The Flat Earth Society

Gale False Winds

Political designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.  (George Orwell)

At ten, on April Fools morning, it was eerily calm, too calm. We should have grown alarmed an hour later when we began to smell the perfumed wind from Ottawa as the federal politicians descended from the clouds and grabbed taxis for the downtown Sheraton.

By noon, the fog cover over the city had disappeared completely and the sky had taken on a deep purplish hue, mimicking, I thought, the look of frustration on the faces of many of our upstanding citizens as they helplessly watched the actions of those they had chosen to lead them to the promised land.

I couldn't help thinking of another April morn nearly 90 years ago when a mob of the great unwashed descended in a tornado of fury on the seat of government in the city. The object of the mob's desire was the corrupt prime minister, Sir Richard Squires, who barely escaped their clutches by shattering a world record for the hundred meter hurdles, dashing across Military Road, through a stranger's kitchen, out the back door, across two vegetable gardens, over a ten-foot fence onto Colonial Street, and into a waiting cab.

To 'mitigate' their rage, the rabid rabble ransacked the Colonial Building, the ancestral womb of the political class in this fair land.

Just 20 months later, in February 1934, the new prime minister, Freddie Alderdice placed the whole damn country into receivership and invited the British back to clean up the mess.

End of democracy for 16 long years.

Not counting the benevolent dictatorship of Premier Joseph R. Smallwood, the hog-farmer from Gambo.

I had been glued to the people's channel all morning awaiting the grand announcement by Dear Leader Duh-wite and Minister Shameus from Ottawa. There were rumours, said the announcer, that a new deal was coming on the Atlantic Accord which would see billions more flow from the cash cow in our nation's capital. 

And not a minute too soon for Dear Leader who faces an election as the second most unpopular premier in the country.

I was tempted at that early hour to reach for my Raspberry Screech by way of premature celebration.

Better sense prevailed.

Spouse had just returned home from a spending spree at the Thrift Shop over on Kenmount--avoiding the crowds by shopping early for a few pre-owned spring outfits in anticipation of the July arrival of that joyous season when the dandelions bloom on our pine-clad hills.

She had returned by taxi and was full of news about her driver from Nigeria who kept apologizing for not having any stories to make her ride a more meaningful cultural experience.

"When he dropped me off," said spouse, "he refused to charge me fare and tearfully told me he would be attending the Mitchelmore School of Cabbie Storytelling in the near future."

Immediately, a brain-worm kicked in and the creepy disembodied voice of Mitchelmore, Minister of Tourism and Stuff, repeated the refrain, 'they will tell you stories about the land....and the sea....and the sky....and everything in between.' he was referring of course to the current myth that St. John's taxi drivers immediately morph into entertaining raconteurs when they pick up a tourist at the airport.

"Quite frankly," I said to spouse, "if I jumped into a cab like that, I would be weirded out. My first thought would be that the driver was trying to induce a state of hypnosis after which he would rob me, mutilate my person, and then drown me to death by dumping my body in Deadman's Pond."

"You are being a drama queen," said spouse.

Just then, the people's channel cut to the conference room at the Sheraton. The cameras panned across the smirking faces of the Liberal herd, all of them anxious to reflect the blinding flash of billion-dollar light back into the eyes of the populace thus blinding them to rational thought.

Big Eddie and Dr. Dale were noticeably absent.

Minister Shameus and Dear leader Duh-wite stood at the podium exchanging exhilarating accolades in a feverish frenzy of Liberal lovemaking.

"Two and one-half billion spread over the next 38 years. $5000 per man, woman, and child to reduce the provincial debt by 16%. That money goes into the pockets of every Newfoundlander and Labradorian," said Duh-wite.

"Making it all possible," said Shameus, "was the calm negotiating approach of Premier Duh-wite."

The darling of Deer Lake had turned darkness into daylight. He is our saviour, said one staunch Liberal.

God Almighty.

"That's a lot of filthy lucre from the feds," I said.

"That's $119.61 for every Newfoundlander and Labradorian each year for the next 38 years," said spouse who had been listening intently to the propaganda show. "By 2056, you and I will have contributed $9090.36 to help pay off the government credit card. That's about the same amount the Ball Government has fleeced from us over the last four years."

The woman is a human calculator.

