"Old Gander" Genealogical Project
This site has a section dedicated to the identification
of the former residents of "Old Gander",
who they were, the companies they worked for and where they lived.
To see this section and to perhaps help make it better for future generations,
please click here.
(updated 03 December 2016)
Introduction to this website
I was privileged to grow up in Gander immediately after the Second World War. In 1934 Gander did not existed other than as trees and bog on a high plateau above Gander Lake. Only 20 years later, in 1954, it was the largest and probably busiest aerodrome in the world. Every airplane that crossed the Atlantic stopped there and every passenger - big or small, Moms and Dads going home, actors and directors, scientists and philosophers, kings visiting Presidents - all walked past us on an everyday basis. We saw the signs sending planes off to New York, Zurich, London, Berlin, Shannon, Tel Aviv and we checked on the clocks in the terminal to see to what time zone they were headed. Our buddies were from all over in the world. Without knowing it, we became cosmopolitan.
But most of the people who built Gander in such a magnificent manner were generally ordinary men from all over Newfoundland - without their families - who came to what was first called Hatties Camp in search of better wages in exchange for a loyal days work. Some lied about their age and if they were tough enough, got hired. The wages were good, the work was back-breaking, most of it was manual but all was done in record time. In a way therefore, Gander was not cosmopolitan at all but rather like any outport town, with their values and traditions of self reliance and community spirit, transported into the wilderness.
Gander had been thought out in the 30s as an eventual civilian airport - but a chap by the name of Hitler changed the thinking on that and Gander became what Winston Churchill called an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Atlantic. Obviously the friendly military occupation of Gander left its mark on the people, right down to the architecture of their first homes, schools, stores and churches.
As I kid growing up in Gander, I was introduced, by the force of the situation, to a variety of concepts and values that few are able to see in any one town. We spent our days without supervision fishing in the edge of a lake 25 miles long and so deep that equipment of the day couldn't find bottom. At 13 or 14 it was common the hitch-hike to the next town 60 miles a way to see friends. Going "out in the woods" with single-shot .22 at that age was not considered unusual.
But Gander was also probably the most modern town in Newfoundland, so science and technology was an interesting subject for those so inclined
Without realizing it, because Gander was Gander, we became citizens of the world, while keeping our small town values. Quite a place.
Much has already been written about Gander, especially in recent years. It is therefore not my objective to repeat all of that. However I continue to do a fair amount of research concerning "Old Gander" and the period up to 1959 which quite often brings out new information or adds a new twist. I have been aided by a number of people, notably my father who started work in Gander in 1940, by the late Mr Fred Smeaton who sent me quite a number of old photographs he hoped I would make public and by Faye Raynard of Boston whose family has an RCAF history. Darrell Hillier has been a constant source of information concerning wartime activity.
Pretty much all these articles on this website have been written by me. However I must point out the articles contributed by Darrell Hillier as mentioned above, as well as the articles written by three people who worked as code operators during the war, namely Gloria (Durham) Lindsay, Hazel (Bjornstad) Fausak and Rolland Masse. Darrell is particularly interested in information on wartime aviation activity and crashes.
Contributions concerning Gander up to around 1959 are welcome and well be be posted with pleasure. If have you have something new that you think merits publication but you have no place to put it, please let me know.
To contact me or one of the other contributors, please use the address below. You will have to change the (at) in the address to an ampersand (required to prevent spamming).
Robert George Pelley