International lounge listed as endangered structure
The effort to preserve the international lounge at Gander International Airport got a boost last week.
© tc• Media file photo
ARTISTIC ADVOCATE — Gander’s Michael Fantuz has been instrumental in the effort to preserve the international departures lounge at Gander International Airport.
Heritage Canada The National Trust listed the lounge on its top-10 endangered places in the country.
It’s a significant announcement for the movement to preserve the lounge, said Jane Severs, executive director of Association of Heritage Industries NL (AHI).
“The most important thing about this is that it demonstrates people recognize the importance of the international lounge, not just locally or provincially but on a national level. That’s really important because the building is owned by the federal government, so it’s important that people right across Canada recognize it as something worth saving.”
The list is designed to draw attention to Canada’s most important and threatened historical sites.
The international departures lounge opened in 1959. It is a centerpiece not only of Gander’s history, but the country’s as well.
Its modernist design is considered by design experts to be one of the most important rooms in Canada, said Servers.
“There are people all over the world who recognize it as a pretty important place.”
The effort to save and preserve the lounge began in April when Gander International Airport Authority (GIAA) announced it would be pursuing a new terminal building because of the high cost associated with operating the current building where the lounge is located.
A lot people became involved with advocating for its preservation at the grassroots level through social media. That’s when AHI decided to chair a group and bring interested parties together.
Representatives from the provincial government and a number of historical groups are involved with the effort, along with Gander’s Michael Fantuz, who has been instrumental in advocating for its preservation.
“People were off doing their own thing so we decided we could work more effectively if we all co-operated to work together. We’re chairing a group of about 10 or 12 individuals,” said Severs.
With around 2,000 signatures, an online petition has also been picking up a fair amount of cyber ink. The petition is raising awareness about the preservation effort, but the petition alone can’t save the lounge, said Severs.
“By itself, a petition can’t save the terminal, but we think it does show that it’s 2,000 people who may be willing to help fundraise, put up some of their own money, spread the word and to support the effort so it can move forward. The work of our group is basically trying to decide what the next moves will be.
“Our opinion is that the best way to save a heritage structure is to find a new sustainable use for it,” said Severs.
Some of the ideas being tossed around include, using it as a museum, a conference centre or retail space.
“There’s a thousand things it could be and the question is which one of those ideas is really workable.”
The Town of Gander recently announced it would be forming a heritage committee. That’s a big help to the preservation effort, said Fantuz, who noted the announcement could help secure funding for a feasibility study on the terminal building. The study would look at ways to reuse the space and, ultimately, preserve the international lounge.
“Were really happy about that because it brings the town into the picture,” said Severs. “It has to have local support for it to move forward.”
The role of the international lounge at the airport is quite significant to the history of Canada. About 400,000 people passed through the lounge each year when Gander International Airport as operating at its peak.
International traffic through Gander has slowed down significantly, however, since St. John’s airport became the main point of arrivals and departures. According to the GIAA, operational costs for the current terminal building outweigh its feasibility.
“It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon,” said Severs. “Finding a new use for the space is a serious undertaking. GIAA has done a fabulous job of caring for it — it’s like a time capsule. They’ve now said they can’t afford to maintain it anymore and I’m sure they didn’t come to that decision lightly. All that has to be taken into account when we think about what its new uses might be. There’s a lot of work but it can be done.”