Goodyear's History

by Frank Tibbo

Anyone writing the history of Gander will inevitably, and very quickly, discover that the firm of Goodyears, is an integral part of Gander's history.

The Goodyear name, one of the most respected names in Newfoundland history, is also one of the most prominent names in the province – for several reasons. One thing that should be well known is the sacrifice made during World War I, and another is because of the commercial aspect. The Goodyears played an integral part in the history of Gander beginning in 1940.

Josiah Goodyear, a fisherman from Ladle Cove, had seven children, a daughter Daisy (aka Kate), and sons Roland, Joe (J.R.), Hedley, Stanley, Kenneth and Raymond – all born in that little town of Ladle Cove, Newfoundland, on the north-east coast. In 1900 the eldest of the children, eighteen-year-old Roland, obtained a position as an apprentice to Swedish Blacksmiths and Sawyers for Lewis Miller and worked at Norris Arm and Millertown until 1904. Roland, who was later joined by brother Joe, did so well that by 1907 the family decided to pull up stakes and move to Grand Falls where there were lots of opportunities for young entrepreneurs.

Josiah, the father, became a millwright with the A.N.D. Company but resigned that position in 1910 and went into business with his sons.

One of the favourite family stories has Stanley, Josiah's fourth son, winning a stable of forty horses in a poker game in 1910. It hypothesizes that Goodyears may have started their business because of that poker game. The horses had previously been owned by the A.N.D. Company. The stable became known as Grand Falls Stables and was probably the genesis of all subsequent Goodyears firms. Stanley got his father Josiah involved with the stables, and four of them (Josiah the father, Joe (J.R.), Stanley and Roland) quickly decided to expand to other commercial ventures such as construction, woods operations, freight hauling, taxi service and town hearse.

At this point Kenneth, 15, and Raymond, 12, were still attending school while Hedley had graduated from the University of Toronto in 1913 with a Master's Degree.

WWI then intervened bringing tragedy to the Goodyear family. Five of Josiah's sons volunteered for the Great War. Roland, the eldest (and close to the maximum age for acceptance into the service) stayed home to help his father run the business. The remaining five served overseas. Four of the brothers received officers' commissions: Joe as Captain, Kenneth and Stanley as Lieutenants, Hedley as a Lieutenant in the Canadian Army, Raymond (18 years old) as Lance Corporal.

Before the war was over, Mr. and Mrs. Goodyear would receive three telegrams that would affect their lives until they died. Their son, Hedley, after spending six years of his short life in university, was killed. Their son Stanley was also killed, followed by their youngest son Raymond. The Raymond who had run away from home twice to join up had been sent back because he was too young. The same Raymond who had stood on a chair at the back of the hall where his father was conducting a drive for volunteers and called out, "Now can I go father?" Three Goodyear brothers, Hedley, Stanley and Raymond, paid the supreme sacrifice. Stanley was awarded the Military Cross.

Soon after the war, the two brothers that survived, Ken and Joe, along with their brother Roland and father Josiah started a business with equal shares called J. Goodyears & Sons. Typical of the work carried out by the company was the construction of the last half of the Bonne Bay Road, building the Buchans Railroad, excavation work for a pipeline from Grand Falls to Bishop's Falls, constructing the Botwood road, and constructing portions of the Hall's Bay and Deer Lake roads. During the fifties and sixties, the firm built the road from Hare Bay to Gander Bay, as well as the road from Badger to Buchans and Millertown. In the early sixties they built Grandy Avenue, Gander.

In 1923, J. Goodyear and Sons was awarded a contract to cut, haul and drive wood for the new mill at Corner Brook. Roland knew that hundreds of men would be arriving at the contract site near Deer Lake, and with characteristic foresight decided that the company would be wise to make goods available to the workers. There were no shops in the area, and the men wouldn't even be able to buy a pair of socks unless there was a retail outlet established. Roland also knew the men would have to be fed, so he decided to build a bakery. The three Goodyear brothers formed an additional company in Deer Lake called Goodyear Humber Stores. It was that company that built the retail store and bakery. Retail stores were subsequently started at Windsor, Bishop's Falls, Grand Falls and Gander.

In 1924, Goodyears decided to start a separate retail store in Corner Brook. John House, a noted retail expert, was hired and given shares in the new company, which became known as Goodyear and House.

By now the three companies were into just about everything, including woods operations, retail stores, bakeries, coal supply, cook houses, heavy equipment and construction work of all kinds. The companies would eventually get involved with messing facilities and even funeral parlours. You name it and it seems that one of the Goodyear firms did it; or if they didn't do it, give them a few days and they would.

