Town’s First Store

by Frank Tibbo

In 1952 there were approximately 3,000 residents living on Gander airport property. The federal government, owners of the airport, faced a challenge like they never before experienced. The people had to move. The residents were told in 1950 that there was just no way could an international airport continue to operate properly with residential buildings interspersed around runways. Besides, the buildings were wartime temporary structures and never intended for longtime use.

Houses started to appear in the new town in 1952. Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) had fifty prefabricated housing units shipped in, many of which were erected on Alcock Crescent.

Mr. Tom Cleary was to complete a private house at 131 Elizabeth Drive, followed closely by Mr. Clarence Woolfrey. Both houses were completed in 1952.

But Mr. Edgar Baird beat them both; his was built on what is now Memorial Drive. The only hitch to bragging rights is that the present Memorial Drive was not then part of the new town. Mr. Baird had his house finished in June 1951.

It took a few more years before the first business store was opened in the town.

The honour went to Mr. William (Bill) Toytman, a native of ToytmansPoland. Mr. Toytman was, to say the least, an enterprising young man who had wretched memories to live with. The Nazis killed his parents, three sisters and a brother. He escaped from concentration camp only to be recaptured. He was slated for execution but managed to escape a second time at age 11. He escaped from the concentration camp through a sewer culvert. Then he was caught by local partisans who were opportunistic bandits. He later left that group and joined the Russian army. He became a sergeant at the remarkably young age of 15.

He came to Canada via Halifax's Pier 21 as did his wife Rose. They met in Montreal when Bill was on a buying trip. Bill worked for a while selling goods for Jewish families in St. John's and shortly thereafter caught the train for Gander.

He sold goods to workers in the barracks, everything from dresses to panty hose. He bought a building on the airport that Joey Smallwood had used in his piggery operation. When the people were told they had to move from the airport, Mr. Toytman was the first to complete a store in the new town.

Toytman’s was the only store in town that sold groceries. In addition to their regular clothing line, they also had a coffee bar. The grocery business was only a temporary service to the new town residents, and it ceased when Goodyears and the Co-Op stores opened.

Bill Toytman was a successful entrepreneur. He brought in Wilbur Osmond, a well-known and successful manager of Cross and Co. St. John’s, who opened branch stores in Gambo and Glovertown. Unfortunately, the store suffered severe damage in a fire and never reopened.

Mr. Toytman always deemed it a great honour to be a Canadian “and especially a Newfoundlander.” He died on August 7, 2001, in Toronto, Ontario.

Special thanks to Sam Toytman of Gander, son of Bill and Rose Toytman.


submitted by F. Tibbo

top return to top