A stage presentation in 3 Acts, It is a one-man show format of the volatile political leader who brought Newfoundland into the Canadian Confederation. The show uses 3 major playing areas, multiple lighting, music and sound effects to tell the story of Joseph Smallwood's career, from his birth in the isolated lumbering town of Gambo, to his reign as unchallenged leader of Newfoundland for a quarter of a century, and his final fall from power. A 3-person team of actor, director/stage manager and costume/props manager handles the production with one lighting and one sound technician.
Keywords: Joey Smallwood, referendum, depression years, Canadian Confederation, premier, sea to sea, new province, Newfoundland, St. John's riots, Dominion status, Messianic complex, outport people, Liberal Party in NL, industrialization, election
Running time: 90 minutes
Suitable for students aged 10+
First produced by Theatre NL in 1991. Produced across Canada by Mulgrave Road Theatre Co-op, 1992.
Smallwood begins with some witty commentary on his birth on Christmas Eve, 1900, naming this as the source of the Messianic complex that prompted him to lead his people to salvation in the Canadian Confederation. Then he goes on to tell of growing up in poverty as the oldest of 13 children, with an alcoholic father, running away from school, and ending up in New York as a reporter with the Communist newspaper, "The Call" in the early 1920's
Joey returns to Newfoundland full of the zeal of social reform, and after a brief fling at politics, is caught up in the savage riots in St. John's that bring about the downfall of the government, and the surrender of Dominion status by the proud islanders in return for financial guarantees from Great Britain.
Smallwood remembers the depression years in Newfoundland, the dire poverty and the endemic sickness of the outport people, finally rescued by the establishment of American bases in World War 2. In 1945 when it all ends he is a successful pig farmer in the airport town of Gander, when he hears of a movement to restore self-government to Newfoundland. He will forsake his pigs and go back into politics.
Elected as a delegate to a National Convention summoned to consider and recommend a political future for the old Colony, Smallwood is the classic underdog when he proposes Confederation with Canada as the only solution to Newfoundland's economic isolation. The Churches, the wealthy merchants, the giant paper companies, the fish processors and small factory owners all fear competition from mainland business and Canadian taxes, and they refuse to even send a delegation to hear Ottawa's terms. Joey appeals over their heads to the people, the delegation is finally sent, and Confederation with Canada named as one of 3 choices on a referendum ballot.
The referendum is a savage battle and Smallwood is reviled as a traitor and a Judas Iscariot. The Independent forces win, but Joey is undaunted. He knows a runoff referendum must be held between the two top votegetters. This is the political strategists finest hour. He uses religious bigotry, the promise of senate seats, and judgeships, petitions, vote buying and a tireless fanaticism to win the day. Confederation is triumphant, and Joey is Premier.
Smallwood begins with his glory years in power when he decides to "drag Newfoundland kicking and screaming into the 20th century" by introducing a great industrialization scheme. In charge is his new Director of Economic Development, an ex-Nazi named Doctor Albert Valdmanis. Within two years Valdmanis is jailed for bilking industrial clients of $4 million, and Joey's dreams are in tatters. In the next 20 years he staggers from crisis to crisis, never managing to bring his new province to the prosperity it craves. Exhausted and dispirited, he considers retirement. But who will take over? Who will complete the dream? There is on one, so he will continue himself for another term. But his decision is challenged by young turks in his Liberal Party, "go now, or be kicked out". The old campaigner makes the classic political blunder - he will fight to stay on. He wins a new leadership race but the election is a tie, and he is finally outmaneuvered and forced to resign.
In a curtain speech, on another Christmas Eve, 90 years later, Smallwood sums it all up. At the heavenly gates St. Peter will ask not who you were, or what you became, but what you did. And he helped Canada fulfill its destiny and become a nation from sea to sea. Nat bad work for a little fellow from Gambo.