Foss Avenue and the chap
for whom it was named
Urban specialists and sociologists sometime like to use a concept called “roadway of psychosocial significance”. These are avenues, highways, streets and roads that tend to define their surroundings, to create their character and to anchor memories. A good example would be Park Avenue in New York City or les Champs Élysées in Paris. Every locality, big or even very small, has a byway or two that spring spontaneously to mind.
In “old Gander”, one such road was Foss Avenue, north of the runways.
Firstly, geographically speaking, it was what geomaticians would call a spatial referential. The “Foss Avenue Complex” of road and associated buildings defined the real western edge of the airport. There were of course secondary structures such as a power plant a bit further along, but Foss marked more or less the transition between the populated area and “the woods” where one could go moose hunting or put out rabbit snares.
Foss was not only a spatial reference but also a bustling hub of civilian activity. On the east side, the building closest to the runways was the United Church Manse and hall, often occupied by Sunday school or children’s groups like TYROs, for Try Your Reach Out, which surely marked the personality of those participating.
Further along on the west side was the building that housed Hunt Memorial Academy, a Protestant school, which was a happy crucible for so many.
Back on the East side was the “Goodyears Cash and Carry” which sold a variety of wares including the best French fries imaginable. But it was more than a store –it was a place to chat and trade lies. Along the way, some amateur psychologist once soldered a screw to a 25-cent piece and screwed the coin into the floor near the door. A quarter in the early 50s was a lot of loot and it was amazing to see the ways people would try to pick up the coin without being noticed
Just in front of Goodyears was a small open area, but quite large enough for an activity that marked the minds of many people, young and old, namely the annual arrival by helicopter of Santa Claus.
The open area was well located because it was just next to the drill hall which gave Santa Claus a place to meet all the kids in town. The Drill Hall in and of itself was a key reference as it variously housed for example, a gym, bowling lanes, a rifle range, several school classes and the Elks club. This was later converted to a stadium with, for the first time in Gander, proper seating. Even if one didn’t like hockey or skating, most adults were involved whether they liked it or not – it was paid for by weekly instalments of twenty dollars taken out of the pay check of all employed people in Gander. But when people like the Carter Family came to sing, that is where we went to sing along.
Over the years I have often tried to find out a bit more about the sort of person Foss Avenue was named after, but I found little except one bad photo (possibly from the Montreal Star) when he retired in 1945.
Some time ago I managed to purchase two photos of the visit of Princess Alice, the countess of Athalone (wife of Governor-general Athalone), inspecting female members of the RCAF in Gander in March 1942. On these photos Princess Alice is accompanied by two ranking RCAF officers, including Group Captain Foss. He is the one nearest to the centre of the photo.
More recently I found a better shot of him inspecting another parade.
I have also attached a copy of his military record – quite a chap it seems to me, definitely not a wimp! After his retirement, he became a building contractor in Montreal.
Too bad that Foss Avenue has become a faint mark through some overgrown trees….he and Foss Avenue deserve a much better place in Gander’s wonderful history.