Nfld. & Labrador

Gander airport lounge named an endangered Canadian space

The international departures lounge at Gander's airport has been put on the Heritage Canada-National Trust Top Ten Endangered Places.
The International Departures Lounge at Gander Airport is on Heritage Canada The National Trust Top Ten Endangered Places in 2014. (CBC)

The International Airport Departures Lounge at Gander Airport has been put on Heritage Canada-National Trust  Top Ten Endangered Places in 2014

The list describes the airport as "the most important modernist room in Canada faces imminent destruction due to high operating costs and reduced passenger traffic."

The terminal opened in 1959 to accommodate planes that needed to refuel between Europe and North America. The lounge is considered to be one of the best examples of modernist design in the world and is described as having Mad Men-era design elements. Celebrities including Nelson Mandela and the Beatles have travelled through the airport.

But the airport authority can't afford to keep maintaining the building. The airport's heat and electricity costs last year were $800,000.

In April, the Gander Airport Authority decided to not continue using the 200,000-square-foot airport and decided instead to build a new terminal that will be one-quarter the current size.

Raising the profile of the airport

Jane Severs of the Association of Heritage in Newfoundland and Labrador would prefer not to see the airport on the endangered spaces list.

"I guess it's a dubious distinction," said Severs.  "Everyone would prefer it not be placed on that list. But it's important because it brings national attention to the site."

But being on the list won't bring any money to the Gander airport.

"It can help raise the profile of sites at risk," said Severs. "But it doesn't mean anyone's going to hand anyone a cheque."

Severs says the importance of historic sites is that it tells people about their past and who they have become. 

"Anyone in Gander who lived in that community when the airport was in operation has a story about site and people speak passionately about how it shaped their view of the world," said Severs.

The association is currently chairing a group that wants to preserve the airport.

"The best way to preserve a heritage structure is to find a sustainable new use for it," said Severs.