Early Impressions of Gander
My family moved to "the Gander" in late 1946, at the time I was 4
years old. As you will appreciate the sequence of events may have been
re-arranged in my mind. Some things forgotten, others magnified, but
here are my memories. To quote Chuck Yeager, I'll relate things "as I
remember them, and not necessarily the way they happened."
My father had been working at Gander since the early 1940s and my
oldest brother, Howard, since about 1945. Less than a year after the
end of World War II, the whole family made the move. I have been able
to precisely date our move from the outport of Port Union in Trinity
Bay to Gander. In the 1980s I became interested in genealogy research
and was fortunate to have been born in a town that had its own
newspaper. The August 10, 1946, issue of The Fisherman's Advocate, in
the "Around Town" column, I found the following note: "Mrs. Bert
Butler and family leaves on Monday for Gander where they will in
future reside. A surprise party was given Margerate Butler by a number
of her friends this week". The columnist succeeded in misspelling my
sister's name, but the date of our move is accurate.
The events of the preparation for departure and the train ride
itself have long since faded, however, as with all major events in our
lives, certain things are held in memory forever.
The only method of transport that was available to take us to
Gander was the Newfoundland Railway. We were, again, fortunate enough
to live on a branch line of that railway that ran from Clarenville to
Bonavista. The branch train was a day run. Leaving Clarenville early
in the morning and taking the day to reach Bonavista by late afternoon
on the same day. The return run would leave Bonavista early the next
morning and arrive in Clarenville in the late afternoon. True, it was
only a 60 mile trip, but by the time the train stopped at every shack
along the way and snaked along the route at a top speed of 25 miles
per hour, even circling a pond (that section was and still is known as
The Trinity Loop) several hours had passed.
On arrival at Clarenville we probably had supper at the Station
Hotel, across the tracks from the railway station, and then waited to
catch the main line run of the train from St. John's to
Port-aux-Basques. There were two trains that plied this route. One, a
freight train with some passenger cars attched, stopped at every bend
of the track; whereas the Express carried more passenger than freight
cars and would probably complete the Clarenville to Gander part of the
trip an hour or two faster. We would have taken the Express which came
through Clarenville in that late evening and arrived in Gander in the
wee hours of the next morning. I don't actually remember much about
this trip, however, in conversation with my older sister about those
events, I learned that we arrived in the driving rain at Gander around
3:30 am Tuesday morning. My memory has a picture of us making a short
run to where we were to live, probably by taxi, which would have been
a treat at those times, to our apartment in the newly renovated
apartments on the Army Side of Gander, 22 Fleet Street, to be exact. I
remember that the apartment was rather empty of anything but the
necessities for such a late arrival. I would assume we went straight
Next morning was sunny and on looking out the kitchen window I saw
the green felt covered building next door. It was not occupied at that
time and had its windows covered. It would later become the home of
the Osmond family (Mary and company). My older sister, commented about
the ugly building next door. This prompted Dad to say, "Go outside and
look at this one. It's the same!" Later exploration that day proved
that every building on the Army Side looked the same.
The buildings of the Army Side were arranged around a huge sports
field all of which were covered the strips of green felt about 18
inches wide that were nailed on with the large-headed felt tacks. On
our side of the field were eight buildings, four on each side of the
road. Each building was in the shape of the letter "H"; and although
our building was one of the few renovated to accommodate a family,
each barracks would eventually be modified to accommodate eight
apartments, four on each arm of the "H". The connecting central part
of the building contained storage rooms and, for the first year were
were living there, the bathroom facilities. Later each apartment had
the bathroom facilities, consisting of a bathtub, toilet and sink,
added to the unit in a room off the kitchen near the back door. Our
unit, and I think most others, consisted of a very large eat-in
kitchen with a wood-burning stove, a large living room where the front
door (which was hardly ever used) was located, and three bedrooms. The
buildings on the other side of the field had a slightly different
arrangement, the details of which are now hazy.
Sometime during our first day, I remember my brother, Howard, who
was familiar with Gander, having worked there for a year or two before
we moved, took me for a walk up to see the runways and the airplanes.
We walked to where the road pavement started and then followed the
road to the runways; along by the runway toward where Goodyear's
Canteen, the grocery store and the railway station were located. I'm
sure we must have heard the planes passing over during the first night
in Gander but we quickly became immune to the roar of the planes as
the landed or took-off.
I remember playing in the unrenovated buildings, including the Star
Theatre, during my first months living on the Army Side. (Anyone
remember seeing a tear about 8 to 10 inches long in the lower
left-hand corner of the screen of the Star?) As the buildings were
renovated and other families moved in our play areas became restricted
to the huge field in the centre of the Army Side and to the woods, and
old military Quonset huts to the northwest of town. Since Dad worked
with the Newfoundland Telephone and Telegraph Company we were one of
the first families to have a telephone on the Army Side; Wilf French,
a co-worker of my father had the other telephone. Over the next months
that telephone became very popular as more and more people moved into
the renovated buildings on the Army Side. In those early days many
people would stop in to use it.
From 1946 to when I started school at Gander Amalgamated School in
1949, I have many "snapshot" memories of life on the Army Side of
Gander, far too many to relate here. To name just a few of these:
- My year attending the Catholic school, which was located on the
Army Side, the year I was old enough to attend school, because it was
close to home.
- Chaulk's store which provided groceries and dry goods items to
all families on the Army Side.
- Visits to Goodyear's Canteen, one by the railway station and the
other up the street from our school (Mrs. Hoddnott).
- Faulkner's barber shop.
- Visits to the terminal on Sunday afternoons for chips and a coke.
- Playing at the airplane dump.
- Visits from travelling salesman Bill Toytman.
- The gun-shell belts we made from spent shell casings found around
the old bunker installations north of the Army Side.
- Our baseball games in summer and road-hockey games in winter.
- Bonfires in the gravel pit on Guy Fawkes Night and skating there
- Walks to Union East along the railway track.
- Street hockey in winter.
And many, many more!
We lived on the Army Side from the time we moved to Gander (August,
1946) until my brother built a house in the "new townsite". We moved
there in late 1957.