The Flat Earth Society

Harvest Moon

I called upstairs at 7 am yesterday morning to awaken spouse. "Get up," I said, "Fred Hutton is interviewing He-Who-Is-Without-Sin on The Morning Show. He's interviewing Danny...Danny Williams. Danny is telling us we should all be proud of Muskrat Falls."

"Danny can go jump in Quidi Vidi for all I care," she shouted back. "Now leave me alone. I'm in the middle of a dream about the Merb'ys on Middle Cove Beach."

On occasion, spouse is totally in line with my political thinking.

The newscast shifts to Dear Leader Duh-wite who appears in a photo-op with volunteers struggling to keep a food bank open in Goose Bay. I began to mourn for the sorry state of our smiling land--a grinning premier hogging the spotlight from the few dedicated men and women trying to stem the tide of poverty that is threatening to become a tsunami.

The next story features Solemn Tom, Minister of Debt, announcing that the Liberal Government has awarded a million dollar contract to McKinsey & Company, a New York-based consulting firm, to flesh out The Way Forward and tell Newfoundlanders and Labradorians how to be prosperous again.

In line with the politics, these pine-clad hills have been rattled with wild swings in the weather during the indescribable season that poses for summer in these parts. Winter ended abruptly on June 30 after Jack Frost had taken one last swipe with his icy claw. On that day, a Christmas coat of snow covered the tiny garden we had wrestled from the stony ground in the backyard.

Summer finally came at noon on July 1 with rock-splitting heat and thereon for the next two months our smiling land was turned into a facsimile of the Gobi Desert. Spouse's experimental garden of select Mary Jane withered on the vine, so to speak. Only a lonely White Widow seedling survived in the shade and managed to produce two fine buds much admired by spouse.

She swore me to secrecy lest my loose tongue alert the constabulary.

Then as if exhausted by its own bombast--much like our politicians--summer took its leave at 7 pm on August 31. A strong northeaster, with a wintry chill from the glaciers of Greenland, drove us indoors. Next morning the birds had disappeared and in the words of the poet, all that was left were the empty nests. Hoarfrost covered the remains of our prize White Widow thus ending our plans for a small celebration on October 17.

Back to Raspberry Screech and Fifty Shades of Bay.

On September 24, with summer's promise unfulfilled, the Harvest Moon rose as a blushing orb as if embarrassed for the gods of weather and for the shenanigans of our local politicians as they infested every nook and cranny of our wind-swept land over the past several months.

Just yesterday, for example, as I was peacefully engaged in poaching a few partridges up on Mount Scio, a scruffy-looking Dr. Dale, former Minister of Illiteracy, leaped out of the bushes and wanted to know if they were still gossiping about him down in the city.

"Did Ches win the by-election?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"I'm doomed," he cried.

At that moment, a partridge flew by and I blasted away with my shotgun. Dr. Dale fled into the woods.

All summer on the People's Channel, spouse and I had followed the meanderings of the Liberal herd as they showed up in every corner of our fair land from Muskrat Falls to Muddy Hole. Dear leader Duh-wite reassured all and sundry he had accomplished more in three years than any administration in history (we laughed).

"We will grow and prosper under my Way Forward strategy," he said.

Not happening.

Yes, every last sheep in the Liberal herd appeared among the great unwashed, dining on baloney and baked beans and offering much the same back to overtaxed citizens--the election is just a year away.

For the most part, though, spouse and I have been taking it easy, lulled into a state of political apathy by the disappearance of Big Eddie, Dr. Dale, and the erstwhile Minister of Finance, Cathy Bennett. In a vanishing act reminiscent of the best spy dramas, Dear Leader Duh-wite has turned them into ghostly memories, leaving us wondering whether, in fact, all of it was a figment of our imagination in the first place.

The only break in the political doldrums came when Prime Minister Trudeau announced the taxpayer purchase of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline carrying Alberta crude across the NDP heartland of British Columbia. Other than for spouse and myself, the implications of what this meant seem to have gone over everyone's head.

We were sitting around nursing our libations and watching the late-night National on CBC when the announcement came. Spouse grasped the significance right away

"This means," she said, "that of the 1150 km pipeline, you and I now own 3.194 cm each. Think of how much money we can make if we charge for every gram of heavy crude passing through our 6.388 cm. Even if we charge only 5 cents a liter that's a cool half million every year.

Spouse has a very mathematical mind.

I needed another shot of Raspberry Screech to help me fathom the future with its promise of riches for us, our children, and their children for generations to come. Then came an interview with Sioban (I'm Irish) Coady, Minister of the Mighty Muskrat, who allowed that the announcement was of great import on the scale of the Nalcor transmission line.

With the word 'Nalcor', I took a (L)iberal sip of my Raspberry Screech and the dark shadows descended.

"The financial experts," I said to spouse, "were claiming this morning that the real costs of the Muskrat boondoggle over the next 75 years will be 85 billion dollars. That's a million each of us will owe every year for all those years. 

"It's just a merry-go-round," said spouse.

"Yes," I said, liberally quoting the author, Ray Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes), "the merry-go-round is running, but it's running backward."

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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.