Port Union

Welcome to the Port Union section of this website for the Town of Trinity Bay North (TBN) that came into existence on January 1st, 2005. TBN consists of Catalina (Ward 1), Port Union (Ward 2), Melrose (Ward 3) and Little Catalina (Ward 4) which are situated on the coastline of Trinity Bay.
Here is a little information about Port Union's proud history:

(inc. 1961; pop. 1991, 638). Port Union was an unoccupied area in the southwest arm of Catalina qv harbour prior to a 1915 land purchase by William F. Coaker qv. The site became the commercial headquarters for Coaker's *Fishermen's Protective Union (FPU) and the *Fishermen's Union Trading Company qqv. The harbour was normally ice-free from April to February, large enough to afford anchorage for 100 or more vessels and had a nearby river with potential for generating hydro-electric power. In May 1916 work commenced on building the town, which was named Port Union in December that year. Bernard J. Miller qv, a native of nearby Champneys and a building contractor in St. John's, supervised its construction.

The Fishermen's Union Trading Company premises were completed in early 1918 and the Union's corporate headquarters transferred from St. John's in February. The premises consisted of a salt fish processing store, a department store equipped with electric elevators, a seal oil plant, a machine shop, a forge, a coal and salt storage shed and a shipyard owned by the Union Shipbuilding Company. Other facilities included two rows of wooden duplex houses for employees, a hotel, a bakery, a small plant to manufacture soft drinks and a movie theatre. In 1917 a spur railway from the Bonavista branch railway line at the Catalina station was constructed to the Union properties. The town was also home to the Fishermen's Advocate qv, which was published weekly until the early 1970s. A convention centre known as "Congress Hall" (destroyed by fire in the 1960s) was located on a hill overlooking the Trading Company premises, and, according to one contemporary, when lighted up "at night with hundreds of electric lights, inside and outside, can be seen for miles from sea, a beacon of unity for fishermen". Through Coaker's influence a customs house was established, postal and telegraph offices built and coastal steamer service instituted.

In 1919 Coaker observed that there were about 400 people in the Catalina-Port Union area employed in various Union operations. By 1921 Port Union included residents from Catalina as well as from many other parts of the Island. The local people, mostly Roman Catholic or Methodist, were fishermen with surnames Diamond, Lodge, Norman, McNamara, Penney, Russell and Sutton. Newcomers came from Union outports along the northeast coast: New Bonaventure (Charles King); Greenspond (Herbert Burry and Edgar Gibbons); Little Bay Islands (James Jones qv); Port Rexton (Joseph Bailey and Edmund Butler); Wesleyville (Peter Carter); and Windmill Bight (Abraham Goodyear). William White moved from Bonavista to work in the cooperage and blacksmith Michael Noble brought his family from Nippers Harbour. In 1921 Port Union had a population of 532, with 57% of heads of households being born in the Catalina area (in that year Catalina's heads of households were 76% locally-born). Thirty-seven Port Union households reported children born in the area before 1914.

Ian McDonald calculated that by the late 1920s the Union Trading Company was carrying over 5000 fishing accounts, covering some 1000 fishermen, and sponsoring a five-vessel sealing fleet. In the mid-1950s the Trading Company was reputedly one of the east coast's largest exporters of dried cod (by then a dying trade). In 1956 Union Electric Light and Power Co. President Aaron Bailey persuaded Fishery Products to open a modern fresh-frozen fish plant at Port Union by supplying hydro power from a new station at nearby Lockston. The new fish plant initially served inshore fishing operations, but by the early 1970s had evolved into a year-round trawler-based operation.

In 1961 the town was incorporated and the first election for council saw Bailey elected its first mayor. In 1981 the population was 671 and the town was relatively prosperous, thanks to employment generated by the fish plant. Port Union has two churches, Roman Catholic and Anglican, while United Church members are served by a church in Catalina. (In 1945 fire destroyed the Church of England church, along with the main Trading Company building, the hotel and several residences.) In the early 1980s the original railway station at Port Union was converted into a fisherman’s museum with emphases on the history of the FPU, its various companies, and the fisheries of the area. Coaker’s former home at Port Union, “The Bungalow”, is also preserved. In 1992 the Fishermen’s Union premises were vacant and the Fishery Products International plant indefinitely closed due to a shortage of fish. Baker et al (1990), W.F. Coaker ed. (1930), Robert Cuff ed. (1986), Census (1911-1991), Archives (A-7-1). MELVIN BAKER/GERALD PENN

Source Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador

Sir William F. Coaker

(1871-1938). Founder of the *Fishermen’s Protective Union qv; politician; businessman; reformer. Born St. John’s. Educated Bishop Field College. Later to become one of the most powerful Newfoundland men of his day, Coaker showed an early interest in things political. As well as attending the House of Assembly debates regularly while still a school boy, he became somewhat of a leader of his peers when at the age of thirteen he instigated and managed a strike held by boy employees of one of the largest of the St. John’s exporting firms. The strike lasted two days, and at its conclusion the boys’ wage demands were met.

At the age of fourteen circumstances led to Coaker’s departure from school and the securing of clerical employment at McDougall and Templeton, of St. John’s. Following two years with the firm in St. John’s he accepted the position of manager of its branch store in Pike’s Arm, Notre Dame Bay. Four years later he took over the ownership of the store, but was left bankrupt after the *Bank Crash qv of 1894. Coaker then began farming on a relatively large scale on an island in Dildo Run, Notre Dame Bay, which he called Coakerville. His knowledge of farming was gained at a short course of study in Macdonald College, Quebec. As well as tending the farm, he also began work as a telegraph operator, customs employee and post master in 1902. Again active in organizing, he formed a telegraph operators’ union in 1903 and began editing a small union periodical. One year later, however, he quite his three positions and left the union. Moving back to Coakerville, Coaker apparently spent many winter evenings reading and contemplating. His adult years up to this time had been spent primarily in Notre Dame Bay, amongst the fishermen of the area. For a long time he had been aware of the problems of the fishermen and during his stay in Coakerville he had much time to think about these problems and their solution.

