This Week in History
Canada’s Last Father of Confederation
For the week of Monday December 24, 2007
On December 24, 1900, Joseph “Joey” Smallwood, Newfoundland’s first, post-Confederation premier, was born in Gambo, Newfoundland. A journalist, radio broadcaster and politician, Smallwood was an active proponent and supporter of Newfoundland and Confederation.
Smallwood first entered politics in 1928 when he became the district campaign manager for the Liberal candidate, Sir Richard Squires. In 1936 he returned to St. John’s and was very active in publishing and journalism. He began compiling the first two volumes of the Book of Newfoundland and later hosted a radio program from 1937 to 1943, called the Barrelman.
During his more than two decades as Premier, Smallwood attempted a program of rapid industrialization that failed spectacularly. More successfully, he established the province’s first university, Memorial. Most of the social legislation he enacted was progressive, but in response to a major loggers strike in 1959, he turned away from his previous socialist ideals and intervened on the side of management. He was charming, eloquent and witty, and was possessed of exceptional energy that enabled him to completely dominate public life. He continued as premier until 1971 when he lost his first election; not long after, he retired from politics.
In retirement, Joseph “Joey” Smallwood returned to his first love of writing, publishing the well-regarded Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. He died on December 18, 1991. Smallwood himself, as well as Confederation, remain controversial subjects to many Newfoundlanders.
For more information about Newfoundland’s entry into Confederation, please see the story "And Then There Were Ten" in the This Week in History Archives.
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