Flashback to Saturday, January 29, 2005. "We've got it. We've got it," said Premier Danny (He-Who-Is-Without-Sin) Williams as he stood at the top of the escalator in St. John's Airport waving a cheque for two billion dollars just cut by Prime Minister Paul Martin. "A trust fund," said Danny, "for every Newfoundlander and Labradorian."

"We are in the Money," he said. "Finally, Newfoundlanders can hold their heads high and tell those snooty mainlanders to f... off."

"A clever boy," said his mother.

"He is our saviour," said Dougie O'Dea, a local tory.


No trust fund.

The two billion disappeared.

Muskrat Falls happened.

Provincial credit card overspent by $16,000,000,000 plus 13 more big ones for the Mighty Muskrat.

But shortly, the perfumed winds are forecast to reach hurricane strength across our smiling land, seducing the masses into electing the lesser evil.

Leave a comment:


You may contact the author at: (or)

Dancing on Air: New Edition: New Publisher

Dancing on Air

The revised edition of Dancing on Air(Boulder Publications) is now available from Boulder -- also from Chapters/Indigo and Coles bookstores across Canada as well as at

Advance Reviews:

     "What a fascinating read this is. It has all the suspense of a true crime novel ...Newfoundland itself emerges as a colorful character..." -- editor, Friesen Press

     "In Dancing on Air, Eric Colbourne exposes the raw politics and behind the scenes intrigue of critical events in Newfoundland and Labrador history. In the process, he has skilfully unveiled the human faces of tragedies which have remained with us for well over half a century."   --Mervin Wiseman, Political Activist, NL.

     "This is a great way to present history. It's emotionally engaging, highly instructive, and jam-packed with fascinating details."  --Editor, Friesen Press.

     Dancing on Air: A Tale of Vengeance, Mercy, and the End of the Death Penalty in Newfoundland is a story of justice and injustice amidst war and political upheaval.

     On St. Patrick's Day, 1942 Herb Spratt, the youngest son of a prominent St. John's city councilor, murdered his girlfriend, Josephine O'Brien. A weak defense at a two day trial in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland resulted in a guilty verdict coupled with a strong recommendation for mercy. The chief justice pronounced a sentence of death on April 28, 1942, but that was not the end of the story.

     Six years later, on October 23, 1948, during a night of terror in the town of Norris Arm on the central north coast of the island, Alfred Beaton stabbed his girlfriend and shot to death another young woman. At least 10 other individuals narrowly escaped death as Beaton rampaged through the community with a high powered rifle.

     Beaton went to trial in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland on January 31, 1949. The jury returned a guilty verdict without a recommendation for mercy. The chief justice again imposed the death penalty.

Alfred Beaton (center) after the death sentence

The incidents come together as a gripping account of a flawed justice system and of the impact of public opinion. With its cast of powerful characters, the story reads like fiction but what happened was only too real.  

The Dancing on Air Mystery: Who was Portia?



On Monday, February 7, 1949, two days after Judge Emerson handed down the death penalty in the murder trial of Alfred Beaton, a mysterious letter appeared in the St. John's Evening Telegram. It contained an emotional plea for mercy and a call to action against capital punishment in Newfoundland. 

The eloquent letter writer persuaded thousands of citizens in the city and across Newfoundland and Labrador to demand an end to a barbaric practice. The final outcome was a surprise. Who was the mystery lady, Portia? For the first time in over 60 years, it is now possible to identify her--but the reader has to pick up the clues in the text.







Eric Colbourne grew up in the small community of Lush's Bight-Beaumont on the northeast coast of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. His earliest memories are of the tales spun by village elders under the flickering light of oil lamps in the kitchen of the family home on the isolated island. This tradition of story-telling is captured in his first book Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland which has enjoyed international success.


His latest work, Dancing on AIR: A Tale of Vengeance, Mercy, and the End of the Death Penalty in Newfoundland, published in October 2016 by Boulder Publications, represents an enduring fascination with the issue of capital punishment which he has researched extensively over many years in this country and around the world.


Colbourne was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland, The University of Reading in the UK, and at McGill University in Montreal. He has enjoyed a varied career in education, community development, tourism and senior management in the public service of Nunavut and the NWT. He currently devotes his time to writing and historical research.

