The Flat Earth Society

Through Rose-tinted Glasses



"You never know who's who in government these days or what they're up to," I said to spouse as we followed the evening news on the people's channel. "Like demons, they shape-shift all the time. Double Dipper Byrne is now minister of turnips and spawny capelin, Al 'the Pirate' Hawkins is now minister of unemployment. Codfish Crocker gave up his job to Double Dipper Byrne and then took Al 'the Pirate's' job, and Al 'the Pirate' took Double Dipper Byrne's job. And poor old Cathy Bennett, we don't know what happened to her."

"Yes, I see," said spouse by way of asking me to pipe down and pay attention to the news. Unlike myself, she doesn't like to rage at mindless drivel on TV.

"Cursing inanimate objects relieves stress," I mutter.

Spouse, by the way, has taken a part-time job at the neighborhood convenience store. When the minimum wage skyrocketed by fifteen cents to $11.15 an hour recently, she jumped at the opportunity. The owner of the store advised her that as she demonstrates initiative and hard work, he may bump her up to be the manager of marijuana sales in the spring, but wages will be the same until Dear leader sees fit to jack up the minimum wage by another fifteen cents.

With her advanced age and arthritis, part-time is all she can manage. But it helps to make ends meet especially when she comes home bearing grocery bags filled with stale bread and withered fruit.

I couldn't help observing that right after the fifteen-cent increase, Dear Leader, Duh-wite, awarded himself a $400,000 forgivable loan courtesy of the Newfoundland taxpayers.

"He's helping the poor people, in Deer Lake," said spouse.

An announcement by Al 'the Pirate' Hawkins, Minister of Unemployment, draws me back to the evening news. He announces a strategy to lure back home the sons and daughters of Newfoundland who have moved to other parts of Canada and the USA to avoid starvation. Al 'the Pirate' drones on about facilitating, aligning, demographic challenges, and growing the economy--I suspect with all the big words he's been talking to Dr Dale, Minister of Illiteracy. He talks about glad tidings of great joy in the future of our fair land but with his hang-dog look, you just know his heart's not in it.

"We'll offer them an incentive," he says. "It's called coming home."

He mumbles something about welcoming back everyone who is under 44 years of age.

"What about us," screams Spouse.

"There is no point in shouting at the TV," I advise her gently.

Al 'the Pirate' finishes up by giving us a website. We can go online and fill in a survey about coming home.

Spouse suggests we should fire up the dilapidated 2007 Toshiba laptop, pretend we're living in Scarborough, and complete the questionnaire.

I point out that we are right here in St. John's and it wouldn't be proper for us to pretend we are young Newfoundlanders living on the mainland making big money.

"We'll do it anyway," said spouse.

I was surprised by her devil-may-care attitude.

"It would be disloyal to Dear Leader," I said, 'not to mention being fractious, deceitful, and traitorous to our homeland."

To make a long story short, we went on-line and started to fill in the survey. Spouse pretended she was in her late 20s, and I was just 30. We told them we were in the money, both making well over $400,000 a year, as pharmaceutical executives. Life was good in Scarborough, but we'd throw it all in and come back in a flash to live in Paradise or Pigeon Inlet on welfare. 'We yearn to return,' I wrote at the end.

Spouse observed, with a twinkle in her eye, that I still looked as good as I did in olden days.

"This is getting out of hand," I said. "I've got a headache."

In my wild dream that night, I was living 10 years in the future. The entire expanse of our frozen land had become a tropical paradise, the clear green waters of Conception Bay reflected the cloudless azure skies of Avalon, frolicking children crowded pristine beaches free of plastic shopping bags and dead salmon, rooftop solar panels provided free power to dazzling white adobe homes. My dream world came complete with banana trees, contented moose, and a choice of free Raspberry screech or Mango OG marijuana.

In my serene Land of Nod, spouse and I spent our nocturnal hours wandering the strand, she in her Hawaiian grass skirt and me in my Samoan warrior loincloth, dancing and playing our ukuleles, greeting the untold thousands of friendly island neighbours who had returned to our pine-clad hills from the badlands to the west. We thanked God for this paradise and for Dear Leader, Duh-wite, who created it.

No more, the spindrifts whirling or tempests roaring. No more, the wild waves lashing our strand. No more, the silvern voice of bullying Big Eddie challenging members of the opposition to come outside Confederation Building and fight like men.

Perhaps, after all, my dream was exactly what Sir Cavendish Boyle envisioned when he wrote the Ode to Newfoundland in 1902 as he governed forlornly from frigid Government House in St. John's, pining for his former home in Barbados.

When I awoke in the early morning, the sound of freezing rain and sleet clicking against my bedroom window dispelled any notion that my dream was reality. Spouse snored peacefully beside me. I wondered if she shared my dream.

Lately, she has taken to wearing rose-tinted goggles when she retires after her relaxing nightcap of Fifty Shades of Bay. I find the goggles unsettling, but she explains that it helps her focus her dreams of sunbathing with the mermen on Middle Cove Beach.

When I tell her about my tropical island dream, she accuses me of having subliminal thoughts of going on vacation without her.

Downstairs, I power up the dilapidated Toshiba laptop. There is a Facebook message from Al 'the Pirate' Hawkins, Minister of Unemployment, asking if we'd volunteer to be the model son and daughter of Newfoundland for his big poster campaign. 


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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.