The reasons for these, as he saw them, were many. In general the fishery was being very poorly managed. Many exporters shipped on consignment dried cod at about the same time each fall, creating gluts in overseas markets and forcing the prices for cod down. As well, much of the fish from the Colony, particularly from Labrador, was of poor quality, largely because of the practice of “tal qual” qv buying. Furthermore, when fish was culled, it was done so by individual cullers employed by the merchants. Standard grades, however, did not exist because of the absence of any colony-wide regulatory system. As the end result the price for cod from Newfoundland and Labrador in overseas markets was usually low. In the meantime the fisherman spent his entire life in subservience to the merchant-exporter under the credit or truck system of the fishery. Under this system the fisherman acquired his supplies in the spring on credit from the merchant who would be repaid in the fall in fish. Owing to the state of marketing and the need on the merchant’s part to make a profit the value assigned by the merchant in the fall for the fish was often seen to be quite low. As a result fishermen, particularly in the years of poor catches, often could not repay the debt created by purchasing goods in the spring. As well as being poverty stricken, the fisherman was also powerless. Uneducated because of his poverty, the need to start working at an early age, and the poor educational system, the fisherman was rarely a successful candidate for the House of Assembly. The affairs of the country were consequently controlled usually by moneyed and educated men who were by and large from St. John’s and who understood little of the needs of fishermen.

Coaker’s solution, as it evolved over those winter nights, was the formation of a union of fishermen which would be powerful enough to change the unfair treatment of the fisherman. This would requite the reorganization or reform of the fisheries, government, the educational system and just about every other facet of life in the Colony. By the fall of 1908 Coaker was ready to present his proposals to the fishermen of the area where he lived, and on November 2 and 3, 1908 he held public meetings at Herring Neck to announce his intentions of and reasons for forming a union. At the end of the meeting of November 3 nineteen fishermen stayed behind to join with Coaker in forming the first local council of the new organization which was to be called the Fishermen’s Protective Union (FPU); Coaker became the president of the new Union. Throughout the rest of that winter Coaker travelled around Notre Dame Bay speaking to the fishermen and organizing those who were interested. In the spring he went back to Coakerville to farm, but word of the union and its objectives spread throughout the district and by the fall of 1909 fifty local councils of the FPU, with thousands of members, had been formed on the northeast coast of the Island. During the following four winters Coaker repeated his travels around the coast, moving farther north and south each time until by 1914, though his efforts, approximately 20,000 fishermen from Conception Bay to the northern district of St. Barbe had enlisted in the Union.

The task of uniting these men was an arduous and difficult one. The fishermen were scattered about in isolated villages along the coast, and travelling to them in winter was extremely hard. Moreover, to convince these men who were traditionally individualistic, that they should unite was an accomplishment of great magnitude. That it was accomplished is in no small way due to Coaker himself. An amazingly hard worker, Coaker was a strong man and easily able to withstand the rigours of those winter travels around Newfoundland, some of which he did on foot. His powerful way of speaking was an effective tool; he was described as “one of the most forceful speakers [the fishermen] had ever heard. A man in his early thirties, short, very thick-built, strong as an ox, eyes flashing, dressed in the kinds of clothes that would be worn by a farmer who have lived all but alone on an island for fifteen years, Coaker appeared . . . every inch one of the people. The fishermen were quick to know him for one of themselves. Nor was his speech suave, polished, like that of the professional politician to which they were accustomed to listen each four years. He paid them no oily compliments, which was a novelty to them. Had they not recognized the rugged simplicity and sincerity of every word he uttered they would most surely have resented the taunts and gibes he threw passionately at them for what he termed their slavish acquiescence in the conditions imposed for centuries upon their forefathers and themselves” (J.R. Smallwood: 1927, p. 21).

In addition to enlisting fishermen in this period Coaker was also building up the various parts within the Union organization. By 1909 his plans for the Union had taken a well-defined form. It was organized according to democratic principles; Local Councils were formed by members of an area; these Local Councils met weekly to discuss issues of importance, and to conduct the business of the Local. Each Local elected an executive which in addition to administering the affairs of the Local, also represented it in a larger District Council. Each District Council in turn was represented in the Supreme Council, which acted as the organizing body for the whole union. Recommendations made at the local level which were of general importance could therefore be passed up through the hierarchy to the Supreme Council. Fund for running the councils and conducting their activities were provided by the members themselves in the form of membership fees. Special funds, set up for loans or disability payments, were also fed by membership contributions.

In order to free the fishermen from their ties to the merchants, while at the same time decreasing the fishermen’s costs, the Union was to enter the commercial field. Through a company or a number of companies the Union was to buy goods at wholesale prices and distribute the goods to the various locals, where they could then be sold for cash at cost. To this end, in 1911, Coaker formed the Union Trading Company, which was incorporated the following year and which was designed to import goods and sell them at cost to members of the FPU. The company, the shares of which were held only by FPU members, secured premises in St. John’s to serve as headquarters and built or purchased buildings in various outports where the goods were to be sent and sold. As this company progressed, Coaker saw the need to establish other enterprises, including an export company and a ship-building company. At first Coaker thought of establishing these companies in St. John’s, but costs there proved to be prohibitive. After some searching he decided to erect these companies’ headquarters in a place near Catalina, and work at the site, which was later called Port Union, began in the winter of 1916. By 1918 the site was completed. Not only did it contain premises for the Union Export Company and the Union Ship-building Company, but also heardquarters for the Union Trading Company and a company called the Union Electric Light and Power (which was established in 1916 and which produced hydro-electric power, distributing it to the other companies’ premises and houses in Port Union and to various outports on the Bonavista Peninsula). Coaker also established a shipping company, the Port Union Shipping Company, and a company known as the Union Cold Storage Company, which was located in Patras, Greece.

To keep all members informed of the Union’s activities and local political events Coaker began the publication of a newspaper, known usually as The Fishermen’s Advocate qv. In 1910 during its first year the newspaper was printed by various interests. In the following year, however, Coaker started the Union Publishing Company (shares were sold only to members of the Union) to take over the publication. From then to 1924 the paper was published in St. John’s, but the company then moved its premises to Port Union, where it was still being published in 1981. In addition, Coaker wrote and distributed circular letters to member of the Union to keep them informed on fish prices and markets and to explain his stands on various issues.

As well as forming a commercial empire and communications network, Coaker felt that the Union should also become involved in political affairs in order to further its aims of changing the fishery and other aspects of Newfoundland life. As he planned it, the Union would work towards an almost complete reformation of society itself. The Union was to see to it that a system of night schools for the use of fishermen and other workers was established, that a widespread, effective educational system which would make education free and compulsory for all children was begun, that old age pensions for needy men over the age of seventy were instituted, that referenda and the recall of members of the House of Assembly were introduced and that conflict of interest laws and provision for increased salaries for Members of the House of Assembly were passed. “Tal qual” buying of salt cod was to be abolished, a standard cull of fish, administered by government employees, was to be established, and trade agents in actual and potential codfish markets were to be hired by the Government to keep Newfoundlanders informed about markets and to create new ones. Prices for the various grades of fish were to be set by Government, tinned lobster was to be inspected and graded by government personnel, and cold storage bait depots were to be erected by Government for the use of the fishermen.

