Gander Then
by Gar Pardy

Gander in the summer of 1948 was a place in transition.  The airport conceived in 1933 and completed in 1939 was visionary in the expectation aircraft would soon be developed that would replace the cumbersome flying boats and operate from land to land ports. The Second World War suspended such ideas but aircraft were developed with these capabilities and the associated infrastructures of air to ground communications, air traffic control and North Atlantic meteorology had matured by the time the war ended.

 The Pardy family in 1942 moved to Norris Arm from Bishops Falls and the war had little impact on our daily lives.  James Pardy, our father, was the section foreman for the Newfoundland Railway, as was his father Henry.   Several brothers, Lawrence, Harry and Garland, also worked for the Railroad, first in Bishops Falls, then elsewhere on the island.  Henry began the family’s association with the railway at the turn of the century when he moved from Catalina to Bell Island to build railways in the new mines.  The skills there were easily convertible to the needs of the Newfoundland Railway (and Reid) and the family moved to Port Blandford and later to Bishops Falls. 

 In the spring of 1948, father was notified that he was to be transferred to Gander as the section foreman for that section of the railway.  This was a return to the area for him.   In the early 1920s he and his father were part of the crew that maintained the railway at mile 213, then known as Hattie’s Camp and which was to be the location for the new airport.

 In early summer we packed our family goods including the woodpile and these were loaded in a boxcar and with the family (James, our mother Rosie, and Cecil, Daisy, Marion and I) in an attached passenger car, the move to Gander was underway.  At the time we left Norris Arm the campaigning for the first 1948 referendum was underway and I recall seeing my first aircraft.  The Responsible Government coalition, one mid-morning - flew up and down the Arm and through a loud speaker shouted to the amazed the perils of confederation and the joys that would come from a return to Responsible Government.

 The house in Gander was next to the railway station and was much the same as the one we left in Norris Arm.  There were five such houses, all in a row, occupied by the families of Gordon Brazil, George Greening, Patrick Cashin and Clarence Lannon.  A drafty, yellow, clapboard place with three bedrooms, a large kitchen, living room and little else.  Gander did have electricity and running water and the wonder of light at night that permitted reading was one of my first positive impressions of our new home. 

 Within a few days my explorations of this new place were underway.  A few hundred feet to the east was an approach to one of the three main runways and a place that quickly drew my attention and fascination.  DC-3, and 4s, Northstars, C-46s and many smaller ones frequently broke the quiet of the soft summer morning.  Many with the exotic names of BOAC, Sabena, Pan American, Air France and AOA suggested places far beyond Gander and Newfoundland and were my first awareness of a vast world beyond my horizons.  From this northern side of the airport it was possible to see hangers 21 and 22 where the aircraft parked and the passengers refreshed before or after the ten to twelve hour crossing of the Atlantic. 

 In front of our house was a small road that paralleled the railroad leading to the west.  Again early on, I was on that road, passing what was the town laundry, a steam generating plant, the bakery and, as I was told, the path to the Gander Amalgamated School.  On one of the early trips I met John Dyke who was living in an apartment unit next to the bakery.  I ventured along the path that would take me to the school through a large open field to the northeast of what was the local hospital and the approach to another of the main runways.  About halfway across the field I heard distant bells ringing and before I could understand their meaning a noisy, thundering DC-4 passed directly overhead giving me a close encounter of what Gander was all about.

 Behind our house were two wonderful areas of fascination and enjoyment.  First were the woods which led to a number of small ponds and trails, places were the games of childhood keep us fascinated and  occupied for the next eight years.   Of greater wonder was the old military operations centre for Gander.  What was visible was a large peaked roof at ground level.  For days I wandered around that roof trying to understand why anyone would build a roof on the ground.  Eventually its secrets became known and despite the best efforts of base management to secure the place, I along with others was able to gain entry and wander its many rooms.  Many were just as they were when the military left two years earlier.  Rooms with large maps, photographs of aircraft and even pictures of what I came to learn were of German u-boats which were hunted by aircraft from Gander around the shores of Newfoundland.

 Soon the quiet days of summer ended with the opening of school and my first days in grade 4 with twenty or so other kids.  Molly Primmer was the teacher and my transition from the tiny school in Norris Arm to that of Gander was not one without problems and conflicts.  Many of the other children were going through the same process as Gander was a growing town and for them the transitions were no easier.  Many of us formed close friendships that lasted throughout our lives in Gander and beyond. For me the comradeship with John Dyke, Eric Smith and Charles Aldrich enriched our daily lives.

 It was not long before I discovered the small community library on the road between our house and the school.  It was located next to the Globe Theatre (another place of fascination and enjoyment) and some of my best hours in Gander were spend there and the borrowing of most of the books it had to offer.  The love of books which physically overwhelms my house today, in large part, owes its origins to that small one room space.  Another path to the school passed through the area where the various maintenance shops for the town were located.  Carpenters, tinsmiths, plumbers and electricians all had separate shops and were welcoming to the young who passed.  The carpenter shop was my source of fascination with its wonderful smells of woods, the buzz of power saws and planers and the artistry of those who turned out the items of furniture needed for the burgeoning town.  

 There are not many places that those early planes and people travelled to that I have not visited in the intervening years.  The planes themselves have remained a fascination and the sight of a DC-4 or a Super Constellation in a museum still bring back the sights and sounds of Gander more than fifty years ago.  The school, the library and the carpenter shop have remained constants in my life and are dimmed by neither time nor distance.

 Gar Pardy

Ottawa

February 12, 2007