Feb 15, 2009

OK here’s the second ‘mail call’ with even more great memories shared by fellow ‘mates’. Enjoy.


Gander's first post office was in this building

Post office entrance (click for enlargement)


Maybe a good place would be to mention the old Post office on the Canadian side. It was in line with the east end of Hanger 13 on Pattison Road. You went up a short flight of outside steps and just inside the mail boxes were on the left hand side. There was an inside door straight on from the main door that lead to the counter.

 One thing I remember was that if you came out of the post office and went directly across the street, you would find a marquee on the side of the hanger showing the movies coming up at the Globe Theatre.  Two movies in particular that come to mind are "Shane" with Alan Ladd and "East of Eden" with I think,  James Dean. I wasn't allowed to go see that one, nor a later one with Brigitte Bardot. (Might have been "God created Woman".)

And the mail itself!  A first thing I remember were the ads in the back pages of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. What exciting stuff one could have come from far away places.  My eye got caught by the stamps ads which usually said something about getting stamps from some country or other, along with "free approvals". I didn't realize that if they sent you the free approvals and you didn't send  them back very quickly, they weren't free at all.  If you didn't send them back, they figured you had 'approved' them and subsequently you got a bill in the mail. 

I had ordered stamps from three places about the same time and quickly got three bills. Not knowing what to do, I just hid the bills away. I got nasty letters later on but they finally gave up, probably figuring there was no use to run after someone on an isolated and exotic island like Newfoundland...who knows what the natives might be like in a place like that!

From the same magazines I even ordered a jet engine. It was as big as a hot dog sausage and worked... once. I attached to a wood and cardboard contraption.  I was scared to death to light it up. Finally I did and it took off "like a jet" . However it didn't land like a jet so I learned I was no Werner von Braun.

I also ordered radio parts from the same magazines, especially diodes to make crystal radios, very popular in those days with CBG so close for excellent reception...even in school.

But the best radio stuff be got through the mail was from a war surplus company in Montreal called EICO. They had piles of stuff dirt cheap that even poor young  kids like us could dream about buying.

Seems to me it was from them that Alex Chisohm had gotten a complete no. 19 transmitter/receiver set with the dials written in English and Russian because many of them were used in Sherman tanks sent to Russia in World War ll. Getting their catalog was a wondrous moment.

Being from a place like Gander and having such a variety of reading material, I was also interested by science.  When I was about 10-11, I read about Robert Oppenheimer who was the head of the Manhattan Project and Father of the atomic bomb.  I had a few questions (and probably a few theories!) to talk to him about, so I jotted him off a letter.

To my great joy, I got a reply.  It wasn't signed by M Oppenheimer himself but by his secretary who said that M Oppenheimer had read my letter, had taken note of my comments and wished me luck.  I tell ya, I'd love to still have that letter today!

I also learned at an early age that when you send a letter you are supposed to put a stamp on it.  When I was about 10-11, I once sent a "love letter" to Carolyn Miller (for a while I thought it was someone else but stand corrected).  I didn't realize that I had to stamp it.  Her father worked at the Naval site and when the letter went to the post office, he had to go to the post office cover the cost of the stamp. I was told he didn't love having to pay for love letter!

Like many other kids in Gander, I gave a try at writing a pen pal. I wasn't really into it but I still remember, over 50 years later, the name of a girl with whom I was a pen pal for a while. Her name was Carol Menzies and she lived in South Africa, though I'm not sure which city.  I do remember though that she was pretty cute.

Yes sir, the mail was important in those days. We didn't call it "snail mail" then.  Getting stuff after days and weeks was normal....and we were probably happier then to get a letter in the mail than an email today.

Robert G. Pelley, Class of 1962



And who could beat this piece of mail received from ‘The King’ himself.

Michal Millar, Class of 1960


I can picture the old Post Office in my mind. If memory serves me correctly, when you walked up and into the post Office there was a porch area before you stepped inside to the main counter. I think but am not sure, that there were some mailboxes there.

That porch area was a great place to step inside on a freezing winter day while waiting for the bus to get us to the American side. Sometimes it got so crowded that the Post Master would kick us out.... I remember one particular time when my feet were frozen! So the Post Office wasn't just for mail, it was shelter from a cold winter as well.

And yea, as an aside, the crystal radios sure did work well in school. You could hook the wire onto the radiator next to the window and put the ear piece in your hand and prop up your head while pretending you were listening to the teacher but were listening to the world series instead! You had to be careful  though not to pump your fist and shout 'Yes Yes Yes!' when Bill Mazeroski hit that big home run for the Pirates, just as the teacher said 'Ok class, I'm assigning some home work for the weekend.'

Timing is everything.

 Angus Taylor, Class of 1962


Being in the military and quite often on isolation bases without my family, mail call and mail rooms are all too familiar to me. As a matter of fact, I spent 10 months in Gander without my family before housing became available.

