An interview with Smallwood
On July 7, 1981, I sat down with the Hon. Joseph Smallwood at his St. John’s office and interviewed him about one of his heroines.
Alice B. Garrigus (1858-1949) was the founder of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador.
In his memoirs, “I Chose Canada,” Smallwood refers to her as “an American of quite remarkable personality.” He got to know her well, for he often visited her Bethesda Mission on New Gower Street in St. John’s.
She was, he adds, “an extraordinarily able and a saintly woman.” He was profoundly affected by his friendship with her.
Smallwood’s biographer, Harold Horwood, writes: “He probably enjoyed the emotional atmosphere and the loud singing and praying and perhaps learned from these meetings something about how crowds can be swayed by mass emotion.... Later, he would use many of the same techniques himself: the endless repetition of simple slogans, the loudness and earnestness of voice, the straightforward appeal to simple, basic emotions.”
Not surprisingly, Smallwood’s voice choked with emotion even before he responded to my first question.
“I got a job with her,” he said. He worked one summer with her while she oversaw a building extension.
“I was not a carpenter,” he explained. “I was a boy of maybe 12 or 13 years of age on my summer holidays from Bishop Field College. I was the son of one of her converts.... Miss Garrigus paid a little attention to me and gave me the job.
“I forget what I got, maybe 50 cents a week, or it might have been a dollar a week. It was not big pay. It was only to help run messages and fetch this and that for the carpenters, because she had, I don’t know how many carpenters, one or two or three, employed constructing this extension. I would have to run for tools or run for this and generally be useful and help.
“I remember that the weather got to be quite hot and Miss Garrigus provided a large bucket of cool drink. The drink consisted of barley water or, if not barley water, some kind of cereal soaked in water – just plain water – and maybe she added some sugar to maybe give it a sweeter taste. It was not alcoholic in any degree whatsoever. But it was a very pleasant drink and it was the first time I had ever had it and I don’t know that I’ve ever had it since, but it was so pleasant that I still remember it....
“I do remember being wonderfully impressed by her personality. First of all, she had a fine voice, a deep voice, almost a masculine voice – not masculine, but a deep, rich voice. She had a good vocabulary. She was an educated woman. She spoke well with a f ine voice and with absolute, absolute sincerity. There was no way to doubt her sincerity, or that every word, though fashioned by her brain, came out of her heart. She meant every word; she believed every word she said. She was a very impressive woman. She was a small- sized woman.... I would say she was five feet, two or three....
“Everyone that she knew ... respected her and loved her. She, I think, and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and the present Queen of England, were perhaps the three most impressive women I have ever met in my life.”
I asked Smallwood if he saw Garrigus in her later years. “I hadn’t seen her f o r years,” he responded, “because she was living over in Clarke’s Beach.” She had chosen the Conception Bay town as her retirement home.
Smallwood was in his early 20s when he last saw or heard her. “I knew her over a period of, let’s say, 10 or 12 years. I got her to write an article for me – and she did – for ‘ The Book of Newfoundland.’ “
At one point in my interview, Smallwood asked me to turn off my recording device while he wept silently. “Undoubtedly,” he said, “she would ask me if it was well with my soul, by which she would mean, ‘Have you had the rebirth? Are you a born-again Christian?’ She knew that I knew what she meant, because I was quite familiar with all the terminology, with the phraseology of the Pentecostal movement.” Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at
Alice B. Garrigus