The Fuss over Gander

by Frank Tibbo

The war was over. The Canadians were ready to divest itself of the control it had of the airport during most of the war. The British had gone practically broke fighting Hitler and the Newfoundland Commission of Government had a problem on their hands – Gander! And, of course, it was all about money.

The Governor of Newfoundland, Sir Humphrey Thomas Walwyn, told Lord Addison, British Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, in January 1946 that he foresaw a half million-dollar deficit in the operation of the airport.

Of course, Newfoundland couldn't afford such an expense. (It may not sound like a whole lot now but in 1946 dollars it was a whole lot.) The Governor said, "I want to get the public wise to this before they are confronted with the bill, but they all think an airport is a fine source of revenue." In July 1946, James S. Neill, Public Commissioner of Utilities and Supply, wrote a secret report to the Dominion's Office in London which confirmed the Governor's predictions. Operating the airport was going to be costly. Yet, it was the same Commissioner Neill who gave a glorious speech as the Newfoundland government's representative when he officially opened the new terminal building on September 14, 1946. (The current terminal building was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth on June 19, 1959.) Commissioner Neill said during the terminal opening:

"Gentlemen, I wish to record my own faith in the future of Gander. It is destined, in the days to come, to be the mother ship of airships which will fly internally in Newfoundland. It is destined to become one of the historic transatlantic travel airports; it is destined to have a history in peace which will match its glorious record in war."

The fact that the Newfoundland government's representative officiated at the terminal's opening is indicative of a substantial financial contribution toward its cost.

The Newfoundland government employees at Gander numbered 1,150 with a payroll of $1,250,000. Many of them were busy converting former military barracks into living quarters for its employees and 500 airline workers. Many of the employees had, just a few years ago, been living with only a small fraction of their current salaries; but the government was aware of a potential thorn in its side. The thorn was J.R. Smallwood. He had moved to Gander in 1943 to operate a pig farm and from time to time was talking to some of the employees in an attempt to forming a union to get higher wages.

In the meantime, the Dominions Office in London sent a fact-finding group of three financial experts, led by Mr. L.S. Mills, to investigate the airport's financial dilemma. Their conclusion was that the airport would have a deficit of $750,000 in 1946-47. The Dominions Office in London agreed to pay two-thirds of the deficit of the airport and Newfoundland would pay the remainder.

The United Kingdom also sold to Newfoundland the wartime buildings and assets of the Royal Air Force and Ministry of Aircraft Production at Gander for $200,000. The value of the assets were valued at $2,500,000. (Neary)

contributed by F. Tibbo



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