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19th-century firearms retrieved from ocean bottom being restored in N.L.

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Twenty rifle-muskets, with walnut stocks and brass fittings, sit in a partially intact wooden crate at the department of archeology at Memorial University in St. John’s, where they are being conserved.

The iron barrels have corroded, but the P53 Enfield rifle-muskets are in remarkable shape after spending close to 150 years at the bottom of the ocean. 

They were dragged to the surface in 2011 by the Newfoundland Lynx, fishing 150 nautical miles east off Cape Freels in 800 metres of water.

Since then, the P53 Enfields have spent most of the time submerged in a tub of chemicals, including polyethylene glycol, a bulking agent that prevents the wood from collapsing.

Conservationist Donna Teasdale has been working on the crate of P53 Enfields since 2011. (Todd O’Brien / CBC)

Donna Teasdale, a conservator at the university, said the British-made weapon was common in the 1850s and ’60s.

“The interesting part is that they’re in a crate. [That’s] very rare, and we only know of one other example and that was found in Chesapeake Bay.”

It’s very rare to find P53 Enfield rifle-muskets in their original crate. (Todd O’Brien / CBC)

More than a thousand hours of work has gone into restoring the crate of guns alone.

That is nearly complete, and once they spend a few weeks in a vacuum freeze dryer, they’ll be ready for display.

But it’s not settled where they’ll go from here.

“My hope sincerely is that somewhere like The Rooms takes them and puts them on permanent display,” said archeological conservator and graduate student Alexa Spiwak.

“They’re a fantastic find. They have such huge heritage value. They’re such a one of a kind thing. And I think the public loves them and they deserve to be seen.”

The P53 Enfield was ubiquitous in the British army and used during the American Civil War and the Crimean War.

Spiwak has been working on the rifle-muskets for 2½ years.

When the firearms and crate arrived, they weighed around 270 kilograms. They’re now down to half that.  

Along with cleaning out lots of packing grease, silt and iron particles, Spiwak spent time researching the guns’ origins.

Conservator Alexa Spiwak has been busy cleaning and restoring the guns. (Todd O’Brien / CBC)

“These were actually what they called first class, the finest that Enfield made at the time,” she said.

They were machine-made and parts were interchangeable, dating from around 1860 onwards.

Spiwak thinks the P53s were in use, possibly in Canada at the time, and were on their way back to Britain.

“In 1866, the British government actually recalled P53s across the empire because what they wanted to do was actually modify the stocks themselves to be breech-loading.”

Until that time, soldiers would use a ramrod to pack in the bullet and gunpowder from the muzzle.

The P53 Enfield rifle-muskets are weeks away from being fully restored. (Todd O’Brien / CBC)

The project is being funded by the provincial Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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