At first the Union, under Coaker’s direction, lobbied for such improvements. But as early as 1909 Coaker had it in mind to set up a political wing of the FPU. In that year, at the Union’s first convention, Coaker announced that he wished the Union to run eight to ten candidates to act as an opposition body, fighting for the rights of the fishermen and supporting only those measures which upheld these rights. By the fall of 1911, largely as a result of Coaker’s endeavours, plans were made to select thirteen candidates for the 1913 election to run under the banner of the Union Party. The new Union Party’s election manifesto drafted the following year, soon became know as the Bonavista Platform and included twenty-three important reforms, for which the Union had been fighting. Some of the more notable were a standardized cull of fish, administered by the Government; the hiring of trade agents and the establishment of cold storage bait depots, owned and operated by the Government; the weekly publication of overseas prices for fish; educational reforms, introduction of old age pensions; measures to protect the forest resources of the Colony; the reduction of duties on certain necessary items; reform in the Civil Service; the establishment of a colony-wide telephone system; and anti-combines legislation.

Although Coaker’s original plan had been to confine the political activities of the Union to a small number of nonaligned Union opposition members of the House of Assembly, it became apparent to Coaker that the joining of the Union’s candidates with one of the two major parties was better for two reasons. First, joined with another party, the Union Party stood the chance of forming part of a new administration, thereby increasing its power to make reforms; secondly, neither Coaker (who was to run for election) nor the other Union candidates had any parliamentary experience and therefore could benefit from close association with other, more experienced members in the House. Of the two major political parties then in existence, Coaker was drawn more towards the Liberal Party, under the leadership of Sir Robert Bond. Bond certainly appeared more amenable to incorporating into his politics the ideas and programmes proposed by Coaker. Edward Morris’s People’s Party, on the other hand, which had been in power in the House of Assembly since 1909, had consistently shown indifference towards the demands of the Union. The Liberals realized the necessity of joining with the Unionists, who had built up most of their power in the northern districts of the Island and who thereby threatened the traditional Liberal stronghold there, and negotiations were therefore started and the terms of a coalition between the two parties were eventually worked out whereby the Union were to run nine members in the coming election under the leadership of Bond; Bond agreed to incorporate fifteen of the Union’s Party’s election proposals in his own election platform. In the election of 1913 eight of the Union candidates, including Coaker (who had contested a seat in the district of Bonavista) won, but only seven of Bond’s Liberals were elected. Morris’s Peoples’s Party took twenty-one seats and thus placed the alliance in opposition. Bond, perhaps embarrassed by the poor showing of his own Liberal Party and feeling eclipsed by the success of Coaker and his colleagues, resigned from the House of Assembly soon after. In the vacuum thus created Coaker emerged as the leader of the opposition, in fact though not in name, and his colleagues in the Union Party supported him energetically. For the fist time the fishermen of the country were represented by their peers.

In opposition the Union Party was quite successful. Its power, which came from representing so much of the Newfoundland population, was recognized by all parties, and the People’s Party, under Morris, realized that some compromise would have to be made with the Union Party; consequently two important bills, the Sealing Bill and the Logging Bill, which contained reforms proposed by the Union Party, were passed in the House of Assembly. Although these bills lost much of their effectiveness because of amendments made in the Legislative Council, a victory had been secured by the Union in the House.

In July 1917 an end came to the Union Party’s opposition role when a war-time National Government, composed of all political parties in the Legislature, was formed, first under the leadership of Edward Morris and then under that of W.F. Lloyd. Certainly the most pressing problem that faced the new administration was the need to find replacements for the declining ranks of the Newfoundland Regiment. Recruiting campaigns had been successful earlier in the war, and as late as the winter of 1916-1917 Coaker himself had been responsible for finding sixty-eight recruits for war services, men who were popularly know as “Coaker Recruits.” Despite such attempts to bolster the forces, voluntary enlistments were not numerous enough and losses in the ranks of the Regiment were threatening its existence. Conscription seemed to be the only method of keeping the Regiment alive. At the same time, however, Coaker was being pressed by vast numbers of the Union to vote against conscription. In response to this, Coaker announced that he would not agree to conscription, unless a referendum were held and its results showed that the majority approved of taking this measure. In the end, however, Coaker did vote for conscription without a referendum. In his own defense he claimed to have voted for this measure, without waiting for a referendum, because no time could be wasted in strengthening the Regiment, and Coaker felt that he could not stand in the way. One historian (Ian MacDonald; 1976) has claimed that Coaker was forced to vote for conscription because if he had done otherwise he would have alienated the Union Party from the Government and therefore from its powerful position to push for reforms. Moreover, according to the same writer, to have voted against conscription and thereby to assign the Union Party to opposition seats, Coaker and his party would have been forced to face the electorate without the aid of experienced colleagues in an alliance, and in Coaker’s mind the Union Party was unable to form a government without such aid. Whatever Coaker’s reasons for voting for conscription, his decision to do so weakened his appeal amongst some of this supporters.

The phenomenal growth of the FPU in the pre-war years now began to slacken. At the peak of its strength the Union had locals from St. Barbe District, across the Northeast Coast, to Conception Bay and a small number on the Burin Peninsula. That it did so well on the east coast, as opposed to the other coasts, has been attributed by some historians to the social conditions prevalent there. Men from these areas mixed annually with others from the same areas in the spring and summer at the seal hunt and in Labrador, and in the winter at logging camps. Not only did this lead to the realization amongst fishermen that their problems were common ones and were shared by most fishermen on the northeast coast, but this situation also allowed for a rapid spread of news about the Union.

The Union was unable to make gains in the southeast area of the Island, mainly because of the overt opposition of the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland. One local at Ferryland, was instituted but was then quashed by the Archbishop, M.F. Howley qv.

Now, with the question of conscription, Coaker found new opposition to the growth of the Union. At the same time prohibition became an issue. Before it became law Coaker had been a strong supporter of the measure, as had many others in the Union. Nevertheless, the measure was unpopular amongst many in the Roman Catholic districts of Newfoundland and it was felt that Coaker’s approval of prohibition hampered the growth of the Union in these areas.

