Gander airport opened in 1938 and was a point of departure for transatlantic travel – as the spot in contiguous North America closest to Europe. Gander Airport was a staging point for movement of Allied aircraft to Europe during World War II. And it’s long been a key refueling stop.
The town is in central Newfoundland, Canada located about 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. It has a population of just about 11,000 people.
United Airlines, with all of its Boeing 757s flying between Newark and Europe, used to be said to operate a focus city at Gander because those planes often had to refuel when traveling Westbound in Winter due to heavy headwinds.
U.S. interest in the town peaked as a result of the Broadway show Come From Away, ,which tells the story of 38 planes that diverted to Gander on 9/11. There were over 7000 passengers stranded there for up to 5 days in a town that has just a few hundred hotel rooms.
Volunteers made lunches, elementary schools were turned into dormitories, and the hockey rink became a walk-in refrigerator. The “plane people,” as they were called, hailed from 95 countries, and they were welcomed with open arms by the people of Gander and nearby communities.
Credit: Comfort Inn Gander
The airport’s 1959 international departure lounge, opened by the Queen of England, has sat idle for decades. The airport is a strategic diversion point, but planes fly long distances now without the stop. And the old departure lounge was closed off in the late 1970s.
It’s one of the most significant modernist facilities in Canada, visited by over 200 bus tours last year, but it’s served other purposes or no purpose for years.
Yet the airport has taken steps to preserve the departure lounge furnished in bright orange and yellow “by famous designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Robin Bush, Jacques Guillon, and Arne Jacobsen.” It features a “striking mural by Canadian artist Kenneth Lochhead, floor tiles that are reminiscent of Piet Mondrian, and swivel chairs in the ladies washroom[.]” And the pay phones!
The lounge is now getting a $1.5 million restoration and will be open for free to the public. The airport hopes it will be ready for summer tourist season.
The room will be left mostly as-is, with some fresh paint and interpretive materials like storyboards to help people guide themselves through the space. There are also plans for a small theatre to screen films.
Air Canada offers regional jet and turboprop service from Goose Bay, Halifax, St. John’s, Wabush and seasonally from Torotno (Pearson). Sunwing flies seasonally from Toronto and Varadero, and WestJet seasonally from Halifax. You take Exploits Valley Air if you want to go to Fogo Island from Gander. PAL offers services as well.