Most people, I believe, think that Goodyears came to Gander to operate retail stores – well they didn't. It may surprise some people to learn exactly why Goodyears did come to Gander.

Men working with the Atlas Construction in Gander were unhappy with the quality of bread which was procured from St. John's. Some of the men working with Atlas Construction Company in Gander had previously worked in Deer Lake where Goodyears had supplied the bread. The men told their bosses that Goodyears in Deer Lake made good bread and suggested that arrangements be made for Goodyears to come to Gander to make their bread.

The R.C.A.F. and the Newfoundland government wanted to keep the men happy and well fed. So, working through the ATLAS Construction Co., they contracted Goodyears to come to Gander, not only to supply bread, but also to set up messing facilities for several thousand men working on the base. The first contract was signed November 1940. Workers were living at sites around the area called camps – ATLAS South Camp, ATLAS North Camp, Belmont Construction Company Camp, Hall's Quarry and others.

(Hall's Quarry was 8 - 10 miles east of Gander on the rail track. Belmont Construction Camp was located south of the American side, Hall's Quarry was at Benton, North Camp was located north of the Canadian Side and north of the tracks, and South Camp was located south of the American side.)

An excerpt from the first contract seems to indicate that there was a morbid fear of alcoholic beverages:

'The general contractor agrees, if the Airport authorities permit, to provide the sub-contractor with a suitable building to be used for the sale of clothing and various articles necessary to the workmen and staff employed on this contract. It is distinctly understood, however, that no spirituous liquor or beer shall be sold in this store or any other objectionable matter.'

Thus Goodyears became the first commercial establishment in Gander. The store hours were from 9 to 9, six days a week, as well as Sunday afternoons.

Jack Pinsent, former office manager, said that the floor had to be "swept" with a square top shovel. The roads were so mucky that the construction workers coming to the store would track in mounds of dirt. At day's end, shovels were the only remedy.

Goodyears also provided baked bread and messing facilities for the workers on the big military base. Pinsent said that Goodyears had so much work and such a turnover of men that in one year they hired 365 cooks. To give one an idea of the vast amounts of food consumed, consider this: Mustard was purchased in 45 gallon barrels and issued to the mess halls in two-gallon pails!

It is interesting to note the various stipulations placed in the contracts by the government and Atlas Construction Company. One may think that the stipulations regarding who was to receive certain types of food for meals may hint discrimination. Newfoundlanders were not to have the same food as some others. Another interesting clause is that the "General Contractor (ATLAS) promises not to make any capricious demands."

Other interesting contract stipulations are listed below.

    • Prices of supplies from VAN are to be comparable with prices in Grand Falls. (VAN referred to the retail site.)
    • Meals were to be comparable with those served by an American Co. in Argentia.
    • Any workman may ask for and receive a second helping of the food served – with the exception of eggs.
    • Should the (financial) statement show the Sub-contractor's net profit on messing to exceed fifty cents per man per month, the Sub-contractor hereby agrees to refund the surplus to the General Contractor.( provision for price increases made covenant by an escalation clause.)

It is, then, somehow not surprising that according to Josiah's grandson Joe, Goodyears firm did $2,000,000 worth of business in one year on a food contract – and lost money.

Following are the breakfast menus in one contract:

Rolled Oats or Farine with Milk
Baked Beans with Tomato Sauce, Pork, Onions
Bologna Sausage, Eggs (2), Bacon
Fish & Brewis or Hash
Jam or Marmalade
Bread, Butterine
Tea or Coffee, Milk
Fruit or Fruit Juice, Apple Sauce
Hot or Dry Cereal & Oat Meal with Milk on table
Bacon or Ham & Eggs
Liver & Bacon
Kippers or Fresh Sausage
Coffee or Tea
Bread, Rolls or Toast
Fresh Butter, Marmalade or Jam

It must also be kept in mind that most of the mechanics and foremen were also Newfoundlanders, so the term Newfoundlanders Menu was slightly misleading. Employees eating from the Newfoundlanders' menu paid 75 cents per day which covered the cost of three meals, while those eating from the menu designated for mechanics and foremen paid $1.10.

It seems that the Bakery went hand-in-hand with the messing contract because when Goodyears got out of the business of feeding masses of workmen, they also gave up their bakery.

