The endangered Newfoundland Pony

Published on July 7, 2012
Burton K. Janes

Burton K. Janes

Rare Breeds Canada has identified the Newfoundland Pony as a critically endangered species. The numbers plummeted, from an estimated population of more than 12,000 in the early 1970s, to fewer than 100 worldwide by the late 1980s. The current population is about 350 known animals. The provincial government currently recognizes it as a heritage animal.

Dennis Flynn of Colliers is no stranger to writing and photography, having produced a well-received photo essay, "Voyage: Retracing the 1612 Journey of John Guy's Ship, the Indeavour."

He has now released the story of the remarkable Newfoundland Pony. He describes his new book, "The Long Haul: Tracking the Path of the Endangered Newfoundland Pony," as a "user-friendly visual journey."

His is a labour of love, providing what he calls "a positive message that the Newfoundland Pony is still here, that it can and should be saved, and is a rugged lovable survivor that is in it for the long haul."

He also hopes to capture "the search to find new uses and new relevance, giving the ponies some appropriate work to do in a modern world." Though some people continue to use these special animals in traditional ways, including ploughing land, hauling wood and gathering kelp, others regard them as large pets.

"I was, however, surprised and encouraged finding Newfoundland ponies used in Ontario teaching children equestrian skills," he says, thereby allowing the pony to "gain a foothold in a market thousands of miles from their homeland." He says the owners are "profuse in their praise for the work ethic, the relative strength for size, and the temperament of the Newfoundland Pony."

Flynn's connection with the pony is, he says, "an eternal part of and an iconic image from my youth." He explains that his maternal grandfather, John M. Dawson (Farmer Jack) of Bay Roberts, "always had ponies, even when the herds disappeared ... We would get to go for hay rides in summer, sleigh rides in winter, or even take the odd saddle ride up to Mission Lane to water the ponies in a little brook that crossed under the former railway tracks."

Flynn's photo essay combines archival images with his own shots. There is a vintage depiction of a soldier standing with a Newfoundland Pony and box cart on Water Street, Bay Roberts, circa 1940. Blacksmith William H. Littlejohn shoeing a pony at his forge in Coley's Point makes for a keen nostalgic moment. Horses and ponies pull sleighs on Duckworth Street, St. John's, in the early 1900s. There's even a shot of Cupids and the Guy Tercentenary celebrations in 1910.

Other towns featured include Trinity, Badger's Quay, Trepassey, Renews, Corner Brook, St. Anthony, Cappahayden, Bishop's Falls, Port de Grave, Salmon Cove, Brigus, Roaches Line and Carbonear, among others.

Flynn has very specific aspirations for readers and viewers of his book, saying, "I hope they come away with a sense of the deep connection and importance to this place that the Newfoundland Pony has and that we should continue to protect and promote this animal everywhere. It needs people to give it a helping hand to survive and thrive."

He says that, metaphorically speaking, the pony's future is on "thin ice, but a little closer to the proverbial safe shore than they were 10 or 15 years ago ... Many hands from all quarters, near and far, must pull together to save the pony."

Not without reason has the pony been described as "one of the best kept secrets." However, "in order to survive, the Newfoundland Pony can't be kept a secret any longer. It must be shared and enjoyed as the cultural treasure it is, both at home and away. The time for debate is done and the time to pull together in united action is now. If that happens, and I have faith that it will in some fashion, then the pony will survive for future generations to enjoy."

The book's usefulness is enhanced by judicious contributions from chief veterinary officer, NL Department of Natural Resources, Dr. Hugh Whitney; first president of the Newfoundland Pony Society, Dr. Andrew Fraser; president of the Newfoundland Pony Breed Association, John Scanlan; and Newfoundland Pony breeder, Pat Morris.

There's a listing of rescuers and breeders, along with the information about the evolution of the Newfoundland Pony.

If the Newfoundland Pony could speak, it could ask for no greater crusader for its cause than Dennis Flynn, who enjoys projects which, he says, "have something positive about them to keep you motivated" and have "roots in the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador."

"The Long Haul: Tracing the Path of the Endangered Newfoundland Pony" is published by James Lane Publishing, St. John's.

Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at