"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How not to keep a secret

In a letter published in the Telegram on Tuesday, Tom Careen of Placentia writes:
I am sure the huge airport at Goose Bay (built and operational for almost two years in the mid-1940s before the Commission of Government admitted its existence to the people of Newfoundland) was easily able to handle all the VIP air traffic that day.

Um, no.

Some time in the recent past — probably the mid-1990s — someone in Newfoundland invented, out of thin air, the myth that Goose Bay was kept a secret from the people of Newfoundland. The more extreme version of the myth holds that the secret was kept until after Confederation.

It was not.

It is true that the Canadian government, which built the airfield in a jiffy in the fall of 1941, tried, for obvious security reasons (there was a war going on) to keep a lid on the project for as long as possible.

They failed.

Construction at Goose Bay began in early September. As early as September 13 of that year, American President Franklin Roosevelt, in a radio address broadcast around the world alluded to the construction of an allied airfield in Labrador.

In mid-November, Canadian cabinet minister Charles Power got a little too talkative in the House of Commons, resulting in a fugitive wire story which managed to escape the wartime censors, who didn't like the amount of detail he disclosed. This version was published in the Montreal Gazette, but appeared in daily papers across Canada:

The Canadian, and, starting in 1942, American authorities waged a difficult balancing act between keeping strategically important information about the base secret on the one hand, and striking a tidy propoganda blow against the Axis powers on the other. There were some months of self-imposed censorship, complete with cryptic placelines such as "the Northeast" or "Somewhere in Labrador", which fooled Nazi agents about as much as the phrase "an East Coast Port" disguised Halifax. However, the steady trickle of news, the flood of classfied ads by Macnamara Construction looking for occupations from pipefitters to accountants to go work on some cryptic project in Labrador, and the regular inclusion in daily newspaper rolls of the war dead of men who died in accidents or plane crashes at Goose Bay, easily blew off what little lid of secrecy there ever was.

On the Newfoundland side of things, the Commission of Government not only did not suppress information about the existence of Goose Bay, it actively encouraged Newfoundlanders to seek out employment on the construction project — the first megaproject in Labrador's history — and transported many of them north to Labrador on the government-run coastal steamers in the navigation season of 1942.

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