We just headed off to Gander, Newfoundland for a quick trip. So where is Gander, you might ask? We knew this place was a bit off the beaten path when we checked into our flights on Air Canada, and Jessie, the Air Canada agent, asked “is Gander in Canada?”
Gander is a town of 10,000 that has an airport with a big runway and it has a lot of aviation history. A walk through town reveals streets named after Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Eddie Richenbacker, and Chuck Yeager. Gander was a stopover for almost all trans-Atlantic flights back in the day–until fuel capacities got bigger in the 1970s. And Gander continues to be a safe haven for flights over the North Atlantic that have mechanical problems (thankfully, that wasn’t us).
Gander also had a big role in helping the world on September 11, 2001, when US-bound planes were diverted here and 6500 passengers spent five days in town waiting for US airspace to re-open. The town’s population nearly doubled in just a few hours, and the people of Gander answered the call. They opened their homes to total strangers, the hockey rink was converted to a giant refrigerator to store food for the “plane people,” and citizens made weary travelers feel as comfortable as they could (imagine hearing this: “Hi, welcome to Walmart. Would you like to come to our house and take a shower?”).
Gander’s post-9/11 role was largely overlooked at the time, but it is an amazing story—even inspiring a musical that is playing now at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC called “Come from Away.” One of the many passengers stranded in Gander back in 2001 was so touched that she started a highly successful scholarship program for the high school in nearby Lewisporte. The stories from that time offered a ray of hope in the midst of a very dark time.
As for us, we took in a few local sites, including the Silent Witness Memorial, and then stopped by the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. It offered up some fascinating artifacts from Newfoundland’s rich aviation history, as well as a few more reminders of 9-11 (including a piece of steel from one of the Twin Towers).
From Gander, we headed on to Twillingate, about an hour and a half north, where we’ve rented a cottage overlooking the harbor. We are going to take in as much local culture as we can, hike a bunch, cook up some local treats, and perhaps learn a little more about a corner of the world that we don’t know that much about.