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Author: Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

In June 1963, while living in Grand Falls, Newfoundland, now known as Grand Falls-Windsor. I was engaged in the usual teenage activities of the time, and one of those activities was being a member of the AYPA, the Anglican Young Peoplesí Association, and taking part in its various activities.

One sunny Sunday afternoon the AYPA group was going on a hike, and we were instructed to meet in the parking lot of the church. There it was discovered that some material we needed for this particular field trip was missing, and had been left inside the church. I was dispatched to fetch it.

That point I had not lived in Grand Falls for very long, and was eager to please and meet new friends, so I headed for the church. However, when I reached the big doors of the brick church building I felt somewhat uneasy. For some reason I did, and still do not, like to be alone in a church.

I entered the building through the heavy double doors. The Sanctuary was empty and still, with the sun was streaming in through the stained glass windows. I felt anxious as I knew I would. My plan was to fetch the items and get out of there as fast as possible. Then I was startled by a noise, and I turned to see a very dashing gentleman walking toward me, his hands resting behind his back, his face wearing a warm smile. He wore dark rimmed glasses and a dark suit, and my first thought was that he was a visiting clergyman. He stopped next to me and in a very kind voice asked my name, and why was I in such a hurry? He continued to ask numerous other questions, including the name of my school, how my grades were, if I liked living in Grand Falls, and how many brothers and sisters I had. He then noted what a lovely church we were standing in, pointing out various characteristic of the building as he spoke.

As our conversation continued I had time to really look at him and his features became familiar to me. He was quite the conversationalist, and after ten minutes he bid me goodbye, telling me that he had enjoyed our chat. As he left through the first door he turned around and told me I must remember to do my best in school.

I watched him walk away, his hands still behind his back. I noticed he was holding a black hat in one hand. I followed him to the door, and as he left I peered through the window, watched him put on his hat while a huge, black car pulled up and he opened the door and disappeared into the back seat.

Then I knew who he was- he was none other than our Newfoundland Premier Joseph R. Smallwood. I had seen photos of him, and studied about him in school, and about his role in our provincesí Confederation with Canada. I could hardly believe I had spoken with the premier.

When I returned to my group, I excitedly told them about the encounter in the church. They seemed not to believe me, so I left it at that and never mentioned it again. After a few days had passed, I told my father about my meeting with the man in the church the previous Sunday, and he laughed with delight.

"Yes, it would have been Mr. Smallwood. He was here in Grand Falls for meetings on the weekend."

He was pleased to know I had spoken with the premier. I was so relieved. My mother also believed me, but my siblings would not, and they teased me mercilessly. But siblings are like that so I did my best to ignore them as usual.

More than forty years have passed since my chance encounter with Premier Joey Smallwood. He was a busy man, but he took the time, not only to visit local buildings, but also to stop and spend a few minutes to speak with a young girl who would remember the experience for the rest of her life.

I had talked with the premier, and it was indeed a Premier Experience, as well as a wonderful lifetime memory.

Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

Footnote:

Joseph R. Smallwood (1900-1991)
Smallwood led the campaign for confederation and helped negotiate the Terms of Union.
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (J.R. Smallwood Collection 075, 5.05.061), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St.Johnís.

 


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