Gander timeline

Commmander Gander was a universal icon
used in different versions by the

The objective of this timeline is to give
a quick overview of the history of Gander
from the first thoughts of regular trans-Atlantic flights
to  the arrival of jet aircraft which ultimately lead
to a dramatic decline in Gander’s aviation importance.

Any corrections or suggestions are welcome.


1.  Pre-war period

- Summer 1932 : Conference in Ottawa  of the “Air Communications Committee”, with representatives from Britain, Ireland, Canada and Newfoundland, which privileged an exclusive route through these countries for trans-Atlantic flights.

- 14 July 1933 : The Newfoundland government proposed legislation granting to Imperial Airways the right to use Newfoundland for the transport of cargo, mail and passengers.  For all intents and purposes, this meant using Botwood as a base for flying boats.

- 1933-1935 : The British government thinks through the situation and in 1935 gives priority to flying boat operations, with a target date of spring 1937. However the possibility of land-based flight is alluded to.

- 15 November 1935 : A report  giving detailed survey information and preliminary costs was sent by TA Hall and Alan Vatcher to Thomas Lodge, Commissioner for Public Utilities with the Newfoundland Commission government, proposing a site located at Milepost 213 on the Newfoundland Railway for the construction of a new airport.

- Early summer 1936 :  Construction starts in Gander. Called for a short time Hatties Camp, it was officially known as Newfoundland Airport, with a welcoming sign so stating on the railway station. The Americans liked to called it Gander Field.  

- Early 1937 : Botwood becomes operational.  Air-radio was installed in January and meteorological operations opened up in June.  Botwood is in a sense a test site and training school for later operations in Gander.

- 05 July 1937 : Botwood was used for the first time for two commercial test flights. A Pan American Clipper left Botwood for Foynes, Ireland, while a Caledonia owned by Imperial Airways did the trip the other way around.  

-11 january 1938 : The first aircraft to land at the partially completed airport, piloted by Doug Fraser of St. John’s and accompanied by flight engineer George Lace. The airplane was a Havilland 83C Fox Moth with the registration VO-ADE.   The following is a rarer photo of VO-ADE on floats.

- June 4 1938 : First asphalt was laid at the airport by COLAS, a Shell subsidiary.  

- 13 Sept 1938 : In a letter dated to R. Manning, the Newfoundland Secretary for Public Works, F.C. Jewett, Gander’s Chief Engineer, speaks about the first civilian aerial visitors to Gander.  Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Wolf of Philadelphia landed on Gander Lake on 8 September and departed on the 12th.

- Late 1938:  Work started on four permanent homes on Chestnut Avenue, which was at that time the western edge of the airport, north of the runways.


- Nov 13, 1938 : The Administration Building in Gander was completed and the transfer of the Met staff and radio operators from Botwood on steps up.

- Nov. 30  1938 :  H.A.L. Pattison was appointed as the first full-time Airport Manager.

- May 15 1939 : the first aircraft to land from outside Newfoundland and the first aircraft to attempt a transatlantic crossing from Gander arrives, a Monocoupe 90A, registration SE-AGM. The pilot, Mr. Carl Bachman, was delivering the aircraft from Bangor, Maine to Sweden, but was lost at sea. reportedly near Greenland.

- late May 1939 : Two Handley-Page Harrow aircraft, G-AFRH & G-AFRG, arrive to carry out experimental in-flight refueling of flying boats on the Botwood – Foynes route.

- End of 1939 : Final construction and paving of the four runways. The airport was officially considered completed as of Oct. 3, 1939.


2. War period

- 10 February 1940 : The first two RCAF aircraft landed at Gander. These aircraft were Hudson Bombers numbers 759 and 768, shown below.

-  late spring 1940 : the Atlas Construction Company arrived to erect permanent quarters for American and Canadian forces, with the priority on the south side to be occupied  by the United States Army Air Force  (USAAF).

- Early 1940 : While RAF believed it could not be done, Lord Beaverbrook  (a Canadian, Max Aitken, heading the British Ministry of Aircraft Production) contacted his friends at Canadian Pacific to investigate what it would take to be able to fly land based airplanes across the Atlantic even in the middle of the winter. Lord Beaverbrook and Winston Churchill  were very close.

- Early 1940 : Canadian Army Engineers arrived to set up camps for the infantry and artillery required for airport security.

-  June 17 1940 : five aircraft of 10 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron, operating Digbys, arrived under command of S/L Carscallen. These were first military aircraft specifically designated for anti-submarine operations from Newfoundland. The famous (or infamous) song “The North Atlantic Squadron” is based partly on this unit. Later, the entire 10 (BR) squadron was ordered to move to Gander, with the move completed by 11 April 1941.

(As an aside, during World War II, Gander was home at differnt periods and lengths of time to many RCAF squadrons.  These included No. 5 BR Sqn, No. 10 BR Sqn, 116 BR Sqn, 162 (BR) Sqn and Nos 126 , 127 and 129 Fighter Squadrons.  To support operations, the RCAF located a section of the No. 19 Radio Detachment in Gander (also deployed along the coast of the island and Labrador), one of the first radar units on this side of the Atlantic.  Also No. 19 Sub-Repair Depot to provide aircraft repair and salvage.)

- June 22 1940 : the 1st battalion Black Watch of Canada, with a strength of 800, commanded by Lt. Col. Kenneth G. Blackader, arrived in Botwood and moved to Gander to take over airport defense.

- 13  july 1940 : Canadian Pacific Airways, based in Dorval as shown below, decided to give all support possible to the ferry operations across the Atlantic with the creation of a dedicated operation, known as the Canadian Pacific Air Services Department.


