Loquacious, mischievous and unabashedly egotistical, Joey Smallwood made an indelible impression on Canadians during his 23 years as Liberal premier of Newfoundland. When reports emerged that the architect of Newfoundland’s union with Canada was facing financial ruin, offers of support poured in from across the country. In Hall Beach, N.W.T., the local Liberal association planned a “Newfie night” to raise money for Smallwood. In Toronto, singer Tommy Hunter announced plans to hold a telethon. And in Winnipeg, members of a punk rock band, The Chocolate Bunnies From Hell, said that they would stage a benefit concert. Said Hunter: “An 86-year-old man who has done what he has for Canada should not be put in this position.”
In response, Newfoundland government officials drew up a plan aimed at solving Smallwood’s financial difficulties. Presented to the Smallwood family last week by Premier Brian Peckford, the plan would have established a foundation to help pay off the crippling debts Smallwood amassed while working on his cherished Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, which he began in 1978. Smallwood, whose speech was impaired by a stroke two years ago, completed only two of five planned volumes and spent all of his savings. In addition to financing completion of the encyclopedia, the foundation would have paid living expenses for Smallwood and his wife. The government also offered to negotiate a settlement with an Ontario firm, Cairn Capital Inc., which is suing Smallwood for $176,161 in unpaid printing costs.
But in a surprising development, the Smallwood family last week rejected the bailout plan. Smallwood’s son, William, insisted that the encyclopedia project, as well as copyrights to other Smallwood books, should remain in family hands instead of being turned over to the foundation. And he demanded the return of Smallwood’s house in Roaches Line, west of St. John’s, which the former premier sold to the government for $1 in 1963.
Still, the government said that it would keep its offer on the table. And the elder Smallwood was clearly moved by the support he had received. When Hunter came to visit the Smallwood home, the aging Newfoundlander looked up with tears in his eyes and managed to say a quiet “Thank you.”^
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