Back Cover:Dancing on Air

Public Executions: Dancing on Air

At 5.32 a.m. on August 14, 1937 a young black man, Rainey Bethea was executed at Owensboro, Kentucky after his conviction for the rape of a white woman. A crowd, estimated at 20,000, gathered in Owensboro the day before and held 'hanging' parties throughout the night. One reporter likened the scene at the scaffold next morning to a sporting event. The hangman was intoxicated and barely managed to trip the lever. It was the last public hanging in the US.

The practice of public executions was abandoned in Canada in 1869 and in the UK in 1870. Many countries, notably Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran continue the practice to this day for crimes such as drug trafficking, witchcraft, disloyalty to the government. and homosexuality.


If you have comments on this site or reviews of Dancing on Air, please e-mail me at

Advice for Writers

Elmore Leonard, a well known mystery writer who died last year offered a number of rules for good writing. A few of them:

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Keep your exclamations points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

3.Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

4.Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

From the Ballad of Reading Gaol

 It is sweet to dance to violins

  When love and life are fair:

To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes

  is delicate and rare:

But it is not sweet with nimble feet

  To dance upon the air!


                       ...Oscar Wilde

Historic Vote

In 1948, residents of Newfoundland and Labrador decided their future in two referenda. In the first vote, held on June 3, Commission of Government was eliminated but neither Confederation with Canada nor Responsible Government received a majority, making a second referendum necessary. Voting was heavy, nearly 89% on June 3rd and 85% on July 22nd. 52.34% of voters chose Confederation on the second ballot.

Where to Buy Disappeared

     Disappeared:Stories From the Coast of Newfoundland is available in print and e-book from and in e-book format from Kobo, Chapters etc. To locate it on Amazon, type 'Disappeared Colbourne' into their 'find' bar. Delivery is about one week.

     Author copies are also available directly from Click on the facebook link and send the author a message. Price is $15 plus postage.

     Due to the short print run the book will not be available in most bookstores.

New Edition: Dancing on Air

More Questions About an Execution

The case of Wilbert Coffin who was convicted of murder and hanged in Quebec more than 60 years ago raises many new questions. For the full story see:

Excerpt from Dancing on Air

(A Hanging in Quebec, 1902)



...Until the mid-1800s some 200 offences were regarded as capital crimes that carried the death penalty. In a modern age most of those offences now seem absurd.


John Dean, variously described in the records as a child of eight or nine, may have been the youngest to suffer death by hanging. On February 23, 1629 he was convicted of arson at Abington, England for setting fire to two barns in the town of Winsor. The judge saw evidence of wickedness in the boy's actions, an attitude which led directly to his death sentence.


In early August, 1814, an unfortunate William Potter received the death penalty at the high court in Chelmsford, England, for damaging an orchard. He had chopped down an old apple tree for firewood. To no avail at his trial, William pleaded ignorance of the law. The judge had second thoughts several days after sentencing, but with the wheels of justice already in motion, William was hanged about a week later on August 12.

From our Readers: Dancing on Air

I finished the book this morning and my only regret is that I couldn't read more....The exacting research gives real context in shaping the period, but it's Colbourne's ability as a writer that allows the reader to feel the crisp bite of the wind, smell the damp night air, and experience the pain and anguish of the characters. Colbourne's deft footwork in handling the historical record while giving life to the characters is to be applauded, and it separates this work from the pack.  (Glen Tilley)


An absolutely lovely read...The book reads like a richly textured novel but the story is flawlessly woven into the historical account (or borne out of it). It is clear that the book is meticulously researched...An excellent read on all fronts. Difficult to put down! (Monty Henstridge)


Excerpt from the story 'The Black Arts Book' in Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland.


...Old Meriam was indeed dead but no one seemed to know how she had died or where she was buried, all of which added to the mystery of her life  and the power of her witchcraft.


After her death, the old house seemed lonely more than anything else, sitting way out on the point by the landwash, facing the September storms and enduring the sad soundings of the ocean swells.


With each passing season it added a deeper tone of grey as the harsh weather of late fall and winter took its toll. Nobody in the village could understand how the old house could withstand so much punishment.


Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland  has been named a top seller on KOBO, one of the largest e-book distributors in the world. It continues to receive positive reviews in Canada and fifteen other countries. Disappeared is also available from and in kindle and print format.