If conscription and prohibition had been important reasons for the weakening of the FPU during the war, the issue of reform in the cod fisheries became, for a short while, an important one in strengthening it during the post-war years. After the war the National Government Coalition had been disbanded and an election called. Coaker’s fist move was the formation of an alliance with R.A. Squires qv, the leader of the new Liberal Reform Party. From the point of view of both leaders the alliance was necessary to fight Sir Michael Cashin qv, who had emerged as Premier after the disbanding of the National Government. Coaker thought that the alliance, if successful, would give him the opportunity to introduce reforms in the fishery. He foresaw great troubles in the fishery in the post-war period, for he realized that a fall in fish prices always occurred following a major war, with the re-introduction of foreign competition in the fish markets of the world. An arrangement was worked out between Squires and Coaker whereby Coaker was to direct the affairs of the fisheries and Squires was to become leader of the new Administration if the alliance was successful at the polls.

The new arrangement with Squires proved to be fruitful, for in the election of November 1919 the coalition carried twenty-four seats, while Cashin’s party won only twelve. Desertion from the ranks of the Liberal Reform Party later added one more seat to Sir Michael’s party’s standing in the House.

In the new Administration Coaker became the Minister of Marine and Fisheries, a position he held until 1923. In his first year in office Coaker soon become engrossed in setting up the fisheries reforms he had worked so long to accomplish. Before Coaker assumed office new problems in the fishery had already surfaced. In 1918 the Italian government had established an agency know as the Consorzio to act as the sole buyer for all foreign imports, in an effort to keep prices as low as possible. Agreements had been made before this, however, between Newfoundland fish exporters and Italian importers, and substantial amounts of fish for this market had been bought from the fishermen at suitable prices. But the Consorzio had announced that previous agreements with Italian importers were not binding. This had presented the prospect of not being able to sell any fish to the Italians; if this happened, gluts and decreases in the price for fish could occur in other markets. In short, the Newfoundland fishery was facing the possibility of a catastrophic year. To avert this, the National Government, then under the leadership of Lloyd, had established a commission of exporters, including Sir John Crosbie qv, a minister of the government, to control the marketing of all Newfoundland fish. It had been given powers to direct fish exports to any markets at any time, depending on market conditions. Although the commission had no success in the Italian markets, it did in other major markets, thereby proving its worth.

In the following year similar controls had been placed on marketing and an agent for Newfoundland exporters appointed to negotiate prices with the Italian agency. The arrangement had not worked, however, because it failed to receive the support of all Newfoundland’s exporters. A small number of these exporters sold fish to the Italian market at relatively low prices upsetting the negotiations and making it seem that further shipments of Newfoundland cod at similar prices would follow in other markets. Other buyers, therefore, had slowed down their buying, while awaiting Newfoundland shipments. In November 1919, when Coaker assumed the office of Minister of Marine and Fisheries, he reached to the situation in the fisheries by establishing minimum market prices for cod and penalties for exports who did not comply with them. The negotiator was also instructed to continue talks with the Italians. The Talks ended well and marketing in Europe turned out to be relatively profitable.

Coaker followed this action by introducing new legislation to reform the fisheries at home. “Tal qual” buying was made illegal and was replaced by a new government-controlled fish culling system; trade agents in foreign markets were provided for, as was an Exportation Board with powers to control marketing, particularly market prices. During the winter of 1920-1921, however, the regulations providing for controlled marketing at agreed-upon prices were disregarded by a number of exporters who sold at lower prices in European markets. Other exporters, fearful that by following the Government’s regulations, they would lose their markets, followed the example of those exporters and sold at whatever prices they could get. According to some (S.J.R. Noel: 1971; Ian Feltham: 1959) this was an understandable reaction amongst the exporters, since the fixing of overseas prices in markets which fluctuated constantly could not have stopped foreign cod sellers (such as the Norwegians) from selling at lower prices, thereby weakening Newfoundland’s position. At the same time an imbalance in the rates of exchange among currencies made Newfoundland regulations unworkable as well. The end result was the repeal of Coaker’s regulations later in 1921.

It has been claimed that the failure of these regulations (which have been generally praised by students of Newfoundland history) in which Coaker had placed all his hopes, was a terrible blow to the man, and because of its impact on him he lost the zeal with which he had run his Union and his Department. Coaker’s influence in the political arena waned in the following years, though he continued to hold his ministerial portfolio until the resignation of R.A. Squires in July 1923. Coaker was then appointed minister without portfolio in William Warren’s Administration, a post he held until May 1924.

Later in 1924, following the general elections of that year, he ran unsuccessfully in a by-election against M.S. Monroe in Bonavista Bay. This was perhaps a sign not only of Coaker’s waning interest in politics, but also of a corresponding decline in his support in an area that was once solidly behind him. From then to 1928 Coaker stayed out of politics. In that year, apparently in a final attempt to reform the fisheries, he ran again with Squires, and was elected in Bonavista East. Nevertheless, once elected he assumed the position of Minister without portfolio, rather than that of Minister of Marine and Fisheries, which was held by H.B.C. Lake, and his role in the direction of the fisheries was not a strong one. He retired from politics in 1932.

During the 1920s Coaker had became more and more involved in the commercial affairs of the FPU. He resigned in 1926 from his position as President of the FPU, which he had held uninterruptedly since 1909. More and more he came to conduct his commercial empire as merchants had done traditionally for decades. The ideal of dealing in cash was forsaken, and by 1926 was actively being discouraged by Coaker.

Up to his death he retained the position of Honorary President of the FPU, and President of the Union Trading Company Limited, the Union Electric Light and Power Company Limited, the Union Shipbuilding Company, Limited, the Union Cold Storage Company and the Port Union Shipbuilding Company. In later years, apparently for his health, Coaker spent much of his time at a dwelling which he owned in Jamaica. He died in Boston in 1938.

Coaker was made a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in June, 1923. M.L. Bouzane (1974), W.F. Coaker (1930), Ian Feltham (1959), Ian McDonald (1976; 1976a), Peter Neary (1973), S.J.R. Noel (1971), Centre for Newfoundland Studies (Coaker Papers; Fishermen’s Protective Union Circular Letters), NQ (Summer 1923), Who’s Who in and from Newfoundland 1937 (1937?). CFH

Source Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador

The Rise of the Fishermen's Protective Union, the First World War and the National Government, 1908-1919

We are with the fight for freedom, and union is our song, We are coming Mr. Coaker and we're forty thousand strong. (FPU song)

The Island's northeast coast had provided both Whiteway and Bond with strong electoral support from among the area's fishermen. Growing disillusionment by fishermen with the political and economic system enabled a new political movement to emerge in 1908 with the formation of the Fishermen's Protective Union (FPU) led by William Ford Coaker who in 1910 created a political party with deep organizational roots in the social life of the outports.

