Gander Streets







Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 23, 1986


Jack James

He has lived the airport so much that some would allow he is Mr. Gander himself.  He is Jack Dixon James, now 67, more commonly known as Jack James, a name synonymous with the Gander International Airport which he served intimately for almost half a century. 

 He saw first hand the airport through its start to what it is today and was so associated with its many events that he was an official part of history in the making, in some respects

jack james

As a curious and aspiring man of 18, Mr. James first arrived in this area on June 26, 1936.  He was on vacation.  Born and raised in St. John’s he merely came here to visit his father and stayed just a day and a half. 

To see the times is to recall them.  As things turned out it would be three years before another world war broke out.  Actually, this area was being etched out of remote wilderness in lieu of that possibility.  It was being born out of the advent of aviation, a new science that was gripping the world and would become the greatest warfare means that mankind ever knew

Like many others Mr. James knew little of just what history had in store.  He did know, however, that he was fascinated by the prospect aviation held out and that his father had worked in the construction of the Newfoundland Airport, a name which would be the forerunner of the Gander International Airport.

Two factors, therefore, brought him to this area, to begin with.  He had gone to the Harbour Grace-Carbonear area to witness early flights to Newfoundland and decided that flying “was for me” and through his father there was opportunity to visit an area, being developed for the sole purpose of flying.  His father, who had worked in accountancy for the Newfoundland Government, was engaged by the airport project on site and the chief government engineer was J.A. Hall but he resided in St. John’s.

After a brief holiday with his father, who would work here for five years, not without interest in the airport development.  So strong was that interest that while in St. John’s he approached Mr. Hall, landed a job as a clerk in a store for construction equipment parts and returned here on November 12, 1936.

 On his initial visit many workers lived “under canvass” (in tents) but now more and more were moving to tarpaper shacks which were being completed.

 All talk was about building the Newfoundland airport but with time the name “Gander” entered the picture and the airport was renamed accordingly.  Asked how the name “Gander” came about, Mr. James said he wasn’t sure but he had an impression it had to do with the naming of another airport that was under construction at Goose Bay, Labrador.  This one was named “Goose” and it was thought the military wanted a gander for the goose, so the Newfoundland Airport was renamed “Gander”.  Not only that but the site was located near Gander Lake anyway.

 He remained a machine part clerk until August of 1937 at which time he decided to try and become an electrician.  Still employed by the Newfoundland government he entered the trade and over time was appointed superintendent of the four power plants that served the airport, however, it was not until 1942 that he became an electrician and after returning to that particular aspect of the trade.  The RCAF took over the base in 1941.

 He was an electrician until 1945 then when the war was over reported to Sqd. Leader Patterson, Director of Civil Aviation. For a while Mr. James became involved in getting civilians to take over operation of the airport following which he returned to his old job as superintendent of power generation.

 As the post-war civilian input was being felt, Eric Winsor, became the first airport manager, followed by Rex Tilley.  In the late 1950s, Mr. James was appointed airport maintenance superintendent.  By now and after coming up through the ranks, he had already witnessed vast changes at Gander which was put on the world map through the conflict of war and the science of aviation that was making the world a much smaller place to live in . 

 He was there, for instance, when pilot Capt. Doug Fraser brought in the first plane to ever land at Gander.  It was 1938 and the plane was a Fox Moth with Mr. Fraser accompanied by his engineer.

 It was a casual landing for the airport was not yet ready for official operation.  Mr. Fraser, who had been engaged to gather atmospheric information for the weather office and as a service to the flying boats using Botwood, flew in from Norris Arm and landed on a runway covered with snow.

 Once the airway was ready for official business the first plane to arrive had a registration number of SE-AGMSE-AGM and the pilot was Bachmann, who wan enroute to Sweden.  This was May 16, 1939 and once his plane was refueled Bachmann took off but never to be seen again.

 It was a time when spectators would gaze to the far blue yonder with wonder.  Mr. James had some idea of what it was like up there, though.  Capt. Fraser would take people aloft for $5.00 a ride and Mr. James was the 11th passenger to avail of the occasion.  Following the war, Mr. James pursued the pleasure.  After learning to fly he purchased a small aircraft and piloted it for more than 10 years.

 For Mr. James, the actual construction, then maintenance, offered him employment and flying offeredSE-AGM 2 him fascination.  From 1936 to 1939 the airport was under construction, then it went about its real function, that of being a refueling service station for  aircraft using the North Atlantic.  Among the first aircraft at Gander were two to be used in refueling other aircraft in mid-air.

 In 1958 James was appointed operations manager, then later assistant manager for one year.  In 1964 he was made airport general manager, a final tribute to an untiring contribution.  He had married in 1942 and he and his wife, Betty have a daughter and three sons.

 It was in the capacity as airport general manager that he met transiting dignitaries from all parts of the world.  It could be U.S. President Richard Nixon, President Fidel Castro of Cuba or some king or queen from Europe or the Middle East.  In 1958 a new terminal was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth.

 In 1984, he retired as general manager, after being the third such manager and holding that position for 20 years.

 In his time, aviation had heaped on the world change which stagger the imagination.  Just to compare the Fox Moth with the modern Concord, which used Gander for training exercises, is a giant measure of this. 

 Asked of satisfaction with his career, “I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he replied.

researched by Carol Walsh

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