Sept 6, 2009

Just to continue the discussion on Goodyear's for the moment..................

Just a side story concerning Goodyear's Canteen. The story goes, at least in our family, about the time my older brother, who worked with Newfoundland Posts and Telegraphs at the time as a messenger boy (he delivered telegrams to the citizens of Gander) stopped at the canteen one summer's day. The canteen had just received a shipment of Polar Bars from Brookfield Ice Cream in St. John's. Not having seen these wonders before, he bought two. One he ate right away and the other he put in this pocket to take home to eat later. Well, after an hour or so of peddling around town delivering messages he discovered that the pocket of his jacket was a little damp.

To his chagrin, the Polar Bar had melted and he was left with a pocket full of melted ice cream.

Jim Butler,

GA Class of 1959


...So on we go.

Bob Pelley reminded me that somebody had brought up the topic of the 1961 Forest Fire Around Gander way back when Liz Morgan Marshall was doing the website. This time the topic really stirred  a lot of memories for others about the anxious time in Gander…


I thought that the BIG '61 fire was across the lake. I was teaching in Glenwood that year. The fire was in full bloom when I drove home in June (Yes some of the way was under RCMP escort for a little distance, surely). Workers were still in that area when I returned in September. I doubt if they were firefighting. On clean up and cut out most likely. But it was a beast of a year all over the province.

Clarence Dewling,

Former Teacher @ Gander Academy


At that time I was working with CN Telecommunications maintaining the teletype machines in the weather office at the terminal at the airport. I got to know a pilot from Ontario, who flew one of the water bombers on loan to the province to help fight the fires. That was early in the summer.

While I was working the night shift at the weather office, we would go to the roof of the terminal to look at the ring of fire around Gander. Later during the summer, when the fire came a little closer to town, I spent two days actually working on the fire grounds near the military cemetery just off the TCH. (The one we visited during the 2005 school reunion). We were trying to prevent the fire from crossing the runway in the area by cutting a firebreak between the runway and the cemetery to widen the gap that the fire had to jump.We were not successful.

I remember the intense heat from the fire and the trees near the runway exploding in flames from the heat. Fortunately, a change of wind helped prevent the advance of the fire from the edge of the runway.We spent the second day in the area wearing the 5 gallon backpack water tanks and putting out the hotspots from the fire.

Most of the signs of the fire have been overgrown during the past 50 years, but, I'm sure, the locals who were around at the time, can still see indications of the fire in the area.

Faye, keep up the good work, each column brings back so many memories and makes me appreciate how special we had it growing up in Gander.

Jim Butler,

GA Class of 1959


It was a horrific scary time.

I had been married a little more that a year and a half. My son Christopher was a baby - just walking.  My husband when not working, was fighting the fire.

The air was arrid - enough to sear your lungs at times and our home and everything we owned was permeated with the smell of smoke. Not a good time to hang clothes out on the line - and those were the years of having to wash cloth diapers every day.

The sky ranged from grey to black and, of course, we prayed that the firefighters would be able to get the fire under control and that it would not reach the town of Gander. 

As you may remember, there were a lot of airplane fuel storage tanks in Gander. The weather was dry and the temperature hot. Sleeping at night was a feat in itself and the windows had to remain closed. The temperatures and the smell of smoke also made it nigh unto impossible to get much housework done.  One constantly felt exhausted - if we, at home, felt that way just imagine how the firefighters felt, especially those fighting the fire full time.

The Trans Canada Highway was closed off due to the fire's location and the possibility of it "jumping" the road. People travelling (for business, vacation, etc.) were marooned on both sides of the fire and had to find food and shelter where they could.  Some were at the mercy of friends, relatives or just plain strangers because they did not have the money for hotels and food.

My sister was training to become a nurse at the time but one of the young men she had met in St. John's was a member of the Newfoundland Constabulary. He was on vacation and travelling home, through Gander, to St. John's at the time and was among the stranded. He came to our home to get himself sorted out and to contact the Newfoundland Constabulary to advise that he was unable to continue his journey and return to work as scheduled.  So, the Constabulary made arrangements for him to join the firefighting team.  With our permission, he parked his car and left his personal belongings at our place and went on to fight the fire. I don't know if other policemen from St. John's were sent to fight the fire or not, but my sister's friend was transported home from the fire site and came back to Gander much later to retrieve his car.

