On January 11, 1938, Captain Douglas Fraser flew a single-engine biplane, Fox Moth VO-ADE, to the first landing at the completed ‘Newfoundland Airport’, now known around the world as Gander International.
With the threat of war in Europe, Gander became a strategic post for the Royal Air Force Ferry Command. Too new to appear on maps, the air base remained shrouded in secrecy as some 20,000 North American-built fighters and heavy bombers were transported overseas.
As many as 12,000 British, Canadian and American servicemen lived in crowded barracks beside and between the runways. Essential services were provided from makeshift quarters wherever a niche could be found and the air base soon took on the appearance of a bustling community. After the war, the airport reverted to civilian control and efforts began to move residents a safer distance from the runways. Construction began in the 1950s on the present townsite. The municipality was incorporated in 1958 and the airport settlement was eventually abandoned.
The vast resources of a world at war had conquered the problems of transatlantic flight and Gander stepped back into its original role as a global hub of civil aviation. Throughout the ‘Jet Age’ of the ’50s and ’60s, virtually every transatlantic flight required a refueling stop at Gander. The airport terminal became a rest stop for the rich and famous, from the Hollywood who’s who to kings and presidents, and ‘star-gazing’ was a popular local pastime.
While the ‘Cold War’ drew hard lines between eastern-bloc and western nations, Gander remained a safe haven for all, one of the few places where American spy planes might share the ramp with then-Soviet jetliners. In restaurants and shopping malls, Russian or Cuban voices scarcely raised an eyebrow among residents long accustomed to welcoming the world.
Since its inception, Gander has remained at the forefront of international aviation technology. During the war years, direction-finding equipment helped Allies locate the dreaded battleship Bismarck; in the ’70s it hosted the first transatlantic test flights of the SST Concorde; today an airside manufacturer produces bonded-composite components for both military and civilian fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft; and the airport itself served as a designated alternate landing site throughout NASA’s Space Shuttle program.
The municipality, too, continues to rise to ever new challenges, diversifying to become the regional service centre for some 80,000 people in more than 300 neighbouring communities.
The History of Gander as documented by Robert Pelley
A former Ganderite, Robert Pelley has been conducting in-depth research on “Old Gander.”
His latest project has been to list as many former residents of the old Town site as possible — which area they lived in, the building number and street they lived on, as well as their employer and the names of their parents and children.
Robert Pelley’s research and website provides an interesting view of Gander’s history and the people who helped write it.
Click the following link to visit the website: http://bobsganderhistory.com/