Circumstances were favourable in 1908 for the formation of a fishermen's union, according to Coaker's biographer, historian Ian McDonald. "An unusual large catch coupled with disordered marketing produced a temporary but harsh depression that saw fish prices in many cases cut by half, leaving, thousands of fishermen angry and frustrated," McDonald writes. "However, that depression...was only the occasion for the union's creation, for the underlying tensions upon which it fed had long existed." In 1908 the 37-year-old Coaker was able "to channel the frustrated energies of fishermen and to shape their future course" (McDonald, "Coaker and the Balance of Power" in James Hiller and Peter Neary, eds., Newfoundland in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Toronto, 1980, p. 155).

Coaker at the age of 19 years
Born in St. John's the son of a carpenter, Coaker before 1908 had been at various times an outport mercantile clerk for a St. John's merchant, a merchant (who lost everything in the 1894 bank crash), a telegraph operator, a political supporter of Robert Bond in the 1897 election, and a farmer. From the late 1890s he operated a farm on an island near Herring Neck in Notre Dame Bay, where he read widely on the social and political issues of the day.

On November 2, 1908 he convened a meeting of fishermen at Herring Neck to found the FPU which adopted as its motto, "To each his own." According to his biographer, "Coaker argued that the fishermen were exploited by a manifestly unjust economic system, that deprived them of their fair rewards by placing so much arbitrary power in the hands of the merchants. The commercial class along with the government was attacked for its failure to come to grips with the problems of fish quality and international marketing and for failing to improve the working conditions of loggers and sealers." (McDonald, "Coaker and the Balance of Power," pp. 155­6)

Herring Neck in 1900On November 2, 1908 he convened a meeting of fishermen at Herring Neck to found the FPU which adopted as its motto, "To each his own." According to his biographer, "Coaker argued that the fishermen were exploited by a manifestly unjust economic system, that deprived them of their fair rewards by placing so much arbitrary power in the hands of the merchants. The commercial class along with the government was attacked for its failure to come to grips with the problems of fish quality and international marketing and for failing to improve the working conditions of loggers and sealers." (McDonald, "Coaker and the Balance of Power," pp. 155­6)

Coaker was critical of the churches whose clergy failed to provide the leadership to improve the moral tone of public life. Clergymen were more interested in spending education grants on the maintenance of church buildings rather than use for school buildings and the education of illiterate fishermen. The St. John's professional, educational, religious, and commercial classes were parasites living off the productivity of fishermen. In 1910 in the FPU's newspaper, the Fishermen's Advocate, Coaker asked his followers if each received his "own" when "he boards a coastal or bay steamer, as a steerage passenger and has to sleep like a dog, eat like a pig, and be treated like a serf? Does he receive his own at the seal fishery where he has to live like a brute, work like a dog...? Do they receive their own when they pay taxes to keep up five splendid colleges at St. John's...while thousands of fishermen's children are growing up illiterate? Do they receive their own when forced to supply funds to maintain a hospital at St. John's while fishermen, their wives and daughters are dying daily in the outports for want of hospitals?" (McDonald, "Coaker and the Balance of Power," p. 156)

Bonavista Convention, 1912
The FPU proposed a number of proposals that were embodied in the Bonavista Platform of 1912. Among the major ones were the following:
  • standardizing of fish; a new system of culling; the inspection of fishery produce; and the establishment of a permanent commission to operate the laws to standardize fish, the culling of it and the fixing of the price of fish shipped direct from the Labrador Coast;
  • appointment of Trade Agents abroad;
  • weekly reports of fishery produce in the foreign markets;
  • establishment of a night-school system in the outports during the winter months;
  • schools for every settlement containing 20 school age children from the age of 7 to 14;
  • free and compulsory education seven months of each year;
  • [annual] old age pensions for all over 70, starting with $50.00 and increasing to $100.00 as the Colony's finances permit;
  • a long distance telephone [system] to connect every settlement in the Colony which can be reached;
  • elective School and Municipal Boards--the former on denominational lines, the latter to expend all road, charity and old pension grants;
  • retrenchment in every department of the public service, and working hours of officials from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and
  • the fixing of a minimum wage for labour by a Commission, and wages to be paid weekly and in cash. (W.F. Coaker, "The Bonavista Platform," in Robert H. Cuff, ed., A Coaker Anthology, St. John's 1986, pp. 49­50)
Bonavista Convention, 1912"Such a programme," Coaker told delegates to the FPU's annual convention in 1912, "should fill every toiler with enthusiasm and encouragement, for the operation of such a policy would completely revolutionize the fisheries and be truly a period of progress that places the toilers' interests above all others for the first time in the political history of parties in this Colony. Every toiler should be proud of such a policy and should never rest satisfied until it is in operation" (quoted in W.F. Coaker, ed., Twenty Years of the Fishermen's Protective Union of Newfoundland, St. John's, 1984 reprint of 1930 edition, p. 50).

In his efforts to implement the FPU's political agenda, Coaker had to convince either Prime Minister Morris or Liberal leader Robert Bond to adopt such proposals as their own. Coaker did not envision the FPU's political organization, the Union Party, as assuming the reins of political power as rather holding a "balance of power" after the next general election. This political strategy, contained in section 63 of the union's constitution, stated that the Union Party "shall not hold more than sufficient seats to secure the balance of power between the government and the Opposition parties, and no Union member of the Assembly shall be permitted to hold his seat if he sits on the side of the government or opposition..."

Edward Patrick Morris 
The prosperity associated with the first Morris administration (1909­ 1913) had been, in part, the result of the coming into production after 1910 of the Grand Falls pulp and paper mill (for which the Bond Administration had been responsible for its establishment) and the resultant increase in the colony's exports. Local prosperity was also artificially-induced because of Morris' economically unsound, but politically popular, branch railway line policy. This policy saw the government spend $7 million for unnecessary branch lines--more than 50 percent than he had promised--to repay his political debts to the Reid interests, which had helped him in the 1908 and 1909 elections. By 1914 these expenditures had caused great concern among the Water Street merchants, who had rallied around Morris in the 1913 election to stop the political advance of the FPU, but whose support Morris now found wanting because of his mismanagement of the public finances. To pay for these expenditures, in the 1914 spring sitting of the legislature the Morris administration had imposed an increase of $650,000 in taxes that, therefore, effectively negated the cut in taxes made prior to the 1913 election. Such policies resulted in the national debt rising from $23 million in 1909 to $32 million in 1915.

