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Joey Smallwood (1900 - 1991)

Last Founder of Confederation — Canada

Joseph Roberts Smallwood was born in Gambo, Newfoundland December 24, 1900, the son of Charles and Mary Ellen Smallwood. He was the oldest of thirteen brothers and sisters. Soon after Joey's birth the family moved to St.John's. Smallwood came from a long line of farmers and he developed a love of the land and the outdoors.

From 1949 till the day he died, "Joey" was affectionately known as the only living father of Confederation. But that love was divided in the late 1940's when Smallwood began his crusade to make Newfoundland a province of Canada.

Gambo's favorite son lost his first run at political office in 1932. A couple of years later Smallwood worked for the press, writing a column for the Daily News in St. John's. His "Barrelman" newspaper column wound up as a radio show with a deep following across Newfoundland.

From a pig farm in central Newfoundland Joey started his second run at politics, in 1945, as a candidate who was convinced that the country's economic salvation lay in Confederation with Canada. By 1947 he was among a delegation sent to Ottawa to start negotiations to make Newfoundland the tenth province in the Dominion.

Not everyone shared Joey's vision of what union with Canada would mean for Newfoundlanders. His pitch for economic security was countered by the nationalist stab that Newfoundland was surrendering her independence as a nation.

Smallwood's confederates won the 1948 referendum by a slim majority. However, it was enough to deliver the province to Canada and Joey became the first premier under Confederation in 1949. This was a position he held for 23 turbulent years.

Joey's tenure was marked by the controversial program of resettlement that forced thousands of people out of remote outport communities. His economic programs are remembered for the chocolate and rubber boot factories and the Economic Guru he hired, who was charged with misusing Government funds and taking bribes.

However, in election after election Newfoundlanders returned Smallwood to office. He won himself a tough reputation for standing up to the Federal Government in Ottawa. In some Newfoundland homes you may still find a picture of Joey hanging on the wall where older generations still remember the early days of Newfoundland's entry into Canada.

After he lost the Government to the Tories in the early 1970's, Smallwood stepped down. He then lost the bid for Liberal leadership and struck out to start up his own party. That kept Smallwood in politics until 1977.

After politics, Joey embarked on an ambitious project that would continue even after he died in the early 1990's. The
Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador is a detailed account of the land where Smallwood left his own deep impressions on the people and their history.

Joseph "Joey" Smallwood, the little fella from Gambo, reigned over Newfoundland for 23 years. To some he was a bully, a dictator, a scoundrel. To others he was a saviour. Whatever he was, Smallwood left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of Newfoundlanders.