Egdar Baird

by Frank Tibbo

When the Town Council of Gander named a street in honour of Edgar Baird, they recognized one of the true pioneers of the town. Baird, who first came to Gander in the spring of 1948, was one of the first to realize that something had to be done to accommodate the people stuffed in buildings surrounding the airport, and he lobbied the government to establish a permanent town site near the Gander Airport. He then went on to become the first chairman of the Local Improvement District and the first to complete a house in what was to become the Town of Gander. (His house was built in conjunction with the Veterans Land Act Administration, an agency of the Federal Department of Veterans' Affairs. Although not directly concerned with the establishment of the Town site, Veterans’ small holdings were established just outside the original Town site limit before 1950 and were included in the Municipal Area when the Local Improvement District was established.)

Prior to World War II and prior to there being a Gander, Edgar Baird was involved with the use of aircraft, especially as it related to the Newfoundland forests. It was about this time that he had considerable influence in persuading the Newfoundland government to use aircraft to help protect the forests. He is considered the pioneer in the use of aircraft for combating forest fires in Newfoundland.

He was born in Campbelton, Notre Dame Bay, Newfoundland, on May 28, 1911. He attended the one-room school in Angle Brook, finished Grade XI and went on to Memorial College. Next came a combined interest in flying and forests. In 1935 he was appointed the Chief Woods Ranger of Newfoundland by the Governor on a recommendation from London and stayed in the position until 1937. During that period, he was flown around by Doug Fraser (Fraser Road, Gander). Fraser and Cliff Kent (Kent Place, Gander) were the two pilots employed with Imperial Airways. That company, among other things, conducted on behalf of the Geodetic Survey of Canada, an aerial survey of Newfoundland in 1937.

War changes a lot of lives, and Edgar Baird's was no exception. His first thought in 1939, considering his knowledge and experience, was to join the Overseas Forestry Unit. He volunteered and was appointed District Superintendent with the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit in Scotland. He took charge of the largest contingent of men ever to sail from Newfoundland in any service. John Arrowsmith, Lieut. Commander in the Royal Navy wrote to Captain Jack Turner, O.B.E., Officer in Charge of the Newfoundland Forestry Unit:

"Dear Sir, I have had the honour of being Liaison Officer to Mr. Edgar Baird of the Newfoundland Forestry Unit on a voyage from St. John's, Newfoundland to the United Kingdom. Mr. Baird was in charge of nearly a thousand Newfoundland Foresters and their conduct and behaviour was so exemplary that I feel it a duty to bring this to your notice."

F.H. Daicokovski, Master of the "Chrobry" on which the men were transported, wrote a similar letter. Three months later, while the "Chrobry" was engaged in the Norwegian campaign, it was sunk with all hands. _

As did many other Newfoundlanders, Baird decided to apply for a transfer to the Royal Air Force. The RAF accepted him in April 1941, and he received his officer's commission as soon as he earned his RAF pilot's wings in 1942. He must have impressed the RAF because they decided to keep him at the training school as a flying instructor. First it was on twin-engine aircraft at Service Flying Training Units and later on Advanced Flying Training Units. He eventually taught pilots the intricacies of "blind" flying in Beam Approach Training ("BAT") School. Baird's natural modesty comes through in this statement: "That's all we did. We'd take the pilot out and get him lost, and we'd teach him how to get back on instruments. Not much to it, really, when you know how."

His wife, the former Mary Snartt, was the secretary to the Newfoundland Trade Commission in London when they married in 1944. When you are in the military, you do as you are told. Baird was told that his unit, RAF No. 33 Service Flying Training School, was being transferred to Manitoba. "The works of us were shipped off – the whole station: cooks, mechanics, dishwashers, instructors, to train RAF pilots in Canada!" The reason was the weather, more space, the danger in England, and available airfields in Canada. The RAF also sent whole units to Rhodesia.

In March 1944, Baird was sent back to England again. This time he was sure he was going to be assigned to bombers because the Allies were involved with the massive bomber raids on Germany. But he was told that he was needed to continue to give advanced training to pilots who needed instrument flying training. By war's end, he had obtained the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

When he returned to Newfoundland, he naturally gravitated toward the woods operation and Bowaters hired him as a superintendent of their woods operation. He stayed with them from 1946 to 1948; but their philosophies were far apart. "After a while I couldn't stand the sight of Bowaters and Bowaters couldn't stand the sight of me so we parted company."

Edgar has been one of the most articulate and thoughtful advocates that this province has known. His passion for the cause of establishing a town for Gander Airport residents can be determined by reading the following excerpts from a full page article in dated February 16, 1950.