Morris's first administration also enacted legislation in 1911 providing Newfoundland's first old age pension scheme; any male aged 75 years and older who could prove they required financial assistance received $50 per year. The implementation of such a scheme had been discussed since 1907 when the Bond government appointed a royal commission to investigate old age pensions in response to a suggestion from A.B. Morine, the leader of the Opposition. Morine had suggested a pension of $40 annually be paid to men over the age of 65 years, rising to $50 at age 70 and $60 at 75. Morine's pension proposal would not be needs-tested. The commission collected the necessary data on various scheme proposals, but the commissioners did not make a report because of the political confusion surrounding the 1908­9 period. Both Bond and Morris made granting old age pensions a feature of their political platforms in both election campaigns. In 1911 Prime Minister Morris's government implemented a system that a Canadian expert on the subject has called the "first state-operated old age pension scheme in Canada, more than two decades before such a programme was adopted in any of the Maritime Provinces." Not only was Newfoundland's scheme based on limited funds, but throughout its history to Confederation with Canada, it was available only to men and "remained the most blatantly gendered scheme for the needy elderly in the western world" Successive governments had been able to control costs by "establishing a fixed limit to the total funds available for expenditure.

In the first year funds for 400 pensions were voted. These funds were distributed to the various districts in proportion to their total population (rather than to their share of the elderly population or of the poor population). No matter how many elderly men were in poverty, only 400 would receive a pension. Since the elderly were not evenly distributed across the country but the pensions were, inevitably the criteria for acceptance would be harsher in some districts than in others. In some districts long waiting lists occurred, while in others there were vacancies for which there were no applicants. (See James G. Snell, "The Newfoundland Old Age Pension Programme, 1911­1949," Acadiensis, vol. XXIII, Autumn 1993, pp. 86­109)

Roman Catholic Archbishop Michael Howley who strongly opposed the FPUHaving determined that Coaker's party posed no threat to his own electoral re-election chances, Morris rejected overtures of support from the Union Party, which in fact posed a great challenge to Bond's Liberal Party. For the 1913 general election Bond reluctantly agreed to an electoral alliance with Coaker. The Liberal Party was allowed to run five candidates in union areas with the Liberal-Union alliance winning in total 15 seats, 12 of which were in union-dominated districts. Rather than lead the alliance in opposition, Bond instead retired to his farm at Whitbourne leaving the leadership to James Kent, his deputy leader. Coaker was not interested in being leader as he preferred to concentrate on union-related businesses, social, economic, and political reasons which gave rise in the early 20th century to the Fishermen's Protective Union.

Robert BondOn the eve of the outbreak of war in August 1914 in Europe, the political fortunes of the Morris government had declined sharply in less than a year since its 1913 re-election. Indeed, Morris himself was pessimistic of his winning of another election, which would have to be held by the end of 1917. During the 1914 spring legislative session, the Morris administration found itself under a barrage of questions from Coaker and his fellow Unionist members in the Assembly. As Coaker noted in his maiden speech in the Assembly, it was not "by accident that we have come here. A revolution...has been fought in Newfoundland. The fisherman, toiler of Newfoundland has made up his mind that he is going to be represented on the floors of this House." During the session, the Unionists questioned daily government policies and programmes and, on occasion, forced Morris to adopt some legislation he otherwise would not have. For instance, Coaker got Morris to pass legislation to improve working and living conditions for loggers and sealers; however, Morris used his majority in the Legislative Council to strip the legislation of any effectiveness. Concerning the need for elected road boards in the outports, Coaker got Morris to agree to a resolution which would see the necessary legislation enacted at the 1915 session, a promise Morris subsequently kept.

It was against this background of growing public disenchantment with the Morris government that Morris in August 1914 agreed to a highly unusual procedure for administering Newfoundland's war effort--the appointment of a committee of citizens. The initiative for this notion came from Governor Sir Walter Davidson, a paternalistic and authoritarian representative of the Crown, but Morris quickly grasped this idea of having such a committee work under Davidson's guidance. On August 7, 1914, Davidson, with Morris' approval, had telegraphed the British government that Newfoundland would raise and equip a regiment of 500 men and increase the size of the local Royal Naval Reserve from 600 to 1,000 men. Five days later he and Morris organized a meeting of prominent St. John's citizens which, in turn, unanimously passed resolutions calling on the Governor to appoint a public committee to supervise and control Newfoundland's forthcoming part in the war.

In effect, the Newfoundland Patriotic Association, as it was named, took on the responsibilities of government that in other countries were the work of department of militias. For three years, the Patriotic Association carried out this work without any legal authorization conferred upon by the legislature. The Association's central committee eventually consisted of over 250 members, most of whom were St. John's residents. There were also branches of the Association established in the outports as well, but throughout its existence the Association was perceived by the outports as a St. John's organization. The Association had the following sub-committees to implement its programmes: finance, reserve force, proclamation, musketry, physical fitness, nominating, equipment, transport, officers, selection, recruiting, non-combatant selection, forestry, employment, food, war history, war memorial, pay and pensions board, fund raising, and hospital (see Patricia O'Brien, The Newfoundland Patriotic Association: The Administration of the War Effort, 1914­1918, M.A. Thesis, Memorial University, 1982).

In creating the Patriotic Association, the Morris administration hoped to remove partisan politics from the war effort and, thus, improve its own public image. To do so, the administration successfully first got Liberal, and then Unionist support for the Association. Morris hoped that this broad, political unity would also divert public attention from the widespread commercial and economic dislocations and inflation that would certainly follow as a result of war. It must, furthermore, be noted that the politicians, not only in Newfoundland but also in Europe, believed that the war would not last beyond the end of 1914. Consequently, the Morris administration saw the Association as a means of avoiding the slow, cumbersome, and expensive process of establishing the necessary government machinery for directing Newfoundland's war effort.

