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
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.