“Gander is to air transportation what Suez or Panama is to shipping. Gander is the crossroads of the world. ... There is no menace to Gander's future unless an earthquake should throw up another island some hundreds of miles further out in the Atlantic, or unless some artificial and manmade restrictions forbid its use. If, for instance, the people of this new province are prepared to sit idly by and allow the Air Transport Board to barter our position and importance for the privilege of getting T.C.A. a run to New York. ... If you lose your job or change your job you lose your home. What is even worse is that no one is allowed to build a home within five miles of Gander. That is a restriction laid on during the war and may have been necessary. It is kept on still, for God knows what reason. ... There are many people who wish to build their homes here. That can surely be no crime. ... What we want at Gander is a free town with simple, democratic constitutions, where the rule is the rule of the majority; where a man may own his own home on his own land and engage in any business or occupation he may choose within the laws of the land and the bylaws of the town; where private enterprise will be encouraged, not prohibited; where home building, cultivation and improvement will be counted a virtue, not a crime, and above all where freedom and democracy will rule.” (The Evening Telegram, 1950)

It wasn't long before Baird went back to flying. On July 14, 1947, he obtained Senior Commercial Pilot's Licence No. 8 from the Newfoundland government's Civil Aviation Division of the Department of Public Works. (After Newfoundland joined Canada, he was issued a Canadian licence – No. SC-47.) Speed Baird (no relation), Ewan Boyd and Chuck Heron, an American, formed Terra Nova Aviation.

"Speed and Ewan were also pilots, but they had other jobs; so I was the only full-time pilot on the Piper Cruiser. Later we got a four-seater Stinson. Our company got contracts from the Fire Patrol of Newfoundland, an association of Bowaters, A.N.D. and the Newfoundland government."

"It was while I was flying with Terra Nova Aviation that I saw Joey Smallwood for the first time. We used Deadman’s Pond quite a bit. One day I landed there and there was this poor bedraggled fellow looking for a lift to the airport, I had left a vehicle there so I gave him a lift. I asked him who he was and he said 'I'm Joe Smallwood' Now there was a great deal of talk about Smallwood at that time and I asked him if he was Joe E. Smallwood that we hear so much about and he said, 'yes but it's Joey not Joe. E.”

“I flew him around a few times. They put a loud-speaker in the aircraft that I was flying; and as we got close to the place where he would be speaking that night, I would fly over the town and he'd announce over the loud speaker where the meeting would be that night. The loud speaker came in handy a few times. Once I was returning from St. Anthony flying south along the east coast of the Great Northern Peninsula and seeing all those poor little schooners struggling through the ice up north. I used to fly over them and tell them where the ice was – wasn't supposed to be doing it of course.”

"I then went flying for Newfoundland Airways for a couple of years, which was owned by Maritime Central. There were three of us, Carl Fisher, an American, Joe MacGillvery and me." (The Evening Telegram, 1950)

He also purchased a Fox Moth (CF-BNM) on skis and floats from Carl Burke. "I paid sixteen hundred dollars for it, used it for two years and sold it for the same price. I needed the money for a truck."

Baird started Caribou Cabins around 1949 and operated it for five or six years. He also formed Gander Lumber Company around 1954, a lumber business and building supplies company. That lasted for about 15 years and got a contract for exporting wood to Italy, Spain and England from Carmanville. Gander Lumber Company built quite a few houses in Gander with Phil Gillett as chief foreman and had as many as 50 people in the construction business and approximately 200 people working at the pulpwood.

"We did very well with the pulp wood business but the government came up with a law that in order to get the pulpwood contracts again it was necessary to harvest the large trees and have a saw mill. I built a saw mill and it burned after a very short time and there was no insurance carried." (The Evening Telegram, 1950)

It was interesting to find out why the first houses were built on what is now Memorial Drive, an area already under construction when the government decided to build a town site for those living around the airport. It seems that the Canadian Army in Gander during the war were worried about depending on the rail-road as the only transportation link between Gander and Lewisporte. (The port of Lewisporte was the only source of fuel for the aircraft.) They decided to build a road and started on both ends and in the middle. They were stopped because the opposition party in Ottawa complained that roads were being built unnecessarily in a foreign country out of taxpayers’ money. It is also possible that approval had not been received from the appropriate authorities. The result was that when the construction was stopped; there were two or three pieces of road going nowhere.

"I had been suggesting to the authorities that we be given permission to build houses under the Veterans Land Act (VLA). The road that the army had started ('Glenwood Road' and now 'Memorial Drive') seemed to be an ideal location and we eventually got land grants and started to build. People "told us we were nuts." My house was the first of six to be finished followed soon by Ernest Peyton, Elmo Baird, Charlie Taylor, Scotty Tulk and Bob Walsh. We moved from Building 2 on the American Side to our new our house in June, 1951."

"Al Vivian, the general manager of CMHC, approached me and asked me if I would serve on the Local Improvement District, the others were Rex Tilley representing Transport, Bob Walsh and a representative from CMHC." Baird went on to become the first chairman, an office equivalent to that of mayor." (The Evening Telegram, 1950)

One of Baird's biggest concerns was for the town to develop as one cohesive unit.

"… rather than a number of 'half-assed' villages – we already had Union East, Radio Range, Plumberville, Hillcrest and other budding villages. I am glad that we succeeded, and I believe that everyone is. It is noteworthy that in Gander there is no Snob Lane and no slum area. Incidentally, we (the Local Improvement District Board of Trustees) condemned to death a proposal by some Ottawa bureaucrat that the town should be named AIRLANDIA!"

"You'll notice that I never seemed to stick with a job very long, the job of Chief Woods Ranger was one of the best jobs in Newfoundland, but I left that and went with the Island Timber Company. I suppose I should have stayed with a government job, then I could have had a pension, but I almost considered it a form of slavery, having to work for someone else." (The Evening Telegram, 1950)

Ed note, also read; When Time Was Ripe For A New Town Site

Contributed by F. Tibbo

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