So you think recycling is new?  Not in old Gander!

 by R. Pelley

People sometimes have the impression that recycling is a concept invented recently, since the growth of the environmental movement and worries about global warming.  Nah, people in old Gander were already doing that, well before the word became popular. 

It was a little bit like Moličre's understanding of prose. In Moličre's play,"Le Bourgeois Gentlhomme", Monsieur Jourdain asks that something to be written for him but  in neither verse nor prose. A philosophy master replies, "Sir, there is no other way to express oneself than with prose or verse". Monsieur Jourdain answers, "By my faith! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing anything about it, and I am much obliged to you for having taught me that."

Folks in Gander were recycling all that time and didn't even know that they were in advance on the rest of the world !

When I think of it, the first bit of recycling I remember was when I was  a young kid in Bldg 30 on the Army side.  My father had a jeep in those days, obviously recycled from the military who had left at the end of the war.  And Bldg 30 itself was of course a recycled was just about every thing else in Gander - schools, hospitals, churches, cinemas and the terminal bldg included.

As far as clothes goes, it was quite normal to reuse "hand-me-downs" and in those days. most women knew more about sewing machines than Verner von Braun knew about rockets.  And when the clothes were too used to be handed down, they usually got recycled into a multicolour eiderdown - or rags for someone's garage.

Even food often got a second life. Leftover rice became a rice pudding and dried up bread ended up in a chicken or turkey.... or a bread pudding.  A soup was always good to mix up odds and ends. And, maybe because of our lifestyle back then, leftovers always seem more tasty that the original meal.

As the new town site was being built, construction materials were being saved from the old military buildings.  Everything that was "up to spec" - and probably a lot that wasn't - was being reused in the new town site.

I remember the first building that my father bid on with someone else to taken down and salvaged.  It was Quonset-hut H-building  not far  from Deadman's Pond. While they were tearing down one side, I was playing in the other side, though "playing" was not quite the right word. It was - though by accident rather than design - another form of recycling.  It had been home to a group of Americans who hadn't bothered to throw out the magazines they used to read, some with sports content but mostly Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, along with Time and Saturday Evening Post.  I'd spend hours going through these magazines learning all about places to see, modern chemistry, astronomy and physics, the politics of the time, the great events that shook the world. For example, a Time magazine might describe the coronation of the new Queen and offer at the same moment a short course on British history.  I have said before that I probably learned more for those magazines - and the ones in Lilly's barbershop - than ever  I learned in school.

But I remember another building my father took down at bit later, when I was a bit older, this time a building that I think had belonged to Shell, near the terminal.  My contribution was required as my father needed to reuse  the nails. When he pulled the nails out, they were of course all crooked. So you can guess what my job was a lot of the summer in this bold new world of recycling!  Yessir, I filled up quite a few pails of nails!

But the main "recycling infrastructure" was the dump on Burner Road!!  With a very well thought out layout - again perhaps more by usage than design - it actually had three main sections.   As one went down the road from what is now the airport towards Gander Lake and continued down over the hill, the first section on the right hand side was the burner as such.  This  was the "garbage truck" section where household refuse was dumped and burned.

Across the road from the burner was what could be called the " the metal  recycling factory". It was here that people would get rid of their old cars, trucks and items like washing machines.  In those days, when businesses like Canadian Tire or United Auto Parts were still "mainland" companies, the first "store" people would go to was the dump.  And there always seemed to be something available or could be made up.  I remember my father and someone else slaving for several days to take a hydraulic lift off an old dump truck and send it to St.John's.  I think it went to Marshall Motors or Hickman Motors and I believe they may have gotten 50$ for it - which was a nice bit of change back in those days.

Further down the hill but back on the burner side was the "construction and general recycling factory". This was where people threw out anything that was not heavy metal or household garbage. For example, I remember once when for some reason, I think was it Allied Aviation who threw out about 20-30 very large unopened boxes of toilet paper.  It didn't take long before they were all confiscated by the local population!

(By the way, this was also a great place to shoot crows with a single shot Cooey 22 but you had to be careful about the bears... but that is another story!)

In those days with some other friends with the same interests,  I liked to fiddle with old radios and we often found there old radios and hi-fis to recondition for another day.

And talking about radios, two things come to mind. One was Eastern Provincial Airways who in the early 50s replaced their previously recycled military aircraft radios. The kind folk in the radio maintenance dept always made sure that the local ham operators and kids like us got them - free of charge - to recycle again rather than just throwing them out. The second was when they had to close down the old transmitter site when they extended the runway out towards Gander Lake.  Maybe because it would have cost too much to crate everything up to send to some large city like Montreal or Toronto but they put the word out that nobody was going to check if locals wanted to "recycle" that stuff too!

But one of the best recycling stories had little to do with the buildings and materials of the old town.  It had to do with margarine!

Some people may remember the margarine popular in Gander in the 40s and early 50s. It was called "Green Label".  My father tells me that the slogan was "Outstanding spread for bread". In fact, it was so popular that it was even an issue during the referendum on Nlfd becoming part of Canada. There was strong sentiment in some quarters that Confederation might lead to the abandoning of Newfoundland’s use of this inexpensive margarine, as margarine had been banned from use in Canada in favour of butter, which protected  Canadian dairy producers.


One well known Nfld poet,  Greg Power (1909-1997) even wrote a poem about it.  Here is an excerpt from “The Ballad of Oleo Margarine”):

I pray that I shall never know

A future without oleo,

Or live to see my little sons

Turn up their noses at my buns;

But there is one with soul so dead,

Who’d sacrifice our spread for bread,

And ban from every Newfie table

Our wholesome, rich, improved Green Label.


And where does the recycling come in??  Well, the makers of Green Label decided to have a contest to increase sales.. The idea was that the women (remember we are back in the 50s!) would cut off one of the labels as proof of purchase.  When they had a certain number,  they brought them back to the store and got credit for prizes.  The problem was that the store (or stores)  ended up not having a place to store all these "boxtops".

So some great genius administrator figured that they could be stored, at least temporarily, in the back of a large dump truck.  This truck was parked not far from the Hunt Memorial Academy, by the arena on Foss Avenue, in front of the Goodyear's store.  It filled up with margarine labels, all nicely done up in packages of maybe 50 or so.

 Now what the great genius administrator forgot is that kids 9-10 years old love climbing around old dump trucks parked across the street from the school.  And of course they discovered the packages of labels.  The first reaction, in those days before Monopoly, was to use them as play money.  And then someone found out that Moms all over Gander had been collecting them for useful prizes.   So another recycling operation was put in motion! I believe they moved the truck  when they discovered that they were getting many more labels than boxes of margarine they had to sell!

Ah yes, the "good old days" when recycling was second nature... and course it helped to be in Gander after the war.  One gentleman explained it to me in words roughly like this " Yes me son, tis true we kept in reusin' what we had, cause back in dem days, nobody had nuttin'. And if the world keeps on awastin' what dey got now, we'll all end with nuttin' all over agin"!