The Red Cross fed the fire fighters and one of the main staples was cheese sandwiches - a fare that many of our husbands and male relatives, who fought the fire, could not eat for quite a long time. I was lucky that while left alone with a small child to worry re the spreading of the fire and his safety, and the safety of my husband and friends who were fighting the fire, I had my parents to rely on.

After living through such an episode and watching how freely men gave of their time and endangered their lives to fight the fire, I always cringe when I hear of a forest fire.  It is one of the times when disaster strikes that I have a first hand knowledge of the terror and turmoil that takes place.  I laud all firemen/firewomen and the work that they do to keep the rest of us safe.

Patricia Dempsey Hiscock

HMA Class of 1956


The raging forest fires of 1961 completely surrounded Gander.  I don't believe we saw the sun at all for weeks, just a haze of smoke. The whole of the Bonavista North peninsula was burning and as one fire was brought under control another one started.  There were a number of communities evacuated because the fires were out of control and burning so close to them. I believe that Hare Bay was affected and also Carmanville. I'm sure there were others.

Fires were burning to the west of us closely approaching Glenwood; the south side of Gander Lake was on fire; to the east other fires burned close to the highway near the area of the now Silent Witness site and down to the lakeshore, and to the north the fires were raging up to the area known as Union East (north side of Deadman's Pond).

Gander was and still is completely surrounded by dense forest and as the fires drew closer to the town, many employers would release their male workers to help firefighters and to frantically cut fire breaks. The men would report to their workplace in the mornings and then be transported by trucks to the different fire areas.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary was brought in to assist the RCMP.  I never knew exactly why but probably because of our precarious situation and/or the many extra firefighters in the town.

There was one point when it became very scary - the TCH was not entirely through yet and in any event, the highway was blocked by the fires - both east and west.  The only way Gander residents could be evacuated was by air,  and maybe by train, but evacuation was being seriously considered. 

I, too, watched the fires across the Lake and I remember seeing the large trees exploding and the flames shooting hundreds of feet up in the air. The skies around Gander were red at night and the days were filled with an hazy smoke-filled sky.

It was rumoured at the time that someone was setting the fires especially on the peninsula because as one fire came under control another started without good reason.

By late summer, all fires were either out or under control.  Even today, the forest has not full regrown to the state it was before 1961.

It would be interesting to hear other stories about this event.

Carol (Mercer) Walsh,

HMA Class of 1954


I had already left Gander in Nov. 1960, But I do remember some years there were very bad fires both in Nfld and Labrador.

I remember seeing them when I flew between New York and London. Also, We had NOTAMS (Notice to Airman) being published for pilot information, and on some occasions I would talk to the inbound crew about what they saw as they flew over Nfld or Labrador, and they could not believe how bad it looked from 35,000 or 39,000 ft.

Campbell Pritchett

GA Class of 1959


Greetings, Faye.

I can comment on the forest fires of 1961. At the time I was working at Gander Lumber Company (Edgar Baird) and, of course, the forest fires of NL were a major concern for him. 

The provincial government set up their main office re the forest fires at Hotel Gander, with a number of personnel from St. John's located at Hotel Gander as well for the time being. Mr. Baird sent me to work in the office at Hotel Gander as well and I operated the radio, receiving messages from the forest fire towers across the island.  My two years as a telephone operator served me well in this area of work. 

It was particularly scary when I received the message that Glenwood was being evacuated (not sure if the community was actually evacuated or it being a major concern) - scary because of Glenwood and the proximity to Gander. 

At the time, some 1000 Army personnel were sent to NL, with the managerial people working at our Hotel Gander office. I also recall going out in a three-seater plane (probably a two-seater with room made for me) - the pilot, a manager and myself - to spot where the "smoke" was still prevalent. It was my first ride in a plane and it was both exhilarating and scary at the same time. 

Of course, with so many Army personnel and others around, there were a few dances, etc. to accommodate our social life in the midst of major crisis. I don't recall how long the office remained at Hotel Gander but eventually I was returned to the office at Gander Lumber Company.

