Having grown up in central Newfoundland, I am quite familiar with Gander International Airport. Locally, we all know and love it for its proximity to rural towns, its unique flair, and of course, its direct Sunwing flights to the sunny south in the cold Newfoundland winter. But for a tiny airport in a tiny community, there’s a lot more interesting history to Gander International Airport than you’d expect.
Although these days most major flights out of Newfoundland depart from St. John’s International Airport in the capital city, Gander was once an integral stopover destination for international flights, which is where it got its nickname: The Crossroads of the World. The airport got quite a bit of attention in the last couple of years after the broadway musical “Come From Away” became a global hit. “Come From
What do the Queen of England, Marilyn Monroe, and Fidel Castro have in common? They have all been guests of Gander, Newfoundland!-Erin Gregory, Ingenium Channel
Gander International Airport was built in 1938 and soon after, with the completion of a few more runways, it was the largest airport in the world. It was heavily used by the Canadian and American military during World War 2 and helped make transatlantic flights possible. In 1945, the first scheduled commercial flight passed through the airport. Many international carriers used Gander International Airport over the years, including Air France, Pan-Am, and Scandinavian Airlines.
100s of VIP guests had traveled through the airport by the 1950s, including Albert Einstein, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Fidel Castro. The Queen of England herself was even present at the grand opening of the ‘new’ terminal in 1959. This terminal is still at the airport today, frozen in time, and rarely used. Shortly after the vibrant, hip (now retro) terminal opened, feats of engineering allowed aircraft to fly longer distances without needing to refuel, meaning Gander International Airport was used less and less frequently. Although the airport is only used in modern times for flights to and from some Canadian cities and by snowbirds heading down south, it is still a very important site for North Atlantic air traffic control operations.
Sir Frederick Grant Banting, who discovered the therapeutic potential of penicillin, died in a plane crash after departing Gander International Airport in February 1941. In 1946, Sabena Airlines flight DC-4 crashed 35 km short of the runway in Gander, killing 27 people. On December 12, 1985, Arrow Air Flight 1285 crashed in Gander. All 256 people on board, most American soldiers, tragically lost their lives. To this day, it remains the deadliest airplane accident in Canadian history. On September 11, 2001, the day of the devastating World Trade Center, Gander opened its arms to 38 planes carrying around 7000 passengers after US Airspace closed. This is what “Come From Away” is all about. I could go on and on about this story, but I want you to see the show, so I won’t. Go see it. Now.
I feel so lucky on the rare occasions when I get to fly out of the Gander international terminal. It has the coolest retro vibes. You can picture glamorous men and women in the 1950s lounging on the bright yellow and orange couches, checking the time on the mid-century clocks, and hopping on the escalator to catch their flight. It’s truly an unforgettable travel experience, especially when you’re aware of the historical significance. You wouldn’t think there would have been such a bustling operation in such a small community– but the impact and importance of Gander International Airport in tremendous.
I highly suggest you check out Erin Gregory’s fantastic article about the airport and its history. She has some great photos and interesting tidbits of information. She sums up the Gander International Airport experience quite succinctly: “it’s like stepping inside an artifact.” I got a lot of my information for this post from good
What’s your favourite fact about Gander International Airport? Did you know it had such a rich history? There was no way I could cram everything about the airport into one short post– there is so much more to discover. We’d love to hear from you about it! Comment your favourite stories or links to your favourite articles.