Clifton United Church honours the past

Dedication of grave marker of James and Mary Smallwood, the great-great-grandparents of Joey Smallwood, on Aug. 17

Sally Cole
Published on August 7, 2014

James Smallwood and his wife, Mary Brown, had seven children. With the two older sons taking over the farm, David, their youngest son, didn’t feel like he had a future on P.E.I. u So, at the age of 22, he went exploring, ending up in Newfoundland, first in Gander and then in St. John’s. David became an entrepreneur. He had a successful shoe and boot factory in St. John’s.

As Doug Kelly was giving members of Clifton United Church a tour of the church graveyard in Stratford a few years ago, he stopped to tell a story at the site of two tree trunks.

“‘This is the spot where Joey Smallwood’s great-grandparents are buried. There was a gravestone here, but it disappeared 100 years ago,’” the Stratford history enthusiast, and a descendent of the Smallwood family, told the gathering.

Considered by many until as his death as the last living Father of Confederation, Smallwood helped lead Newfoundland into Confederation in 1949. He also served as its first premier from 1949 to 1972.

“They became interested and told me that the grave should be recognized,” says Kelly.

So a committee was struck. And, after some discussion, church members decided to place a stone monument marking the location where James Smallwood and his wife, Mary Brown, were laid to rest.

“The congregation felt it was important. They wanted to mark the spot. So the money came out of our general church funds.”

Fast forward to 2014, the dedication of the new grave marker will take place Sunday, Aug. 17, following the 9 a.m. service.

“This being the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference, which led to Confederation, it seemed like a natural tie-in to install a stone and formally dedicate it to the great-grandparents of Joey Smallwood,” says Kelly, adding the dedication is also one of the activities marking the 150th anniversary of Trinity Clifton United Church.

And many people have been involved.

During the planning phase, a news release was sent out to all the media. Rev. John Moses, the minister, also reached out to Newfoundland Smallwoods to tell them about the monument.

Searching the Internet, he came up with a list of names and addresses of Smallwood families. So he wrote a letter to each one, inviting them to the celebration. Moses also asked them to pass on the invitation to any relatives they knew who might not have Smallwood as their last name but might be related.

Karen Regular was one of them.

“I thought, ‘this is really interesting. I would really like to go and see the grave marker. There was an email address, so I responded to Rev. Moses,” says the St. John’s native, who now calls Whitby Ont., home.

Coincidently, Regular learned about the monument dedication two weeks before she was due to go on a cruise of the eastern seaboard of Canada.

“I knew that the ship was making a stop on P.E.I. So I wrote Rev. Moses that I was going to be in Charlottetown on such and such a date and asked him how far the Smallwood gravesite was from the cruise ship port.”

Moses responded, telling her if she could meet him at Trinity United Church in Charlottetown he would take her there, which he did.

When Regular arrived, she was greeted by the Trinity Clifton 2014 committee members, as well as members of the congregation, including Kelly. Then, when she saw the beautiful memorial to her great-great grandparents and her uncle, Joey, she was touched.

“I was impressed with the care that the church committee took (in putting it together). As a family member it was also very moving and interesting to see that they cared enough to raise the funds and do it.

“(The Prince Edward Islanders) are beautiful people. And we are so grateful.”

Regular is the first off-Island descendant to visit the monument, but not the last, says Kelly.

“We expect there will be a dozen or more of the Newfoundland Smallwoods coming to P.E.I. for the dedication ceremony.

“Every Smallwood in Newfoundland can trace their ancestry back to David Smallwood, the youngest son of James and Mary Smallwood, who are buried here.”