- 11 November 1940 : The first trans-Atlantic delivery of seven Lockheed Hudsons was made successfully.

- Feb. 20 1941 : Sir Frederick Banting was killed in a Hudson bomber that had departed Gander for overseas, crashing  near Musgrave Harbour, around  40 miles from Gander.

 - 09 March 1941 : The first American weather personnel of 8th Weather Squadron,  under Captain Clark Hosmer, arrived at “Gander Field" to support the later arrival of the US 21st Reconnaissance Squadron

- 01 April 1941 : the RCAF took over responsibility for the operations of the airport which previously had been run basically by civilians, mostly Newfoundlanders

- 20 April  1941 : the U.S. Army Air Base was initiated in Gander with the arrival of Lt. Julian M. Bleyer and Lt. Lawrence of the 21st Reconnaissance, flying a B-18 Bolo (which was the same as the Canadian Digby).

- mid April 41 :
Longer range B-17Cs of the USAAF 41st Reconnaissance Squadron which started mid-Atlantic anti-submarine patrols from Gander.  This unit had an unusual squadron crest, which appears to be based on Cupid, though there was no evidence they were bringing much love to the U-boats on the North Atlantic.

- 09 May 1941: The United States Army Air Base was officially established with Major J.V. Crabb arriving as commanding officer.  This later became known as the
1387 Army Airforce Base Unit, on 27 Jun 1944.

- 10 May 1941 : the ferry operations were taken over directly by the British Ministry of Aircraft Production itself through its ATFERO (Atlantic ferrying organization). The Canadian Pacific agreement was thereby terminated.

- 01 August 1941 : ATFERO was short-lived, for this responsibility was now assumed by the Royal Air Force Ferry Command, which had been established on 20 July. The RAFFC was luckily commanded by an extremely capable officer,  Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick William Bowhill.  AFTERO personnel were incorporated as civilian or military personnel.

- 12 Sept.1941 :  The Sir Frederick Banting Menorial hospital was officially opened by His Royal Highness, the Duke of Kent.  (The USAAF also constructed a hospital with 100+ beds on the “American side”.)

- Dec. 7 1941: The Americans in Gander were warned  they were now officially at war as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the subsequent declaration of war on the US by Hitler.

- May 1942 : the initiation of domestic east coast flights (Gander, St John’s, Sydney, Moncton) by Trans Canadian Airlines.  

- !942-1945 :  Military operations continued at a torrid pace. 
These can be categorized  as three basic types :

* ferry operations carried by both the RAF and the USAAF
* anti-submarine operations by both the  Canadians and Americans
* mercy and rescue flights carried out all over the province

There were many losses of aircraft during this period.  One in particular worth mentioning is the crash of a Liberator B-24 no 589, identification D, which went into Gander Lake on 1943/09/04.   Attempts are planned to bring it up again.

- 25 March 1943 : To meet the needs of military transport which had become global, rather than limited to the trans-Atlantic, the Royal Air Force formed its Transport Command of which Ferry Command became No. 45 Atlantic Transport Group

- 01 january 1944 :  while it had being transmitting occasionally since spring 1943,  the radio station VORG was officially opened on New Years Day 1944.  The initials meant Voice of  RCAF Gander to distinguish it from a local station the USAAF hoped to operate.  “VO” was in fact the universal code for non commercial  and amateur radio, as well as private and commercial airplanes in Newfoundland. 

- Early June, 1944 : A huge fire broke out mid morning in Hangar 6 and  by 10h15,  it was a wall of flame, the sound of which was punctuated by that of exploding 50 caliber rounds and depth charges.  Four B-24 aircraft along with a great amount of spares were lost.

04 March 1944 : The arrival of the first B-29 passing through Gander. This heralded the arrival of almost 150 over the next two months.


3. Post-war period

-  23 October 1945 : The first international commercial landplane, an American Overseas Airline (AOA) DC-4, landed at Gander en route to Europe

- 14 September 1946 : The official opening of  the first “new” terminal in the former RAF Hangar 22

- 18 September 1946 :  Crash of a Sabena DC-4  on the other side of Gander Lake. Below is a rare photo of the actual airplane "OO-CBG" before the crash. at an airport in Belgium.

-  01 April 1949 : The airport came under the control of the federal Department of Transport.

- Early 1950 : Ottawa decided that airport personnel should be moved to a complete new town on the outskirts of the airport and independent of it.   

-October 1951 : The Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation  agreed to prepare the town plan and physically set out the Townsite while  DOT became responsible for preliminary engineering.

- June 1951 : Edgar Baird built a house, outside the new townsite as such, in “Beaverwood”, now the east end of Memorial Drive. This was part of a program for veterans.

- Spring 1952 : Construction of the new town began.  Mr. Tom Cleary was the first to complete a private house at 131 Elizabeth Drive, followed by Mr. Clarence Woolfrey, both employees of Shell  Canada.  

- Summer 1954 : Decision by DOT in favour of a new terminal complex,  given the difficulty for the old RAF  terminal and ramp area to handle an estimated 13,000 aircraft a year and the quarter million or more passengers. Work began a year later by the Kenny Construction Campany

- 29 August 1955 : Gov. Gen. Massey officially opened the Town of Gander.  He arrived by train and left on an RCAF North Star transport plane.

- 27 October 1958 :  a  Pan American B707, registration NC711PA,  piloted by Capt. Sam Miller. was the first jet to use the new terminal, after an unscheduled 71-minute stop due to headwinds, en route NewYork to Paris.  The photo below shows the actual airplane that landed at Gander.

- 19 June 1959 : opening of the new air terminal by Queen Elizabeth II