Marion Pardy,

GA Class of 1958


Like many others, I spent many hours on the beat, especially out around where the “turkey farm” is now. Once we got a bit caught between fires on both sides of the road to Union East. Don’t know what kind of airplane they used but they “water bombed” us, though perhaps partly by accident...sure put out the fire!

We were so tired that the mattresses on the floor of the radar stn gym seemed like a bed in the presidential suite of a grand hotel. We were hungry too... I’m sure emptied out the mess hall at the radar station of blueberry pie and other stuff on several occasions!!!

Bob Pelley,

GA Class of 1962


I worked at the CN Telecommunications as a telephone operator. We worked all day on the long distance telephone calls and at that time we wore headsets and the calls all had to be connected by special little jacks plugged into the correct holes. We thought we were ever so clever and it was very exciting as we knew each phone call was to help with the forest fire. We were asked to work extra hours as there was such a crisis and everyone was pleased to be able to do something to assist the forest fire fighting effort.

When not working, we were encouraged, and expected, to help make sandwiches and then help to deliver them to the men on the fire lines. The whole province was tinder dry and a state of emergency was declared with the army brought in to help fight the fires.

Somehow in my off duty time I met Jacques D'Anville who was brought in from Quebec to concoct the chemicals to seed clouds with a view to encouraging rain. Why I was helping him I have no idea, but one day we were standing looking at a small lake and assessing the fire in the hills across the lake when the whole forest exploded into flames in front of us. The sound was deafening and the heat was overwhelming. The situation produced the strangest sensation of fear and excitement at the same time. I remember we were so shocked and mesmerized it took several seconds to realize we had to get out of there fast.

Daddy (Sandy Millar) was also helping in his off work hours delivering food to firefighters. My mother was away in Ontario for the summer with my brother, so there was just my father and me at home. As we were so busy working and volunteering, there were no meals made in our house for days and I think we were running on nervous energy so we did not even bother to eat.

One particular night we came home at 2 - 3 in the morning, totally worn out but so overcome with nervous excitement over the whole forest fire situation we could not sleep. Individually, we both got up and just talked by the light of the full moon. There was no need to turn on any lights as it was as bright as day, albeit smoke was in the air and permeated hair and clothing. Oh yes, and in those days we smoked cigarettes as well. Can you imagine.

The man in charge of Forests in Nfld. was Ed Ralph (why can I remember some of these details in such vivid details and be so vague on others). He was a handsome man and I had applied to him for a job as a fire watcher in a firetower that summer. Never did get the job which was just as well. I probably would have burned to a crisp.

Michal (Millar) Crowe

GA Class of 1960

The forest fire I remember was in 1960 on the far side of Gander Lake. It purportedly started with a chain saw spark and destroyed quite a bit of timber before it was out. I could see the flames at night from the 2nd floor of our place in town (across the street from where the Fitzgerald's had lived) and it was quite frightening. Those flames, at times, must have been several hundred feet in the air.

During the day, the smoke that billowed across was so thick you could hardly see past the shoreline. Patrols were set up on the town side of the lake to watch for burning debris in the air.

You might ask Bob Warren about it. I remember seeing him heading off into the smoke by boat. I don't know if he would have been part of the patrol or on his way to the other side to help out.

That big fire is one of the many memories that still mark the end of that year for me there.
I should tell you as well that your mention of bother Gar at the World Boy Scout Jamboree in Niagara (Faye's Place April 2, 2009) resonated with me. I was at that 1955 Jamboree as well, but as a cub scout, bussed in for just one day with the rest of the cub pack from Clinton, Ontario.

I remember the teacher at the beginning of the next school year asking us all for a paragraph on something interesting we'd done during that summer. My topic was that Jamboree.

Too bad I didn't know this earlier about Gar. It would have been fun to mention it to him at the Barrie mini-reunion last September when I met him for the first time. It would have been a great conversation opener, although as I recall it didn't take much for us to get talking about a lot of other stuff.

Several times since, he has jumped off the TV national news at me, consulting on one diplomatic issue or another.

Dave Naish

GA Class of 1960


Hey, we are compiling memories of Deadman’s Pond and other ponds in Gander. If you have any special memories to add, please send along to with thanks. FLR.


webster note: to clarify the new designators, since we are also receiving input from students from St. Joseph's, in the future school's name at the time of graduation will be noted as HMA, GA, & SJ (self explanatory).