The first record of employees in Gander: (retail employees, February 1943) lists: R.H. Cornick (manager), Lud Hoddinot, Gus Bailey, Jack Pinsent, Gordon King, Stewart Rex and Reginald Collins. The 1947 list of employees shows that there were 59 employees on the payroll. When reviewing this list in March 1998, it was interesting to note that of these 59 employees, five of them were still living in Gander: Roy Bursey, Sylvia Bussey (nee Jewer); Denis Kelly, Doris West (nee Welland), and Hardy West.

I knew that a lot of people worked for Goodyears in Gander over the years, but I had no idea of how many until I looked in one of the Employee Book Records. This book recorded that between November 1, 1946 and Aug. 11, 1970, Goodyears hired 974 employees.

I find it impossible to write about Goodyears without getting off the subject of their history for a minute and expounding about a favourite character of mine. Anybody who has ever shopped in the men's section will remember the venerable Selby Pike. It's impossible for me to think of him without remembering the rumour (no doubt ill-founded) about a flask of spirituous liquid surreptitiously ensconced somewhere about the premises.

He could tell wives the size of their husbands' clothes and if she was buying him the correct colour; he would do this while clasping his hands and paying rapt attention to his customer while uttering some comical aphorisms about the current weather or politics. You could call him a character among characters; and even if you didn't want to buy something in his department, it was always tempting to wander close enough to hear his chatter. I never saw a person leave his presence without a smile – on Selby's face and on his customers. Selby could be hear saying: "We've got socks young man that will make you feel younger; the best value this side of Timbuktu. The very colour that'll make your tootsies the envy of the Gander." And if you didn't buy the socks, or trousers, or whatever it was – and that was almost impossible – he still left you with a smile. A gem of a man!

One of the Goodyear partners, Roland, was an innovative man who seemed to be a step ahead of most of his contemporary compatriots in business. He had already demonstrated his prescience by leading the firm in the Deer Lake and Corner Brook retail ventures. An example of his willingness to try something new was the creation of the Gander self-serve grocery store in the early '40s, the first in Newfoundland.

In order to carry out commercial business on airport property, and there was no other property other than that belonging to the airport, it was necessary to rent buildings. Records show that Goodyears rented eight buildings as follows:

Building 6A was originally a four-bay garage operated by the Canadian Army. Goodyears also used it as a garage for their vehicles. It was located on the Army Side in the vicinity of the Railway Station.

Building 11A was originally an Officers' Quarters for Canadian Army officers. It was a large "H" building located on the Army Side. Goodyears used it as a staff residence. Forty to fifty people lived there.

Building 12A had also been an Officers' Quarters for Canadian Army officers. Goodyears use it as a residence (apartments) for management employees.

Building 29A was originally a Military Supply Depot located on the Army Side. Goodyears used it for the storage of vegetables and other supplies.

Building 127 was originally a Civilian Mess located in the Railway Station area. Goodyears used this as their main store where they retailed clothing, hardware, house-wares, etc. It contained their main office, and it is interesting to note that it contained a large rock fireplace. Incidentally that site is now located inside the airport perimeter fence.

Building 134 was originally a post office. One of the best known and most recognizable of the businesses owned by Goodyears and located in the vicinity of the Railway Station. This was the Station Restaurant, aka the Greasy Spoon.

Building 165 was originally a military canteen located on Foss Avenue by the rink. Residents purchased furniture, groceries and frequented a large canteen. This was the site of the first self-serve and was referred to as the CASH & CARRY. It was also referred to as Restaurant No. 1. At first Goodyears used it as a staff dining room, and it became a gathering place for residents in the early days; however, after families acquired apartments, they were inclined to stay at home. The trade dropped off and the restaurant reverted to a canteen. There was a lean-to on the building which was the location of VORG radio station, the forerunner of CBG.

Building 212 was originally built to contain military stores located near the Railway Station. Goodyears converted it and used it as their main grocery store. It was a typical old-fashioned store, where half of the store was designated for preparing groceries for delivery.

In addition to the preceding eight buildings, Goodyears had operated a bakery near Building 212.

Shortly after Newfoundland joined Canada, the federal government decided that commercial establishments and residential buildings would be banned from the airport. Goodyears began to plan for the transition; and when the town was planned, they became an integral part of the new commercial establishment. The firm opened a huge retail store in the town of Gander on June 6, 1957, the most prominent and largest commercial building in the town for many years. In 1970, Joe Goodyear, Josiah's grandson J.R. Goodyear's son, bought the company from the two other Goodyear families.

Goodyears ceased operating their business in the large Gander store in 1991, but the company is still alive and well. Space in the building is rented to other commercial firms.


contributed by F. Tibbo


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