberal Party under former premier Robert Bond. The Liberals elected seven members and the FPU eight, including Halfyard in Fogo district and Coaker in Bonavista district.

Because of their parliamentary inexperience, the Unionists allows the Liberals under James Kent to be the official opposition in the Assembly. The Unionists proved themselves to be formidable critics of government policy and Halfyard an able debater in the Assembly. The union's newspaper observed in 1914 that despite his "genial manner and disposition," his quietness was the "kind that tells that underneath is steady resolve, strong determination, fixity of principles that are built on rock foundations...."(6) Among Union members, he became known as a "walking encyclopedia" for his knowledge of public issues.(7)

On 21 March 1916 Kent resigned the Liberal leadership and accepted an appointment to the Supreme Court. The next day, William Lloyd who was more sympathetic to the FPU cause became Liberal leader and agreed with Coaker on 21 March 1916 to the creation of a Liberal Union Party. On 16 July 1917, Prime Minister Morris formed a wartime national government with the opposition. Unionist members in his new cabinet included Halfyard as minister of agriculture and mines and Coaker as a minster without portfolio. Morris resigned as premier on 31 December 1917 to accept a peerage in the British House of Lords. Lloyd became prime minister on 5 January 1918 and had in his cabinet Halfyard as colonial secretary. Coaker continued as a minister without portfolio. With Halfyard taking on the greater administrative responsibilities, Coaker was thus left with time to devote to the union and specifically the building of a town at Port Union as the headquarters for its growing commercial activities.

In the 1919 general election, the Unionists combined with the Liberals led by Richard Squires to win a substantial majority. Elected in Trinity district, Halfyard was appointed minister of posts and telegraphs. Wishing to devote more time to Union business, Coaker resigned from the cabinet prior to the general election held on 3 May 1923 and Halfyard replaced him as minister of marine and fisheries. With Coaker's resignation from cabinet, Halfyard was the leading Unionist in the government and played a prominent role in securing Squires' resignation as prime minister in July 1923. Unless Squires resigned, Halfyard and three other ministers threatened to resign themselves over charges that the prime minister and Dr. Alexander Campbell, minister of agriculture and mines, had used public funds for election patronage purposes.(8)

Having forced the issue, Halfyard served as colonial secretary in a new government formed by William Warren that lasted from July 1923 to May 1924 when this government fell victim to factional infighting. Warren cobbled together another government that lasted four days (it excluded Halfyard) before Albert Hickman formed a new government with Halfyard as colonial secretary. The Hickman government lost the general election held on 2 June 1924 which was won by a conservative party led by Walter Monroe.

Although, next to Coaker, he was the second most influential member of the FPU, Halfyard was passed over by Coaker in 1926 when the latter chose his successor as president of the FPU. Although the FPU's second president Jack Scammell regarded Halfyard as Coaker's "logical successor,"(9) Scammell got the position because of his youth and Coaker's desire to re-invigorate the union movement through extensive visits to members to revive their interest in the FPU, a decision Halfyard accepted in the best interests of the union. The following year, Halfyard nearly avoided a major confrontation with Coaker over control of the Union Trading Company, which since 1918 had been reluctantly extending credit to its fishing members. The company had become seriously overextended and was $274,000 in debt. A proxy fight between Coaker and Halfyard was avoided when the directors agreed to a more cautious policy on credit.(10)

In May 1928, Halfyard, six other unionists, and two Liberals, Gordon Bradley and Harris Mosdell, left the Liberal party led by Albert Hickman to form a new party under Halfyard's leadership. This party was only a temporary measure to prepare the return to active politics of Richard Squires in the general election held on 29 October 1928. Halfyard won re-election, this time in the district of Trinity North, and was appointed minister of posts and telegraphs while Coaker served as a minister without portfolio.

Halfyard did not run in the 1932 general election and accepted an appointment that year as appointed Sheriff of Newfoundland. He was also an insurance agent for the Mutual Life Assurance Company and a director of the Trading Co. from 1927 until 1941 when he resigned for health reasons.(11) He died at his residence at 32 Victoria Street in St. John's on 31 December 19 1944. In his tribute to Halfyard in the Fishermen's Advocate, Joseph Smallwood wrote that he "commanded respect. What is more he deserved it.... There was not a mean thought in his make up, not a shabby act in his long career.... Through thick and thin Halfyard stood unflinchingly by Coaker's side.... Never was there a man more true or steadfast in wishing to help the downtrodden.... Coaker saw sterling worth in Halfyard's character and soon brought him to his side as his right [hand] man."(12)


1. Mail and Advocate 24 December 1914, "W.W. Halfyard, M.H.A." See also The Methodist Monthly Greeting (September 1912) 16 for an address to Halfyard by Catalina Methodists on his retirement from the teaching profession.

2. Births and Baptisms at Catalina, Methodist (United Church ) 1864-1874 found at Newfoundland Grank Banks web page at http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/Heritage/NGB/Parish/trin-cat2.htm".

3. Mail and Advocate 24 December 1914.

4. Ian D.H. McDonald, "To Each His Own": William Coaker and the Fishermen's Protective Union in Newfoundland Politics, 1908-1925 (St. John's 1987), 27.

5. Mail and Advocate 24 December 1914.

6. Ibid.

7. Fishermen's Advocate 24 December 1926.

8. S.J.R. Noel, Politics in Newfoundland (Toronto 1971), 159-60.

9. W.F. Coaker, ed., Twenty Years of the Fishermen's Protective Union (St. John's 1930), 245.

10. McDonald, "To Each His Own" 135.

11. Fishermen's Advocate 5 January 1945.

12. Ibid.