Reproduced with permission from The Beacon 1975 Gander Day Supplement



From piggery to politics


Perhaps one of the very first businesses before Goodyear’s ever existed in Gander was Joe Smallwood’s piggery.  He and his brother Reg operated it before Confederation in 1944.  It was during the operation of the piggery that Joe’s life as a father of Confederation emerged.  This short historical article about Joey’s piggery is taken from the 1975 Gander Day Supplement.


Newfoundland “Barrelman” Raises Pigs

By Sgt. Neale Reinitz


It’s pretty widely understood that newspapermen come up against the more complicated aspects of civilization in their daily contacts.  They must make their occupational way amidst all sorts of human twist and turns – a very logical situation, because it’s the twists and turns of existence that from the pattern of that which the newspaperman is seeking – news!

This may account for the open favoritism that the majority of working newspaper writers and editors profess toward the simpler forms of life, e.g. the rural and agricultural existence.  This theory may help to explain why Joe Smallwood, ex-journalist and for seven years the famous “Barrel Man” of the Newfoundland radio, is now running the Royal Air Force piggery on this base, a livestock plant with an annual turnover of 1000 porkers.

Smallwood, a wiry, alert-looking man of 44, describes himself as “having done what every newspaperman has wanted to do – go farming.”  After a career that carried him from the acting editorship of the St. John’s Evening Telegram at the age of 18 through newspaper endeavors in Halifax and New York and a tenure from 1936 to 1943 as the Barrel Man, radio expert on Newfoundland history and national lore, Joe came into command of the RAF piggery, with the prerequisite of two year’s experience on his own small farm near St. John’s.

During the last two years of his nightly-except Sunday broadcast, Smallwood devoted his leisure time to his farm, which had its own piggery.  As the months went by, he found himself becoming more and more interested in his farming and hog-culturing but at the same time losing interest in his radio identity.

The possibilities of success for a super-piggery founded on the heavy accumulation of food scraps at the military installation in Newfoundland occurred to him and he first mentioned it to the Commandant of a U.S. Army base on the island.  The CO of the spot was interested and willing to cooperate but negotiations hadn’t yet been entered upon when Joe heard that Group Captain D.F. Anderson, DFC, AFC, commanding the RAF at Gander, had already started a small piggery.  Smallwood contacted G-Capt. Anderson and before long the present piggery was in operation.

The material aid and moral support extended by the RAF CO was essential.  “Were it not for Group Captain Anderson,” Smallwood remarked,” the piggery would never have been set up, and even if it had been built, it would not have attained one-tenth it present success, but for him.”

Smallwood represents his seven-year radio task as the Barrel Man as that of “glorifying Newfoundland,” much in the manner of Florenz Ziegfield’s efforts on behalf of the American girl.  His method, he says, was the stirring up of patriotism and pride in his country by making known the facts and fancy of its 450 year existence.  During the seven years of his sponsored broadcast, he received close to 70,000 fan letters and over 3000 visitors to his office at St. John’s. 

The Barrel Man spoke, on his program, of the folklore, history, geography and politics of his native land, brightening his narrative with tall tales, a form of humour currently popular in Newfoundland, which, he says, is roughly parallel to the wit of the Mark Twain and Josh Billings style which prevailed in the United States in the latter part of the last century.

For two years during the program, the Barrel Man offered to take a crack at answering any questions about Newfoundland his listeners would put to him.  Among queries running into the thousands, Joe reports that there were only about a dozen that he could not handle. 

The “barrel man” – whence the name originated – is an impressive figure on the masthead of a whaling or seal-hunting vessel such as those that have plied the 1200 odd “outports” which dot the Newfoundland coast.  The barrel man crawls up though the bottom of his barrel, which is attached to the forward mast and from this lofty perch he serves as ship lookout, keeping sharp watch for possible quarry.

Smallwood’s barreling was only a logical culmination of his previous experience as a journalist.  His background, which includes the authorship of some six books about Newfoundland, equipped him well for his role as national radio historian and human interest dispenser.  Among his recollections are occasions on which the Newfoundland government would refer directly to the Barrel Man inquiries about national matters received from without the country.

In coincidence with his role as an historian of Newfoundland, Smallwood covered many of the early trans-Atlantic airplane flights for the United Press as well as the St. John’s papers.  These flights included the unsuccessful crossing of the US Navy plane NC3, a few weeks later, the first non-stop flight across the ocean by Alcock and Brown - all in 1919.  The Barrel Man’s newspaper experience includes time on staff at the New York Times, the Boston Herald and the Halifax Herald.  In St. John’s he worked as acting editor of the Evening Telegram and as editor of the now defunct Daily Globe.  Smallwood also founded the Humber herald in Corner Brook.  In 1935, however, all these newspaper efforts came to a head in the single radio venture.

Port and its by-products are popular dishes in Newfoundland, and perhaps the fact that swine, under ordinary circumstances, require only swill to be cast before them, makes them a comparatively easy stock to be fattened for the kill, considering the ultimate culinary benefits to be derived.  These factors indicate the advantages of piggeries in his northern home.

About 700 porcine tenants abide at any one time in the succession of steamheated sites that comprise the RAF hoggery, at present the largest in Newfoundland.  Soon, with the addition of curing facilities, it will be the only piggery on the island to smoke its own ham and bacon and boil its own ham.  The process will be carried through, Smallwood remarks, “from the littler grunter to the finished product.”

When the plant is functioning according to projected plans, the by-products of the swill-eaters will be utilized to the full.  Lard will be “rendered”, hones will be ground for fertilizer and dried blood will be used for protein feed – the latter function creating the case of the porkers a rather vivid parallel to the cycle of human existence.  The fattening hogs will grow robust on the blood of their predecessors only to pass this nourishment on to their descendants after they themselves have been slaughtered.

An annex to the piggery in the process of construction contains an array of breeding stalls, where two boars – one native, one Canadian – have their fling at improving the littering rate of the native sows.  A virile boar, Smallwood estimated, is good for about forty sows.  Up to now, most of the young pigs have been shipped from Canada at the age of from eight to ten weeks old.  Those “farrowed” or “littered”, at the piggery have been in the minority.  The average imported sty-dweller lives about six to seven months after he arrives – this half-year being the usual time of fattening fro the pigs, once they are out of their infancy.

It would be reasonable to suspect that Joe Smallwood was not sorry that he followed his journalistic incentive toward this fundamental way of making a living, however, the officials in Government House, St. John’s, as they eat the weekly shipment of sausages from the RAF piggery, may quite possibly remember to regret that the Barrel Man, in his nightly program, no long stimulates national interest and patriotism throughout Newfoundland.

researched by Carol Walsh

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