Gambo, with a population of approximately 2000 people, is located along Route 320 which runs parallel to the north shore of Freshwater Bay, an inlet of the far greater Bonavista Bay (See map under Attractions). It is situated 37 kilometers east of Gander International Airport.
Gambo's municipal boundaries contain an area of approximately 85 square kilometers. Within those boundaries lie some portion of the watershed of three very popular salmon and trout angling rivers: the Gambo, Middle Brook, and Traverse Rivers. One writer described the geography of Gambo this way: "Nestled within a beautiful estuary at the mouth of Gambo and Middle Brook the town is a pleasant family community...". (John Baird)
Forty one percent of Gambo's working population are employed in the sales and service sector of the economy. Another 22.4 % are involved in the construction industry. Gambo's employment rate in 2006 stood at 65.6 %.
According to the distinguished clergyman and scholar, M.F. Howley, the word,"Gambo", is a derivative of Baie de las Gamas, Spanish or Portuguese for "Bay of the does", with "does" generally understood to be a reference to caribou, a familiar presence in the Gambo area even today.
According to local lore, Mi'kmaq from Clode Sound in Bonavista Bay settled first at Doleman's Point, then moved to Mitchell's Point, and finally onto a Mi'kmaq reservation just north and west of the Middle Brook River. The last of these Mi'kmaq, mainly members of the Joe family, were buried in the Mi'kmaq Cemetery in Middle Brook.
The first Europeans were attracted to the Gambo area by the incredible stocks of Atlantic salmon migrating up the three rivers in the Gambo area and by the great pine stands for ships' masts and lumber. By the early nineteenth century salmon fishermen and loggers had settled year round in the Gambo area, starting at Doleman's Point and Hay Cove. The early loggers also built sawmills on the rivers powered by water wheels and sawed huge quantities of lumber that were shipped by schooners throughout Newfoundland and even into Europe and the Caribbean. By the late 1800s mills began to use turbines to run their saws and planers. Then came steam-powered mills. The first steam-powered mill in Newfoundland and Labrador was built on Dominion Point circa 1864 by David Smallwood, J.R. Smallwood's grandfather. A little later (1876) J.J. (Gambo) Murphy built a steamed-powered sawmill on Mint Brook and a town, the first in-land town in Newfoundland, grew up around the site. This was where J.R. (Joey) Smallwood was born in 1900.
In 1891, The Newfoundland Railway, which started in St. John's in 1878, reached Gambo. Right beside the railway tracks where the Village Green stage is now, J.J. (Gambo) Murphy built a large hotel, the largest hotel in Newfoundland outside of St. John's. The hotel, which opened in 1893, was built to attract sportsmen from Canada, the United States and Europe to come to the Gambo area to hunt trophy-sized caribou and black bear. It also attracted salmon and trout anglers, along with hunters after Canada Geese and the many species of ducks that used Gambo's rivers, ponds, and bogs, as well as the coves and islands of Freshwater Bay, as nesting sites. Murphy also laid a spur line from Gambo to Mint Brook to transport by trolley, the lumber and railway ties he sawed in Mint Brook, to the station at Gambo, from where they were shipped all over Newfoundland, Canada, the United States, South America, and Europe. Other sawmills in the area also used the railway to transport their lumber products to market. The Railway Depot at Gambo brought much employment and prosperity to the Gambo area. Passengers and freight were brought by boat up from the many communities in Bonavista Bay to the wharf in Gambo. The passengers needed places to stay and restaurants to eat in. In the spring the sealers from the communities along the Straight Shore of Bonavista Bay often trekked to the depot to catch the train to St. John's where they joined the ships that would take them to the spring seal hunt.
By 1894 there were four separate and distinct communities: Middle Brook, Dark Cove, Gambo, and Mint Brook. In 1907 a forest fire destroyed the mill at Mint Brook. In subsequent years these residents resettled, most of them to Gambo.
In the late 1940's, adding to prosperity in the Gambo area, the Anglo Newfoundland Company (the AND) that operated the pulp and paper mill in Grand Falls set up its wood operations in Gambo. The company employed hundreds of men to be loggers and drivers, dam builders and carpenters, cooks and cookees, etc. The company also stocked its wood camps with food and other provisions bought from businesses in the Gambo area.
From 1940 to 1960 the area experienced unprecedented growth in its population. In the late 1950's and early 60's many people resettled in Dark Cove, Middle Brook, and Gambo from the islands of Bonavista Bay such as Bragg's Island and Green Island. These people added greatly to the social and religious life of the three communities. In 1964 the three separate communities of Dark Cove, Middle Brook, and Gambo were incorporated as one town known as Dark Cove-Middle Brook-Gambo. In 1980 the town officially changed its name to Gambo.
Unfortunately, by 1970, because of forest fires and intensive logging, the timber resources in the Gambo area were no longer sufficient to its needs so the AND closed out its woods operation in Gambo. In the eighties the Railway ceased operating in Newfoundland and so the Railway Station at Gambo closed, throwing many more workers out of work. Those two economic blows to Gambo took away much of its prosperity and forced many people to leave and the population of Gambo dropped significantly.
In late 1980's Gambo Town Council formed the Smallwood Era Development Corporation (Sedcor) to come up with ideas and actions that could provide employment to the people of Gambo. The community embarked on an economic plan called the Smallwood Era Development Plan under which it developed Joey's Look-out, the J.R. Smallwood Interpretation Centre, the Village Green, the Smallwood Monument, Loggers Memorial Park and the Smallwood Trails. The Mi'kmaq Cemetery was restored and the David Smallwood Park was refurbished. Today Gambo has become a place of favor among history lovers, heritage buffs, and nature enthusiasts.