Markland, Newfoundland & Labrador
1934 to about 1945
Location: 96 km SW of St. John’s, between Whitbourne and Colinet on the Avalon Peninsula. 47.3 N, -53.5 W.
Markland was developed in 1934 as a model community. It was the first of eight such settlements created by the Land Settlement Board of Newfoundland. At that time, Newfoundland was governed by the Commission of Government responsible to the British government. Markland incorporated communal farming and social, health and educational programmes in an area of about 100 square km, extending ten km along the Colinet Road. Its several communal and collective features gradually diminished, especially from about 1939 to 1945.
Newfoundland was hard hit by the Depression and many residents experienced extreme poverty. The Depression affected the export-dependent fishery, creating high unemployment. The Government of Newfoundland was unable to meet the needs of the destitute population for public relief resulting in considerable social unrest. The demands for public relief also contributed to a financial crisis which eventually lead to the replacement of self-government with a commission appointed by Britain in 1934. The Commission of Government, as it was called, initiated a number of schemes with social engineering overtones to address what was perceived to be a poor work ethic amongst the local population and to promote self-help and self-reliance.
Within this governance framework, the Commission of Government considered land settlement to be a way to reduce poverty by rehabilitating the unemployed and providing an economic alternative to the fishery. Markland was the first, and best known, of these land settlement schemes.
Originally conceptualized and proposed in 1933 by a small group of ex-servicemen from the capital, St. John’s, Markland was started in May 1934 under the supervision of six trustees. They were responsible of overseeing its development and the allocation of funding. The settlement area was crown land, uncleared, thought to have agricultural potential, but viable land was interspersed with significant expanses of marshland.
One of the trustees, R.H.K. Cochius, a Dutch landscape architect, was assigned the responsibility for the preliminary survey, the erection of houses and buildings, and town planning. He was subsequently appointed as the salaried manager to supervise the overall development of the community. Described by one of the Commissioners as having “a supreme artistic sense but a capacity for being incoherent in four languages,” Mr. Cochius had a large impact on the physical design of the community and, as supervisor, a profound influence on the social welfare of the residents.
Physically, Markland was divided into 6 communities: communities 1, 2, 3 and 6 were located along the main road and communities 4 and 5 (which were called Nuggetville) were situated on a side road. Local residents still refer to No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 or No. 6 to identify their residency (the communities of Nuggetville were relocated in the 1960s).
Mr. Cochius designed the two sets of basic house plans: a two-bedroom cottage for families of three children or less and a three-bedroom cottage for larger families.
Examples of these cottages still exist in the community: some have deteriorated, others were renovated using modern materials. Mr. Cochius directed that these cottages be built on higher land for the greatest visual impact and in doing so failed to consider exposure to weather or proximity to cultivated land. Mr. Cochius was also responsible for assigning settlers to their land. He appears to have done this with little regard to religious, family or community connections. He also had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian.
Settlers came from St. John’s, Victoria and other Conception Bay communities. The late 1934 report by the Trustees reported 60 houses completed or under construction, five cabins occupied by six families, one barn under construction, a store and a school. The cottage hospital was opened at the beginning of 1936. Paid on-site staff included the manager, accountant, two teachers, a doctor and a nurse, while off-site in St. John’s there was a purchasing agent and stenographer.
Communal farming was intended to sustain the settlement economically, and so the better land was set aside for that venture. The communal agricultural land was worked by all settlers and the Commission of Government perceived this to be a means of recovering the initial start-up costs. These costs were considerable: the fields were cleared with heavy equipment acquired by the community (a novelty in Newfoundland where most land was cleared by hand), the houses were largely built by carpenters rather than the settlers themselves, the community had to support a school, and many of the settlers had to be equipped with clothing, basic household furnishings and equipment as well as food. No cash wages were offered but each family was entitled to goods from the community store based on their contribution. Each settler was assigned a smaller portion of land to develop a homestead farm.
The Commission of Government placed considerable emphasis on education and health. There was no free and compulsory education In Newfoundland then; all education was delivered by churches. An interdenominational “folk” school based on a Norwegian educational model was established. The model saw the school as serving the total health of the child and community with an emphasis on practical skills. This broad educational programme extended to adult learning and continuous education. In 1945, the folk schools were replaced by two denominational schools which were eventually closed and Markland children bussed to Whitbourne.
Within two years, it became obvious that Markland was too costly. After several studies, communal farming was abandoned and the allowance for working communal land was replaced by cash bonuses. The communal land was eventually surveyed and conveyed to individuals. By 1941, many residents chose to work for cash building the US Naval Base at Argentia.
The Commission of Government initiated the land settlement scheme with high ideals. It was a means of promoting social change through new ideas for economic activities, health, education and community spirit. It was the forerunner in the creation of seven more land settlement schemes in Newfoundland: Haricot, Lourdes, Brown’s Arm, Midland, Sandringham, Winterland and Point au Mal.
In practice, this top down approach to utopia building had many problems: the physically dispersed population and allocation of residents created problems with communication and social integration; there was a work camp atmosphere with strict discipline; the maintenance allowance at the community store amounted to little more than public relief but required significantly greater effort to obtain; and amongst some settlers there was a desire to work their own individual homesteads.
For detailed research into Newfoundland’s land settlement scheme, including close attention to Markland, see Gordon Handcock (1994). Sean T. Cadigan (2009) provides a historical context for the Markland settlement period that is discussed here. Analysis of the social attitudes associated with the settlement scheme is in Overton (1995). See also the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website entry on agriculture by Jeff Webb, and Canada’s Historic Places website for reasons why the Cottage Hospital has been formally designated.
by Elaine Mitchell
16.05.16; revised 12.06.17
- Cadigan, Sean T. 2009. Newfoundland and Labrador: A History. University of Toronto Press.
- Handcock, Gordon. 1994. The Commission of Government’s land settlement scheme in Newfoundland. In Twentieth century Newfoundland: Explorations, ed. James Hillier and Peter Neary, 123-51. St. John’s NL: Breakwater.
- Markland Cottage Hospital Registered Heritage Structure. http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=7784. Canada’s Historic Places. Accessed 16.05.16.
- Overton, Jim. 1995. Moral education of the poor: Adult education and land settlement schemes in Newfoundland in the 1930s. Newfoundland Studies 11, 2: 250-82.
- Webb, Jeff. 2000. www.heritage.nf.ca/society/farming.html. Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage. Accessed 16.05.16.