Finally, since Morris was unwilling to enter into a coalition government with the opposition and thus put his administration under the direct influence of the Union Party, the Patriotic Association for Morris was a way around the problem of creating a unified political front. The Liberals proved receptive to this non-partisan approach and three important Liberals--leader J.M. Kent, J.A. Clift, and W.F. Lloyd, editor of the Evening Telegram-- joined the Association's central committee. As for Coaker, he initially opposed the Association's formation and demanded an immediate emergency session of the legislature to deal with economic problems in the fisheries. Specifically, he believed that Newfoundland's military contribution should be made through an expansion of the existing Royal Naval Reserve, for which the Imperial government would pay much of the cost. A land force he considered to be extravagant and wasteful and one that could only lead to increased taxation. Coaker also wanted fish price supports and public regulation of prices for provisions to control the cost of living, demands which Morris could not seriously consider because of Water Street opposition. By the time in September 1914 Morris did call the legislature together, the existence of the Patriotic Association was well-established and Coaker eventually supported the Association.

Despite the existence of the Patriotic Association, public support for the Morris administration continued its downward slide. In early 1916 Morris sought to weaken the Liberal-Unionist opposition through the appointment of Liberal leader J.M. Kent as a judge of the Supreme Court. However, this tactic backfired as it drove Lloyd, the new Liberal leader, and Coaker into a more formal alliance on March 25 in anticipation of a forthcoming election scheduled to be held within the next year, an election they confidently believed they would easily win. In December 1916 Morris secretly got permission from the British government to extend the life of the legislature by one year if necessary.

On May 25, 1917 Morris approached Lloyd and Coaker to form a coalition government out of the three political parties under his continued leadership. While the Liberal-Unionist alliance was preparing for the election due sometime in 1917, Morris took no measures to improve his own party's chances for the election. The only action he did take was to appoint in May 1917 a High Cost of Living Commission to investigate profiteering allegations against Water Street merchants, many of whom played prominent roles in the Patriotic Association.

The opposition, buoyed by public anger over the profiteering charges, rejected Morris' overtures for a coalition. The June 8 publication of the Commission's first report only tended to reinforce the confidence of the Opposition. That Report revealed, for instance, that a flour combine operated in St. John's and that at least $600,000 in excess profits had been made by importers. The Report also exposed that one large shipping company had increased its rates by an estimated 500 percent. The Commissioners observed that they could find no justification for such large rate increases. Public disenchantment in St. John's became manifested in a successful month-long labour strike in 1918 following the formation of the Newfoundland Industrial Workers' Association (NIWA) among the employees of Reid Newfoundland for higher wages. (Further details on the strike is examined in a recent article by Peter McInnis, "All Solid Along the Line: The Reid Newfoundland Strike of 1918," Labour 26, Fall 1990, pp. 61­84.)

On June 15 Morris publicly announced his intention to have legislation enacted extending the life of the House of Assembly by one year. Faced with the reality of a postponed election, Lloyd and Coaker struck a secret deal with Morris for the creation of a coalition government, a deal of which Morris did not tell even his closest supporters of some its provisions. The essence of this deal was that the Liberals and Unionists would join with the majority people's party members to form a coalition cabinet composed of equal representation from all three groups. There was also a guarantee of an election in 1918. Morris would continue to be Prime Minister. The secret part of the deal provided for Morris's resignation as Prime Minister by the end of 1917 and his replacement by Lloyd. Morris also agreed to opposition demands for the establishment of a militia department to assume the work of the Patriotic Association and for the imposition of a tax on business profits. Thus, on July 17, 1917, the National government took office with Morris as Prime Minister and Lloyd and Coaker as influential cabinet ministers. Soon afterwards, Morris left Newfoundland to attend the Imperial War Conference leaving Lloyd as acting Prime Minister and, in effect, in control of government.

One of the first acts of the National government was the passage of an extension bill, extending the life of the Assembly for another year. Other legislation provided for the creation of the promised militia department, the imposition of a profits tax act which imposed a tax of 20 percent on net business profits for the calendar year 1917 in excess of $3,000, and the restriction of the powers of the Legislative Council in money matters. Coaker was also able to provide a guaranteed price for fish to fishermen by setting a price and warning that the government would not issue insurance policies to exporters offering to buy fish below the set price. At this time, there was a shortage of local tonnage--the Water Street merchants had sold many of their ships to Russia, under the guise of helping the war effort, for lucrative profits--and merchants had great difficulty in securing private insurance policies for sailing vessels carrying cod to the Mediterranean markets. The National government also created a shipping department under the direction of John Crosbie to handle tonnage matters.

As the end of 1917 neared, rumours circulated of Morris' pending resignation (Morris was still in England), but his people's party supporters dismissed them as idle speculation. Yet, the resignation did occur in late December 1917, with Morris accepting an appointment to the British House of Lords as Baron Morris of Waterford. However, Morris never got the appointment of Newfoundland High Commissioner to Britain, which apparently was part of the deal in setting up the coalition cabinet. When his former people's party supporters remaining in cabinet found out about this pending appointment, they vetoed the nomination out of anger in being duped by Morris, who had negotiated such a profitable exit for himself out of Newfoundland politics.

The Lloyd National government, which took office on January 5, 1918, had to face the difficult problem of deciding whether to implement conscription to provide needed manpower for the depleted Royal Newfoundland Regiment. This was a problem which Morris had managed to avoid in the past, but on April 9, 1918, the British government informed Newfoundland that the Regiment would have to be withdrawn, if more recruits were not forthcoming. The Regiment was short its authorized establishment by 170 men and that it needed 300 men immediately and 60 per month thereafter. By April 1918 Newfoundland already had had over 8,000 men in all the services, while it rejected another 6,246 volunteers on medical grounds. The overall casualty rate for the Regiment was 20 percent, a figure more than double that for the Canadian army. The most famous battle the Regiment took part--and one that had the most disastrous effect-- was at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916, when the Regiment suffered an appalling casualty rate of 90 percent.

The Newfoundland government also found itself under pressure locally from various groups for conscription as well. In early 1918, for instance, the Loyal Orange Order, the Society of United Fishermen, and the Methodist Church Conference--all St. John's based--passed resolutions in support of conscription. The Presbyterians expressed similar support, while the Roman Catholic Church remained quiet on the issue, its silence being akin to consent. Within St. John's itself, there was general support both for the war and conscription. The outports, however, were a different matter and the people strongly opposed conscription because of the nature of outport economy and society. For outport fishermen, conscription meant a disruption in the fishery, since it would take badly-needed manpower from a fishery which was now experiencing considerable war-induced prosperity. The loss of men not only affected families but also whole communities, especially those communities dependent on the Labrador schooner for their economic survival. In the spring of 1918, then, the booming fishing economy was already short of manpower, and parents were reluctant to allow their sons to become volunteer recruits, let alone conscripts. Fish prices between 1915 and 1919 were 65% higher than their 1910­14 average (Hiller, "Newfoundland Confronts Canada," p. 447).

