The Flat Earth Society

The Great Pumpkin


Wednesday, October 17, 2018: 9 AM

Spouse and I sat around our old chrome table in the morning, sipping on a second-hand Tim's, munching our stoner pumpkin bread, and sharing our dreams from the night before.

"It's that time of year again," said spouse. "I dreamed about the Great Pumpkin. Maybe it was because of that weird news report about the Goblin planet last night on NTV's The Carter File (Stuff About Stuff)."

"Maybe the Great Pumpkin is coming to these pine-clad hills to disappear Muskrat Falls," I said sarcastically.

"And every politician from Cape Spear to Cape Chidley," said spouse.

"You are becoming too cynical," I said. "But speaking of that magical being, only once did I really believe in the Great Pumpkin."

"Do tell." 

"I am speaking," I said, "about Danny (He-Who-Is-Without-Sin) Williams. The scene at the St. John's International Airport at 7.03 pm, Saturday, January 29, 2005, is forever etched on my brain. My hopes at that precise moment had reached as high as the highest peak in the Annieopsquotch Mountains.

"I developed a belief in the Great Pumpkin when I was a child in the 1950s and Joey Smallwood saved us from a fate worse than death. "Two Jobs for every man" (women didn't work back then). It all went south pretty fast as Joey, the savior, turned into just another rotten gourd from Gambo. But many still believed.

"Along came Moores. You probably don't remember him, nor do I. And Peckford in 1979, who tried to be the Great Pumpkin and turned into the Great Cucumber instead. It wasn't the same.

"Brian Tobin became the Great Turbot in 1996. Slimy.

"After that, I gave up on the Great Pumpkin--maybe old age and doubt were creeping up on me.

"Then the Great Pumpkin delivered. Big time. Captured live on TV. On the People's Network. He stood in all his goblin glory at the top of the stairs leading down to the airport lobby where hundreds of believers had gathered.

"He waved a slip of paper triumphantly. "We've got it," he shouted. Wild cheers. Flags waved. "He's our savior," said one. "Premier forever," said another, and, "yay, the Great Pumpkin!"

"We got 2 billion in cash, that's what we got," said the Great Pumpkin. "Prosperity forever. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. F.U. Ottawa."

He had pinned Paul 'Steamship' Martin to the mat with a figure-four arm lock. I was proud to live in the land of the Great Pumpkin.

Spouse noted the tinge of nostalgia in my voice. I yearned for those days, few as they were.

Fast forward to October 2018:

For some time now, Spouse and I have been following with bated breath the meanderings of the Muskrat Falls Inquiry. As with all epic dramas, we hope in the end that the villains are laid low and the innocent taxpayers are freed from the shackles of levies and political trickery. Reality? You may well ask. Doubt should immediately cloud your brain like a toke of good weed.

We only think this way of course when we are enjoying the soothing stimulus of our favorite after-dinner libations. A Raspberry Screech for me, a sip of 50 Shades of Bay for her as we soak up the spectacle playing out on the screen in front of us. Being vulnerable seniors, by 9 pm we are off to the Land of Nod where our brains can flush the excrement of the day into the sewers of dreamland.

In my dream, all the characters are like professional wrestlers on TV. The steady stream of rogues and heroes play their choreographed roles in front of the referee, Commissioner Richard LeBlanc. They bob in and out of the arena of my nightmares.

"I see them clearly," I say to spouse: "the tag team of He-Who-Is-Without-Sin and his little bro, Tommy Williams, both dressed in Galway green; Wade Locke, the university economist in cap and gown, he who endorsed, then denied Muskrat, the rat; Andy Wells, general shit-disturber; naysayers, Ron Penney and David Vardy; and a host of others both great and small--all backed up by their cheering sections and corner attendants from the legal establishment in the city.

"We should all be proud of Muskrat Falls," says He-Who-Is-Without-Sin as he body-slams the naysayers from atop the turnbuckles, and shakes his fist at Quebec. "People have to take the long-term view--50--75--100 years"


Then he trash-talks his opponents and questions their right to wrestle him. The commissioner intervenes and separates them. Then Danny tries a flying tackle on Vardy and calls him a carton of spoiled milk--beyond the best-before date. Fightin words. His headlock on the commissioner fails miserably.

Penney and Vardy (Concerned Citizens tag team) trash-talk the Muskrat in return. Andy Wells sneaks into the arena and throws sucker punches at He-Who-Is-Without-Sin and Bro Tommy. They both hit the canvas but recover and chase Andy from the ring.

Wade Locke, professional economist in cap and gown, enters the arena flashing his credentials, tangles with Bro Williams and some other no-name lawyer. Wishes he hadn't entered the arena at all. Doesn't like to fight.

"Anyway, now everybody wants to fight me--SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO MY WIFE," he says, throwing in the towel.

"Coward," shout the baying fans.

Sioban (I'm Irish) Coady, Minister of the Mighty Muskrat, shouts from the sidelines, "taxpayers will have to'supplement' the ratepayers when Muskrat comes online."

Nobody understands what she is saying except He-Who-Is-Without-Sin. "She means we'll take all our oil money and pay for Muskrat Falls," he says.

It still makes no sense.

"I was in a cold sweat all night," I said to spouse. "I couldn't shake the nightmare and I only woke up when Duh-wite told me not to worry about paying the cost of Muskrat Falls." Chilling.

"Yes," said spouse impatiently, "now, about the Goblin planet that I dreamed about. Glen Carter(The Carter File-Stuff About Stuff) on NTV said it was smaller than earth but it takes 3600 of our years to orbit the sun which means that if we lived there, each year would have 43,200 months or nearly 1,320,000 days. Our monthly bill for Muskrat Falls for each and every one of us in this fair land would be only 7.2 cents. But who cares about paying power bills when you can live that long in just one year.

As I said, Spouse has a very mathematical mind. I'm not sure I got it. But then...

"Maybe that's what Danny was thinking about when he said we should take the long-term view of Muskrat Falls," I said. "and maybe, just maybe, he's from the Goblin planet."

"Crazy." said spouse. "Give me another slice of that stoner bread. We should go over and listen in on the inquiry. It's in that big building off Wishingwell Road."

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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.