Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 29, 1987


Education at Gander – George LeGrow

Provision of an adequate standard of education has never been easy.  Even today, keeping pace with the changing cycle of enrolment and abreast of technological development requires research, insight and ingenuity, often in lieu of sufficient funding.

Running a school system today, however, is a cakewalk compared to the task set for parents and community leaders of early Gander.G Legrow

George T. LeGrow was here through much of that time and has made a hobby of recording the development of education in the town. 

He arrived in 1944, working with a construction company as an accountant an, in October of 1946 when the airport reverted to civilian control, took a similar position with the Civil Aviation Division of the Newfoundland Government.

His involvement in the local school system began in 1948 when his seven years of teaching experience secured him the position of secretary-treasurer with the amalgamated school board, formed two years earlier.  He would remain with the board for the next 22 years.

George explains that the problems in establishing a school system at Gander were few in number.  The wives and children of civilian construction workers, filtered in, against the better judgment of military administrators, but it was not until the immediate post-war years that families actually became part of the community.

The first record of formal education being offered at Gander refers to a classroom in a rail car, parked for two weeks on a siding before moving on to another community.  In its absence, lessons were conducted by correspondence with the Department of Education.

That was in 1940, when enrolment at Gander totaled five students, and the year which saw construction of the one room school on Chestnut Street.

Throughout the remainder of the war enrolment increased by about 10 students each year and a second classroom was not opened until September of 1945 when 55 students were registered. 

With the end of the war and subsequent withdrawal of the various armed forces, the civilian population skyrocketed.

In 1946-47 there were 88 students and a third classroom was opened in the building familiarly known as “Duffy’s Tavern,” named for a popular radio program.

The establishment of a classroom separate from the Chestnut Street School set a pattern which would continue until the opening of Gander Academy on the present townsite.  The influx of civilians and simultaneous conversion of military barracks to apartment blocks left a tremendous demand for housing, with keen competition as each room and building became available.

A building committee was established in April, 1947, to begin renovating Building 107, which would become known as the “main building.”  However, with enrolment more than doubling that year and growing dramatically into the late 1950s, classes were held wherever space could be wrestled away from government or other sources. 

In addition to the Chestnut Street school and Duffy’s Tavern, which had also been a warehouse and Legion Club, students gathered in the Eastbound Inn/Royal Bank building, a drill hall, the airlines Hotel and American Side fire hall, as well as various barracks and apartment buildings.

George recalls, “It wasn’t like a ‘normal’ community, where you might have a slow, steady increase in your enrolment each year; we had new students practically every time the train came in.”

He explains that during those years government would pay half the cost of new school construction but would not assist with maintenance or renovations, thus, the board waged a continuous fundraising campaign to support the work.

There were garden parties, bean suppers, card games, sports days, concerts and bake sales, George recalls, and in 1946 an assessment of $1.50 per month for each family with children in school, added to corporate donations by local offices of large companies. 

The following year the board succeeded in obtaining a grant of $10,000 from the Department of Education. 

Even when Gander Academy opened in 1957, an event described as a “dream come true,” the growing enrolment remained a concern.

Says George, “the Academy was designed with something like 7 extra classrooms to allow for future growth.  We thought it was a good move just in case we needed them in 10 or 15 years.  Well, it took about two years,: he grins.

But the problem of accommodating students extended to staff, as well.  George notes that in an unprecedented move, the school board was quite active in real estate during the move onto the new townsite. 

On the airport, it had been difficult to find teachers simply because there was nowhere for them to live.  The board eventually provided hostels, one of which – a former customs apartment building – was later sawed into four pieces and hauled to its present location on Elizabeth Drive.

When the new townsite was being developed, George relates, the board purchased land, built private homes and sold them to teachers at cost price.

“Sure, it was unusual for a school board to invest in real estate, but a lot of unusual things happened at Gander during the early years.  We were doing things all the time that had never been done before,” he reflects.

“That’s what it took to build Gander into the town we have today.”


Researched by Carol Walsh


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