Civilian Life




Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement August 2, 1995



A Gander Legend

By Jennifer Peddle

Once upon a time in an airport town known as Gander, there were many construction workers striving to build a terminal and railway station.  They were really the only people living there during the year of 1940, therefore, retail shops and businesses were scarce.  The workers found themselves short of mittens and warm sturdy clothes as the bitter cold Newfoundland winter weather began to approach.

A company known as Goodyear Humber Stores set up two small stores to sell equipment and supply food to the workers.  Eventually this business expanded in the old and new townsite and made its mark in the history of Gander as the first commercial business to establish itself at the “Crossroads of the world.”main store

Goodyear Humber Stores, owned then by Joseph, Roland and Ken Goodyear, started in Deer Lake in 1923 and expanded across the province to Grand Falls, Bishop’s Falls and Gander.

Clarice Goodyear, an employee who started to work with Goodyear’s in 1954 and wife of the last store owner, said the government granted Goodyear’s permission to establish a branch in Gander in 1940.

“It was a closed private town and they had to be invited to come,” she said, “You just couldn’t come in here and start, you had to be invited.”

The branch first had a contract with Atlas Construction to employ cooks and supply food for their mess halls scattered across the site.  They also operated a retail business to sell construction supplies.

Jack Pinsent was the first person to unlock the door to the new Goodyear’s branch in Gander.  He came from Millertown by train and arrived at the site about 3 a.m. on a November morning to unlock the doors and arrange the store before it opened for business when daylight struck.

Pinsent remembers the tar paper building having only two empty rooms when he first arrived with H.L. Pattison, the general manager.  Because it was so late in the evening, Pinsent said, he ripped open a package of blankets and slept on the floor before he began to fill the shelves with goods for sale.

hardware store“We were putting in mostly tools,” he said, “Tools for electricians and plumbers.  We had lots of tobacco and cigarettes then too.”

Pinsent and the other office employees worked from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week, and opened Sunday afternoons.

“At night when we closed up, the first thing to do was get a square top shovel and sweep up the floor,” he said, “because it was a construction site and everyone came in wearing boots.  There was nothing outside but muck.”

Pinsent, the acting office manager in the branch’s beginning stages, also helped supply the bulk food products and hire cooks for Atlas Construction’s mess halls.  He recalls hiring up to 365 cooks, “one for every day of the year,”to span out into all the mess halls on the site.

“We brought in mustard in 45 gallon barrels and then we issued it to the mess halls whose cooks would come in with two gallon buckets and they’d open the tap and run the mustard off,” he said.

When Atlas Construction gained complete control over their mess hall management, the Gander Goodyear’s branch began to expand into other buildings to operate various departments included in a large retail operation.

Pinsent said the Goodyear’s branch in the airport town opened the first self-service grocery store in Newfoundland.  He said Roland Goodyear, one of the company’s directors, wander upon the idea when he visited Steinberg’s supermarket in Montreal – a self service grocery store allowing people to stroll isles of meat and canned goods with shopping carts.

“We had a tiny little store, about 30 x 60 feet,” said Pinsent, “We were feeding an awful lot of people around town and nobody was coming in to buy groceries.  They would call by telephone and we had a bunch of people packing and delivering orders.”

Pinsent said the directors made the move to turn the little store into a supermarket because it was more convenient and economical.

Before the branch moved to the new townsite, they had established eight departments and leased eight buildings distributed in different areas around Gander, said Clarice.  They had a dry goods and hardware store on Pattison Road; a grocery store near the railway station; a staff restaurant also near the station; a self service grocery and furniture store, and a canteen on Foss Avenue; two staff quarters H-buildings on the Army Side; and a garage also on the Army Side.

She said the main store of the branch was the dry goods department where they sold lingerie, jewelry, footwear and clothing but night time activity for civilians took place at the canteen – or more commonly known as the ‘Greasy Spoon’,” said Clarice.

The canteen was just a really plain building,” she said, “It was not very fancy and there were probably 12 to 15 tables, may a few more.  You sort of knew what they were going to be serving on each day.  People did gather there and meet.”


As the town’s people relocated, Goodyear’s moved with them and opened one large department store in the Elizabeth Drive Shopping Centre.  Both Joe and Clarice worked in this new store as employees until Joe became manager in 1965.  He bought the whole company in 1970. 

The new store split in half, carrying dry goods on the left and operating a supermarket on the right, until Home Hardware occupied that space in 1973.  They also carried furniture and footwear on a floor upstairs.

“In the men’s department, we had an old gentlemen working,” said Clarice, “In those days men rarely shopped for their own clothes but wives would come to Mr. Pike and he knew their husband’s sizes and they didn’t have to come in because he knew what they would like.”

Clarice said she has seen children grow up in the town because Goodyear’s employed many teenagers to work after school and on weekends.

Eileen Suley was one of the many teenagers employed with Goodyear’s.  Suley was 14 years old when she worked as a cashier in the grocery department for a year in 1968.  ‘’Suley said she mainly worked on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights for 50 cents an hour along with the other four teenage cashiers and grocery boys.


“Nothing was computerized then,”she said, “You just had to check the price that was on the tine because there was no such thing as scanners.  Half the time, we were running and checking prices.

Suley said the teenagers would take their short breaks together.  “Goodyear’s had a full basement under it so you went down the stairs through long corridors and you went around,” she said, “We took our breaks in the bathrooms.  There was a long counter, like a vanity counter, with a great big long mirror on it and we always used to sit up on the counter and drink our cokes.  They had coke machines down there.  We used to get the little glass bottles of coke for 10 cents.”

But Suley said these breaks were usually cut short because the business on weekend evenings was steady.  “I don’t ever remember the chance to sit around and chat but at the same time, I don’t ever remember being pushed really hard.”

Suley said Goodyear’s was an excellent place of employment for teenagers.  “There was always a good environment,” she said, “you knew who was boss and you knew who you had to answer to.”

Joe and Clarice eventually closed the store in 1991 but they still own the building and lease it to Riff’s.  Though the store no longer exists, memories of it in the employees’ hearts and minds will linger on for years to come and therefore, will live in gander’s commercial history happily ever after.

researched by Carol Walsh

addition info Goodyear's History

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