Coaker was well aware of the strong outport aversion to conscription, but he faced strong pressure within cabinet to support conscription. His choice was to either support Lloyd or to withdraw the support of the Union Party from the National government. On April 13, 1918 Lloyd announced that his government would first hold a referendum on the conscription issue, a posi-tion Coaker reluctantly supported in public. However, the Newfoundland government bowed to British pressure and announced that conscription would be brought in without a referendum, a move it decided to take since it feared a referendum vote would go against conscription. On April 26 Coaker announced that he supported this new position by the National government, despite the many anti-conscriptionist messages that had flowed into FPU headquarters for the past month. The membership reaction to his decision was quick and swift. FPU Councils met and passed resolutions condemning Coaker's position, in which his members perceived him as favouring St. John's interests over those of the outports. In some Union homes pictures of Coaker were smashed, while in Union Council halls the instruments of authority were either returned to headquarters or turned against the wall. Coaker had decided to support conscription, because the National government had proven itself receptive to Union--sponsored measures since its formation in July 1917 and his continued presence in such a government he considered necessary to implement a FPU fishery reform programme. To soften the blow of conscription and legislation extending the life of the Assembly for another year, the Lloyd government also passed an income tax to cover those professional and middle class people whose incomes were not taxed by the 1917 business profits tax.

It was Coaker's hope that the mere passage of the conscription act itself would stimulate increased voluntary enlistment by the May 24 deadline for the registration of conscript eligible men. This is exactly what happened. Six hundred men enlisted by May 24, thereby providing the Regiment with sufficient numbers to meet its needs until the end of September. While a campaign by war veterans no doubt had the desired effect in securing more volunteers, others enlisted voluntarily rather than wait to be conscripted. In the end, those who registered for service did not have to report for duty until September 1, 1918, because of the availability of a sufficient number of volunteers. Instead, they received a leave of absence without pay until October 15, by which date they received a further leave of absence until November 15 because of a local epidemic of influenza. With the end of war on November 11, the men were given an indefinite leave of absence. While none of the men ever saw active duty, the implementation of conscription did have serious political repercussions on the FPU and divisions developed among the members, some of whom would never hold Coaker in the same esteem as they previously had.

While Coaker found the National government much to his liking and even some people's party politicians found they could work in harmony with Coaker, the opposition of Archbishop Edward Roche and the Roman Catholic Church to the FPU had remained unchanged. Although he had failed in his bid to prevent the creation of the Lloyd government, in May 1919 Roche was successful in having the government defeated in the Assembly. It was Roche's goal that the old alliance of Roman Catholics and the Liberal Party be forged once more under the leadership of the retired Sir Robert Bond. Thus, to retain Roche's support for his own future leadership ambitions and future support in Roman Catholic districts as well to win the support of the Water Street merchants, Michael Cashin, the leader of the people's party, decided to make a break with the government. In doing so, it was Cashin's hope that Roche's enthusiasm for Bond would soon subside and that Bond would not return to active politics.

On May 20, 1919, Cashin rose in the House of Assembly and moved a vote of non-confidence in his own government. When nobody else stood to second the motion, Prime Minister Lloyd rose and did so, much to the surprise and laughter of other members in the Assembly. Lloyd did so presumably because he believed that Cashin did not really intend to bring down the government; rather, it apparently was Cashin's intent to have the motion not carry and Lloyd continue on as Prime Minister depending on his political survival on the people's party wing of the coalition and thus separate Lloyd from the Union wing. Cashin had counted, it seems, on the motion failing through some of the people's party members either abstaining or even voting against the non-confidence vote. Once the motion failed, Cashin then would be able to disassociate himself from the Lloyd government, while at the same time being able to defeat the government through the withdrawal later of support by the people's party. Thus, Cashin hoped to ingratiate himself with the Water Street merchants for having split with Coaker and, hopefully, impress Roche with his forthright stand in trying to defeat the Coaker-influenced National government.

Lloyd's action, in any case, foiled whatever strategy Cashin had had in mind, for the Assembly unanimously passed the motion. Governor Sir Alexander Harris then called on Cashin to form a new administration, which included former Liberal Albert Hickman and former Unionist John Stone. As for the remaining members of the Union Party, they remained a strong, united force under Coaker's leadership, while the Liberals were in disarray following Lloyd's acceptance from Prime Minister Cashin of a position as registrar of the Supreme Court. Leaderless, the Liberals spent the summer of 1919 awaiting a decision from Bond to their request that he return to lead them in the forthcoming general election. Hovering in the background to seize the mantle of Liberal leadership, if Bond remained retired, was a former Morris protege who in January 1918 had broken with the Lloyd national government, Richard Squires.

Elected as a MHA for Trinity in 1909, Squires had lost his seat in 1913 and accepted an appointment to the Legislative Council and served as Morris' Colonial Secretary. Following his break with Lloyd, Squires had established his own newspaper in preparation for his leadership ambitions. Despite being a Morris supporter, local party affiliations were fluid enough for Squires to switch easily to Liberal ranks without his action creating a political backlash. Once Bond declared his intention to remain retired, "I have had a surfeit of Newfoundland politics lately, and I turn from the dirty business with contempt and loathing," Bond wrote to a Liberal power-broker who quickly threw his support behind Squires--Squires immediately set his plans in action. On August 21 he launched a new political party, the Liberal Reform Party, and entered into negotiations with Coaker for an electoral alliance, agreement finally being consummated on September 22.

The alliance was a marriage of convenience between the two leaders who mistrusted each other. Yet, each man needed each other to achieve their goals--Squires to attain the Prime Ministership and Coaker to achieve political power to implement the various fisheries reforms long sought by the FPU. Under the agreement between the two, the FPU would be allowed to run candidates in three districts previously reserved for Liberals, thus giving the Unionists the ability to win 12 seats in the Assembly and form the largest single block of influence in any Squires-Coaker administration (a small group of seats would be controlled by William Warren, a Bond Liberal). Squires also agreed to allow Coaker a free hand as the Minister of Fisheries and Marine to shape fisheries policy as he wished. In the November 3, 1919 general election, the Squires-Coaker alliance won 24 of the 36 seats in the Assembly, thus placing Coaker in a strong position of power to address the pressing problems which he felt threatened the Newfoundland fisheries.

Source: Melvin Baker, "History 3120 Manual: Newfoundland History, 1815-1972 (St. John's, Division of Continuing Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1994)

Source Dr. Melvin Baker http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~melbaker/fpuhis.html