Early Impressions of Gander

by Jim Butler

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 to bed.

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.

John & Jim Butler-1947

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.

Jim Butler-1950

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.

Jim Butler circa 1952

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 in winter.

- 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.