do you remember

Sept 16, 2012

I was wondering recently about McNamara camps. A place made mention of occasionally, but I knew nothing of them until folks shared some memories below…I am sure that this will just scratch the surface on this topic….

It’s late at night here and I had to reply re: McNamara camps, this morning of (Aug 15th at 4 a.m. in 1947) we arrived at Gander and went to McNamaras building, just a tar-papered building of four walls and nothing else. Our stove and personal effects were covered up outside and after a short nap outside with a pillow and blanket the work began. 

It was terribly hot so with some help, my father and another man started putting up walls and by supper time, mother had the stove going with lots of food on the table and grandmother’s bedroom was set-up. So we now had rooms to lie down in. We were exhausted, especially after an 8-hour ride on the train and working all day without sleep. 

There’s lots more to tell. I will write more later. 

Cliff Powell


Now, Cliff Powell has set the stage for me to ask about McNamara Camps.

He lived down there with his family when they first arrived in Gander.  

Does anyone remember the camps and their location? Must have been pretty cold in winter. Who lived there? What went on? I do understand they were a 'temporary arrangement' that people used until they got settled in an apartment in early Gander. 

How many camps were there on the site and did the kids there go to the regular schools in Gander as well? It seems like it must have been a real hike to get there, if I am thinking about the location that Frank Goulding recently told me?

So what are your memories of McNamara's Camps? However brief…email me at

So far, this is what people have had to say about the topic…

Faye Lewis Raynard, GA Class of ‘59


Do you remember the airforce jet that was mounted up behind the base on what was called the ‘Burner Hill’ of the TCH. That’s where the camps were,  right across the road from the plane.
Frank Goulding, GA Class of ‘59

Now about the McNamara Camps. It was actually an old quarry site that had a few vacated workmen camps located back of the RCAF site  and just past  Burner Hill.

People would move into the camps as temporary quarters while waiting for apartments to become available. Some moved their families in as well but like I said they were very temporary and lacked facilities like running water, bathrooms and electricity.

Jack Pinsent, GA Class of ‘60


Roy Freake cautioned people not to paint too rosy a picture of living in this place.

I lived in the McNamara Camps for four years from 1950 to 1954, having migrated there from ND Bay.  My family became the 13th household to move into the new Townsite of Gander (from the Camps) at 51 Alcock Crescent. This was our first exposure to indoor toilets and running water after moving to Gander. Alcock Cres was the FIRST street in the new town of Gander to have houses built by Eastern Woodworkers Ltd from Nova Scotia. Audrey Grantham-Mingo's Father was in charge of this Construction Co. They also lived on the "upper" end of Alcock Cres along with the Grimes and the Baker families (house #s 1,2, & 3, I believe). Later, the present day PMQs and single-family dwellings on Nungesser Ave were the second set of houses (and street) to be constructed in the new Gander Townsite. The town went onward & upward from there...

Tar-paper covered the outside boards of ‘the camps’. They had  no insulation or indoor toilets/water. It seemed that everyone   OUTSIDE the Camps spent more time laughing & making fun at our pitiful existence/conditions and poverty (especially at school).
Bullying, I faced every day at the Foss Ave Area Schools, because of where I lived, the way I dressed & talked..etc..! I experienced several bloody noses from these outsiders and I gave quite a few back.

As a youngster, I quickly realized that to survive living at the Camps, (at school) you had to be bold & tough. If not, you quickly became a loser in the eyes of both the outsiders as well as your common friends

In the Camps, there were the hardship stories (some were happy) that we endured there.

We all were forced to live there (not by choice) because all the comfortable higher-class living quarters on The American Side, the Army Side, Foss Ave Area, BOAC etc-etc were made available ONLY to the “well-to-do people” who worked with the Airlines and DOT Airport Authorities personnel...(ie...Allied Aviation, ATC, DOT Weather Office, Shell, Other Government Employees, Various Airline Personnel---etc---etc. (very well-off people, in those days). My Father's employment back then (after spending 2 years in a Hos TB ward) was far inferior.

Like all down-trodden peoples...we made our own fun, fought our own battles and have fond memories of living together as a COMMON group of young kids.

“Union East” on the opposite end of Gander Int’l Airport also suffered the same ridicule/bullying and had the same poor living conditions (again, not by their choice). Back then, main stream Gander was not a very pleasant place to live for young school age kids, if you happened to live at the McNamara Camps or Union East.

Talking about ‘the Camps’ is not as much fun for me as it is for you and/or your above addressees...

Roy Freake, GA Class of ‘60

You probably have been deluged on this (topic) already. There were actually two McNamara camps, North Camp and South Camp. The former was on the North side of the field in the area below the bottom of Chestnut and George Streets. The other was just off the road to Gander Lake before the onset of the fairly steep climb down to the  RAF Marine Base.

I've got notes somewhere (that I cant find) with some more details. Funny that you should ask because there are two large concrete abutments now in the woods near where the south camp that no one knows what they were for.  

I have some pictures but the contrast makes them unfit for distribution and when the foliage goes this fall I'll capture them to see if anyone can tell me what they were for. Eileen Elms and Clyde Burt could probably shed light on the history of these camps.

If memory serves me right, the name came from the owner, who was from Montreal and that company was the big contractor building the Newfoundland Airport. Apparently, he had formed a second company, Belmont, to do more construction, which I am assuming was the RAF side, aka Ferry Command, and there was an intent to call that area Belmont, but the name never stuck.

Keep up the great work.

Peter Blackie, GA Class of 1957


I remember the McNamara camp as being at the end of the runway going out towards the lake, somewhat to the east of Burner Road.  I have the feeling that there must have been a lack of converted housing on the old airport and that all the available housing was allocated to companies, rather than to people. If one worked for example for Shell, as my father did, there was an excellent chance that the company would find something decent for you.  If you were an independent worker, mostly likely your chances of getting an apartment were very much diminished.

It didn't make much difference how important one's job might be or how good one might be at it - belonging or not to a company determined the living conditions. My father had a number of friends there and from what he said,  MaNamara camp did not have much to commend it, notably from a lack of modern plumbing.  Living there was not for the faint-hearted  and I imagine that in a round-about way, it must have developed character. If one could get through a few years in McNamara's camp, there were probably few things in an ordinary workaday world that would have been a challenge!

The kids had quite a distance to go to get to school.  The only real advantage I could see for McNamara's camp was that it was a fairly short walk to the old Gander Gardens on the Air Force side.

Bob Pelley, GA Class of 1962


McNamara Camps were owned by McNamara Construction, the company who had the contract for the construction of the new airport runways and probably the building. That would be in the mid 1950's. I recall having a student in my grade 6 class who lived there with her family.

Barry Mills (Class of '66)



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