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Celebrating Seventy Years Since Secret “First Summit” in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland


By Tom O’Keefe

Seventy years ago in August 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States of America and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain met in secret on the waters of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, near Ship Harbour. They reached an agreement on a document called the Atlantic Charter which would incorporate aims to guide the war and govern peace and later be the foundation for the United Nations. This week the people of Ship Harbour celebrated that event, with the assistance of national and international organizations in a manner to make the region proud of Ship Harbour’s efforts.

For a photo gallery from the event, follow this link.

Following ceremonies and a dinner in St. John’s the night before at CFS St. John’s that would feature the menu served to Roosevelt and Churchill, Phonse Griffiths was honoured with an Award of Merit by the International Churchill Society of Canada. Phonse Griffiths has for years being a leading promoter of the Atlantic Charter site in Ship Harbour.

Among those attending the dinner was the Lieutenant Governor and support groups who also gathered on Sunday August 14, at the Atlantic Charter Monument in Ship Harbour to celebrate the event in fine style. About two hundred people were in attendance including the entire company from HMCS Avalon. The ceremonies replicated the religious ceremonies that had been held seventy years before on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales, the ship on which Churchill had arrived. On stage were M.C. Cathy Griffiths, the Chair of the Atlantic Charter Foundation and the Hon. John Crosbie and Mrs. Crosbie, Minister of Justice Felix Collins, MP Scott Andrews, CFS St. John’s Base Commander Lawrence Trim, CPO and Base Chief Herman Harris, and Staff. Sgt. Major Dave Tipple of the RCMP. The religious ceremonies were conducted by Padre Lieut. Jack Barrett with hymns sung by Miss Amy Wilson. Support groups on hand included navy cadets, legionnaires, RCMP and military personnel and Harvey Mercer from the Argentia Management Authority.

Following the religious ceremony a talk was presented by Peter H. Russell the author of a new book “The First Summit and the Atlantic Charter.” (The book was available for sale at the celebration with all proceeds going to Atlantic Charter Foundation). Mr. Russell’s speech not only gave an outline of how the meeting was set up and what happened, but added some tidbits of information, such as while on the HMS Prince of Wales President Roosevelt made his longest walk since suffering polio 20 years before. He also reported that the British warship carrying Churchill had to circle around to avoid arriving half an hour early and about Churchill’s two visits on land at Joe’s Cove near the Memorial site. Professor Russell emphasized to those attending the importance of recording and preserving stories that had been handed down to local residents by their parents and grandparents.

The events on stage ended with the introduction of visitors from other parts of Canada and Britain who have supported the celebrations including the Crow’s Nest Naval Officers Club, the Churchill Society for Parliamentary Democracy, the International Churchill Society of Canada, the Churchill Centre, London and the Atlantic Council of Canada.

Following the official ceremony there was a celebration on the meadow next to the monument area and by the water. This included tents set up for food, and refreshments. There was a souvenir stand with three young girls who were selling the Atlantic Charter book (also available at the Leyton Gallery of Fine Arts, St. John’s or through the Atlantic Charter website), mugs and placemats. Nearby was a stage that provided music during the afternoon supplied by “Avalon” from Fox Harbour. Meanwhile Phonse Griffiths provide a guided walk of the site and led a tour of the Atlantic Charter Museum where the table was exhibited from the USS Augusta that Roosevelt and Churchill had sat at for the discussions.

Although there had been some fog around for the ceremony in the morning the sun came out for a great afternoon. For more information about the Atlantic Charter and the new Foundation that has been set up, see:

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