Shell Oil In Early Gander

By Robert Pelley

Shell Oil recently closed down its local operations at the Gander airport so it would be appropriate to review Shell's history in Gander. This is rather difficult because in 1949, Shell Newfoundland was taken over by Shell Canada and nothing from the pre-1949 period seems to have been kept. I was however aided by three things. Firstly, during the summer of 2000, with my daughter Jennifer, I was able to spend a day at Shell Canada Headquarters in Montreal going through Shell magazines from 1950 to around 1958. Secondly, in a recent conversation, my father, Calvin J Pelley, was able to give a fair amount of detail from the 40s and 50s. Lastly, there is little bit of info to be gleaned from the GAHS website and here and there from different sources, notably photos kindly sent to me by the late Fred Smeaton.

The first point that may surprise many people is that the runways in Gander were built basically by Shell. They might say no, another company called Colas did them. In fact Colas was a division of Shell Oil and in 1937 was contracted to provide the surfacing for the runways. Several options were considered, but the best was thought to be the construction of a plant in Newfoundland and later that year Colas Newfoundland Limited was incorporated. The port of Clarenville was selected because it was equidistant from St. John's and the site of the new airport and because of its proximity to the railway. None of this should be surprising because the asphalt used in making the runways in Gander is as much a petroleum product as aviation fuel.

Shell first started it activities in Botwood to support the flying-boat operations. A 15,000 gallon storage tank was built at Norris Arm. A scow called "Oscar" would then transport the fuel in barrels to Botwood. When land-based aircraft in Gander replaced the flying boat operations, fuel was then sent by boat to Lewisporte and by train to Gander. There was a siding situated more or less between the runways and the "Army side" where fuel could be transferred from train to truck. The two photos below were from Mr Smeaton. The first from very early during the war shows three Bren gun carriers heading west on Pattison Road. In the middle ground the Shell workshop is indicated, with a similar Esso building to the left. The railway siding is just beyond these buildings.


The second, a hand-coloured snap also from Mr Smeaton, shows a similar, but slightly more recent, view point. The old Army side can be seem through the trees and what became Goodyear's Dry goods and hardware can seen the foreground.


Shell personnel lived basically in two converted wartime barracks, the first being the single-story Bldg. 30 on the Army side and later the two-story H-type Bldg. 67 on the American side. The Shell residence on the American side would have looked like the one shown below.

bldg 67

The manager of Shell was however entitled to a private home, which in 1950 had an unheard-of private phone (with the number 435). This was located on Chestnut Street on the Canadian side where resided a number of persons in decision-making roles in Gander. This was a comfortable two-story cottage located next to the path going from Chestnut to the early Gander Stadium, Goodyear's Cash & Carry, and Hunt Memorial Academy.

chestnut st

In 1950, Shell had six buildings listed in its files:
- Manager's residence
- Assistant manager's residence
- Staff house
- Manager's office
- Terminal office and refueling crew
- Jewett Road Plant (the workshop mentioned above)

At some point in that general time frame, Shell also acquired the old RAF officers' cabin at the marine facility on Gander Lake, which served as focal point for the social activities not only of Shell employees but Gander residents in general.

The first vehicle was a Ford pickup manufactured before the war. The second was a pre-war fuel tanker, also a Ford, with an 1100-gallon capacity. The third vehicle was an Autocar, equally of 1100 gallons, which arrived in 1942. Three Oshkosh tankers made in Wisconsin followed these vehicles. They were numbered 5, 6 and 9 and had a capacity of 2000 gallons.  When Shell Canada took over from Shell Newfoundland in 1949, the numbers where all changed to a 3-digit 500 series.

After the war Shell used trucks made by an Ontario branch of the Cleveland-based White Truck Company. Shell also used small jeep for aircraft oil, carrying a small 200-gallon drum in the back. Another vehicle used by Shell was an enclosed van that came from England and was used for moving oil drums. It was a boxy affair with a slightly slanting front and it apparently was a clunker. It had frequent cylinder problems, but instead of replacing the piston rings, as was the usual case, the repair was done by replacing the cylinder sleeve.

The photo below was entitled "First Shell truck". Standing next to it is Ron Hayden, the first Shell manager. Perhaps even better known is the dog beside him, known at the time as "Pal". When the very first airplanes arrived in Gander, Shell had no real facilities and Pal towed the fuel on a sled. This is the same dog that became better known as "Sargent Gander".


It would appear that Shell was a relatively enlightened company which tended to recognize the efforts of its employees. For example every year it would fly four employees to Montreal for several days for what was called an "Emblem dinner". The photo below, taken in Gander in 1954, shows a recognition dinner. Listed are the following, along with their years of service: EJ Fiander, LA March, WS Russell, SP Bartlett, M Jestican, RN Hodder, MM Russell, WJ Peddle, S Anstey, AL Wilson, D Simmons, PL Tremblay, HC Edison and CJ Pelley.


Mr Wilson represented Shell Toronto while Mr Tremblay was from Montreal. All the others worked for Shell in Gander. There are other men who worked for Shell in Gander who are not shown in the photo, possibly because a crew was constantly needed on the ramp. Missing would include Tom Cleary and Joe Power. As well, there were two Edisons with Shell, namely Cyril and Cecil and only one is shown.

It would also appear that Shell had a social conscience. I came across in particular article, from "Shell News" for December 1959, which talks about the lack of books in the library of the new Gander Academy school. When the school opened, there were only about 100 books available for 1500 students. When Shell's Eastern Division Operations manager, Frank Butler, toured the new school, he saw immediately the lack of books. When he returned to Montreal, he sent a circular to all the Division's employees for book donations. Due to the efforts of these Shell employees, almost 500 books were added to the library. Dave Simmons, officially called Superintendent of Gander Plant, presented the books to the Amalgamated School Board.

Shell's operations were carried out both at the airport and at Gander Lake. Typical Gander Lake activity can be read about in an article on Russian flying boats

Editors Note: The article gives an overview of early Shell operations. Most of the historical information was given to us by Mr. Calvin J Pelley, father of the author. Anyone having suggestions to improve it are cordially invited to contact the author via the webmaster.


Researched by R.G. Pelley - Nov 2014


top return to top