Gander—and it all started here.
There is screeching ceremony taking place in the bar tonight. It includes drinking a shot of screech (local rum), kissing a codfish on the mouth and answering the perfectly innocent question of ‘Is ye an honorary Newfoundlander?’ with the response ‘Indeed I is me ol’ cock, and long may your big jib draw.’ I never did find out what it meant.
Newfoundlanders are friendly, hospitable folk and none more so the people of Gander. When the USA closed its airspace on September 11 2001 Gander once again became the hub of transatlantic traffic looking for a place to land. Thirty-nine flights diverted to Gander International Airport and 6,500 people descended on the town—almost doubling its population overnight. The kindly folk of Gander opened its hotels, homes and public buildings to accommodate the diverted passengers and crew.
Built in 1936 Gander International Airport was once the thriving hub for international air traffic that stopped at Gander to refuel before continuing on to Europe. Passengers included the rich and famous from the USA and Europe with Nikita Khrushchev, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt filing through its customs area more than once. Fidel Castro was a frequent visitor with Gander being the stop off point between Havana and Moscow.
A drive around Gander’s main streets gives the first clue to its background with streets named after the Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindberg and Alcock and Brown.
The town’s North Atlantic Aviation Museum on the Trans Canada Highway opened in 1996 and as well as providing a history of aviation, it also offers displays of fighter and bomber aircraft including a beautifully restored Dehavilland Tiger Moth, and one of the newest displays showcases a B17 Flying Fortress. And if you have plane buff in your midst you’ll probably have some difficulty extracting them from the gift shop, which sells model aircraft and books on aviation as far back as Icarus.
Aviation aside, there are other things to see and do in Gander and the surrounding region.
Gander is situated 40 kilometres south of Gander Bay with its beautiful coves, fishing communities and array of birdlife, and an hour’s drive west will take you to Grand Falls-Windsor, home to the Salmon Festival in July each year. A further half-hour will see you at TwillingateIslands with its rugged, scenic coastline of bays and fjords and a backdrop of National Forests with walks and guided tours.
In the summer months Twillingate provides the breathtaking beauty of iceberg watching. The bergs, small by iceberg standards yet still bigger than ten storey apartment block, are break-offs from the main iceberg and float silently along the coastline to hover for a while before gliding away, and, if icebergs don’t tempt you, you can take a whale watching tour. From May to September daily boat tours can take you out to see whales, seals, dolphins and the myriad of bird colonies clinging to the rocks.
And the town doesn’t sleep in the winter. If you’re an outdoorsy type an 18 hole golf course overlooks Lake Gander and is open all year round. Just three kilometres west of Gander the Nordic Ski Club enjoys 16 kilometres of trails suitable for all levels of skiers with some lit for night skiing. Or you could try your hand at curling. The Gander Curling Club has a lounge, dining and dance facilities for those who don’t fancy sliding 20 kilos of stone across a sheet of ice. There’s also a snowmobile club and figure skating at the local rink.
Restaurants and bars are aplenty and many offer local specials with freshly caught lobster, crab and squid that you can wash down with the aforesaid screech to keep you warm. If you don’t fancy seafood there is a good selection of Asian and Italian restaurants to choose from, plus the ever present McDonalds, KFC, and pizza takeaways.
Although the summer can be pleasant with an average of 22 degrees Celsius, winter temperatures can drop to as low as minus 13.
That fur-lined aviation jacket could come in handy.