There wasn`t much to do down there at the time so Flo (my wife) mailed me a mandolin to while away the hours with. I don`t have much of a flair for music but that mandolin helped me pass away some lonely hours. By the time my family arrived I had mastered the instrument to a point where I could play some simple tunes.

The sad part is that I stopped playing on their arrival and haven`t picked it since. My grandson has the mandolin now and has become very proficient with it. Take care.

Dave Gilhen, RCAF Gander, 1957


One Christmas when we lived in Gander, I received a model airplane as a gift. When I started to put it together I noticed there was a piece missing. I think it was a horizontal stabilizer. So I wrote a letter of complaint and sent it off to the company. Then I promptly forgot all about it. One day I came home from school and dad told me a truck backed up to the back door and delivered a horizontal stabilizer and he wanted to know where we could possibly store it. He was only kidding of course, and he handed me the package with a small plastic part that the company had sent. With this piece I was able to finish the model.

Bob McKinnon, St. Joseph’s Class of 1961


I recall two incidents about the Post Office, both of them somewhat embarrassing.

The first incident occurred when I was about 14 years old. I would quite often pick up the mail at the Post Office and deliver it to Mother.  On this occasion there was, what I thought, a junk mail envelope so, being curious, I opened it. It contained information on birth control which my Mother had ordered.  Being too embarrassed to let Mother know that I had opened her very personal mail, I tore up the letter.

Mother had her sixth and last child  two years later.  She probably reordered the birth control information.  I never did tell Mother or my youngest brother.

The second incident occurred several years later when I was 19 years old. I had just returned from a 10 month Radio Operator course in St John's.  While waiting to be offered employment in my trade, I took a job at the Post Office (it was still in the same location at the airport).  After a day or so of training, I was put on registered letters.  My task was to record the registered letter, stamp it with the correct date and put it into a special bag for shipping.   After two weeks, my boss, Ed Bailey, realized that I had not changed the date stamp from the first day.   I left the Post Office after three weeks to take a job with the surveyors.   If I had not quit, I would most likely have been fired.

Eric Smith, Class of  1956


When we were discussing the Post Office last time,  I alluded to government involvement in stamp collecting. I said kids could send off a dime and they would get a bunch of stamps in the mail to get them started. What I was referring to was actually the CBC Stamp Club broadcast on CBC Radio. I did some research but didn't find much information. There's one broadcast in the CBC Archives at :


A brief description there is as follows.

 CBC Stamp Club aired on CBC Radio on Saturdays from 1950 to 1971. A 1969 Globe and Mail article remarked on its popularity: "Not one day has gone by when there has not been some mail response to the program. It started in 1950 as a children's program, but adults soon showed an interest too and now (host Doug Patrick) estimates members are about half and half." By 1969, the club had about 60,000 members.

I actually sent off to an address at CBC in Toronto, joined the club, and received some stamps. I wonder if anyone else did this?

Bob McKinnon, St. Joseph’s Class of 1961


My first memories to getting mail addressed to me was in the little Nova Scotia fishing village where we lived near Yarmouth. I was waiting for a special delivery of a parcel that was coming (it seemed to take months) but I went every night waiting for the 6 p.m. mail delivery to begin. The postmaster would be in behind the shuttered wicket stamping things loudly and sorting stuff into the mailboxes. We could peer into those scratched glass enclosures and the waiting was painful. When he was done, he’d open the wicket for personal delivery. No retrieving your mail from those little boxes from our side of the lobby. 

Finally one night my long awaited package arrived. Inside the box was a plastic Mr. Peanut bank that I had earned after months by gathering discarded Planters Peanut bags. I forget how many that I needed but when Mr. Peanut arrived, I figured he was worth it. 

There were other things that we collected for and ordered through the mail. I remember the summer of the polio epidemic I was scouring the roadsides looking for discarded popsicle bags and finally got enough to send away for a plastic ‘walkie talkie’...it had a string between the two receivers and probably worked on the principle of the old tin can ones we would make. I wasn't very impressed with this...sender and receiver stood only a few feet apart…would have been better off yelling. Forget this contraption.

I'm sure you remember seeing all of those wonderful things on the back of comic books. Those little dogs that you could buy that would fit in a teacup, sea monkeys that appeared to be almost human that you could grow from whatever???? All sorts of stuff that I never seemed to gather enough points or money to buy. They were enticing and awaited some eager kid to mail in and receive.

Then there were the special things that your mom would order up from the Eaton's or Simpson's catalog. Did those things take months and months to get to you or was it that time just dragged by back then?

And of course we moved from childhood into those teenage years where many a penpal or later a sweetheart sent a letter with S.W.A.K. stamped on the back. So tell us, what kind of memories are stirred up with the suggestion of 'mail call'.

Thanks for remembering. See how easy it is. Once we get started, we filled up enough for two sessions of ‘mail call’.

Faye Lewis Raynard, Class of 1959


Thanks everyone, see you next time. Keep those memories coming. On any topic: send to me at faye@villagereporter.com and webster will post them for us.