can't spell joey without JOY

In his sprawling memoir I Chose Canada, Joey Smallwood has a chapter devoted to listing his 23 most upsetting failures. Reading this is a great way to celebrate 64 years of success and great times as Canada’s 10th province. Just think, we could have been so much more:

1. Build a replica German town (and fill it with German people) somewhere out in the bay as a tourist destination

I had a plan to duplicate in Newfoundland the little town of Rothenburg in Germany. This is a very ancient town, quaint beyond words, where large quantities of attractive toys are made.  My thought was that the existence of a replica of this, or some other German town, peopled by Germans who operated hotels, restaurants, taverns, shops, and the like, would attract to Newfoundland each year thousands, or possibly even scores of thousands, of German tourists from the United States and Canada. (…) It would have cost a good many millions, but I’m still not sure that it wouldn’t have been a profitable venture for Newfoundland. (359)

2. Line the first 20 miles of the TCH coming off Port-aux-Basques with flowering plants to make the world’s longest Lover’s Lane.

3. Send an outport back in time to the 16th century

I intended to find some deserted cove in one of our bays and recreate in it as perfect a replica as possible of a sixteenth or seventeenth-century Newfoundland fishing settlement – the fishermen using the same techniques, dressing much the same, and living as their forefathers had done 200 or 300 years before. Their families would live there only through the summer and early autumn fishing season. (359-60)

4. Set up better conservation policies in Labrador

I deeply regret my failure to institute a really powerful policy of conservation (…) We did something, but not one-quarter enough. One day our descendants may condemn us harshly for my failure and the failure of others in this field. (360)

5. Build a giant statue park around Confederation Building filled with characters from Newfoundland history

I all but completely failed in my program to set up a substantial number of statues and monuments in front of Confederation Building. My plan envisaged a statue of the American Indian Squantum or Squanta, who had lived in Newfoundland and later, when the Pilgrim Fathers landed on the American continent, had become a Heaven-sent friend to the impractical settlers. It was my intention to ask the United States Government to donate such a statue, and to ask the Italian Government to donate a statue of John Cabot, and the British, French, and Spanish governments to give statues of great nationals of theirs who had played a part in the early history of Newfoundland. (…) Only three statues are there, but I had hoped to have twenty or more. (360)

6. Establish a great Newfoundland Polytechnique up on Ridge Road in St. John’s

The polytechnique would absorb the College of Fisheries, Navigation, and Marine Engineering and Electronics, as well as the College of Technology. (360)

7. Put the Supreme Court in the middle of MUN’s main campus and build a law school

8. Have the Ford Foundation go around the world recruiting students for the Fisheries’ College

They never did go for it, but I still think that it is a solid plan. (361)

9. Build a diesel engine plant

10. Build a Leica camera plant

My mouth watered as I went through the great camera plant of Ernst Leitz, manufacturer of the Leica camera, at Wetzlar, Germany, when I saw the army of men and women assembling the cameras. I did succeed in getting them interested in establishing a branch plant in Canada – they went to Toronto! (361)

11. Expand salt and oil exploration

12. Build an iron ore processing plant in Wabush

13. Sell the Bell Island coal mine to a German steel mill

We offered them virtually outrageous inducements to take it over and to own and operate it. We worked all through the night, until two o’clock the next morning, with the three  [German] representatives (…). I had with me several of my Cabinet colleagues and a group of lawyers from the Department of Justice. We came to an agreement at last and we all went home to bed (…) [but] it was some time afterward that I learned why the company (…) turned it down. The iron ore they’d be getting from Bell Island would replace much of what they were getting from France, and (…) if they did this, they would not be allowed to sell any of their finished products in France, which was a very important market to them. (361-2)

14. Build a heavy water plant

15. Build an aluminium plant

16. Build a graphite electrode plant

17. Build a Volkswagen plant in Newfoundland

Hitler, as the world knows, promoted “the people’s car” (…). He collected money from virtually every family in Germany to finance the development and production of the car. The German State that had done all this was now gone, and there was a strongly held theory that the plant and car were no longer “owned” by anyone – in short, that they were just there for the taking! It will be no news to you that I failed. (362-3)

18. Build an unnamed Japanese car plant

19. A special government boat that could ship Newfoundland-made cars to the Mainland

I had the idea that, to give very necessary practical help to certain industries that were were establishing (…), we should have a specially designed ship, to be owned by the Government but operated by efficient ship’s-husbands. This ship would have made a vast difference to the economics of an automobile assembly plant in Newfoundland, for by it the cars could be transported up the St. Lawrence to the very heart of the continent. (363)

20. Build jets for the Soviets

I failed to make a deal with the Government of the Soviet Union for the partial manufacture, and the assembly, of their Yak jet aircraft in Newfoundland, for sale throughout North America and possibly Central and South America. (363)

21. Establish Canada’s biggest shipyard at Marystown to build Israeli supertankers (except Frank Moores screwed it up)

[Ya’acov Meridor and Mila Brener] wanted to create (…) a shipyard that would build supertankers up to 225,000 tons. We were negotiating this project when I left office in January 1972. I hadn’t been out of office many weeks before my successors announced that the Israeli firm was out of Marystown, and my dream of setting up Canada’s largest shipyard at Marystown died. I will always regret the failure of that great concept. (363)

22. Expand the Come-by-Chance refinery, except that he admits from the outset that he actually did this so I have no idea why he put it here

“haha jesus christ, joey” (all 600 pages)

23. Fill up inbound oil tankers with cheap orange juice to save money on shipping

The incredibly rich Captain Ludwig of California spent close to $15 million to establish great orange groves in Chiriqui Province in the Republic of Panama. (…) Once a fortnight, throughout the year, the Golden Eagle oil tanker departs from the Panama seaport of Colón for Holyrood. My thought was the essence of simplicity: the large steel drums of frozen orange-juice concentrate would be put into refrigerated compartments on the tankers, [and] delivered to Holyrood (…). It would have made orange juice inconceivably more plentiful, and very much cheaper, than milk in Newfoundland. It was a good idea, and it would have succeeded except for the fact that Ludwig’s whole vast scheme collapsed in utter failure and all those millions of dollars were lost. (366)

At least he was self-aware. This is literally the chapter’s concluding paragraph:

Failures: twenty-three in twenty-three years. It wouldn’t be too bad if that were the whole story. But these twenty-three aren’t even 10 per cent of the total; they are only the most serious ones. There are those in Newfoundland who would paint a far more damaging – and sinister – picture. There’s no room for doubt: I must be placed at the head of the list. I am guilty of more failures and mistakes than Alderdice, Monroe, Squires, Morris, and Bond, the other elected prime ministers before me in this century, all put together. (366)

Don’t be so hard on yourself b’y. They might still build that law school at MUN yet.


I Chose Canada: The Memoirs of the Honourable Joseph R. ‘Joey’ Smallwood. Macmillan, 1973.


3 thoughts on “The Premiership of Unrequited Dreams

  1. very impressive list drew. I mean looks like you spent some time writing these up. In my opinion, none of these were failures, but great successes. Had they gone ahead, that would be the failure. Each one of these “ideas” represent the worst in central planning. I think we have enough examples of soviet union-made jalopies and worthless lumps of pig iron from the great leap forward to realize that citizens should not be forced to manifest the cockamamie dreams of an authoritarian.

    1. I think you are definitely correct on this point; the Smallwood era is a microcosm of the worst aspects of central planning. I still do think his idea of building jets for the Soviets at the height of the Cold War is just delightful, though.

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