Canada Remembers 9/11 Attacks, Gander, Newfoundland Praised For Taking In Stranded Travellers
First Posted: 9/11/11 04:00 AM ET Updated: 9/11/11 12:37 PM ET
GANDER, N.L. - Canadians are marking the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in several cities including the tiny Newfoundland community that sheltered and offered kindness to travellers the day of the tragedy.
Gander, Newfoundland, September 12, 2001.
A memorial service in Gander will be attended by U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson and Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
Gander was among the Canadian communities that became the temporary home of thousands of people on international flights that were diverted when the U.S. closed its airspace after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Residents here welcomed strangers into their homes, prescriptions were filled without charge, and schools and church halls became shelters.
Just under 6,600 unexpected guests almost doubled the population for five days after 9-11.
However, some residents said they simply were extending the hospitality that would be a normal part of life in the community.
They say on a tiny island in the fierce North Atlantic, where people through the generations have never been very wealthy, sharing is the Newfoundland way.
"For the best part, we are very giving people and we tend to help each other without thinking twice," said Gander volunteer Beulah Cooper, 70, in an interview on Sunday.
She took three stranded passengers into her home and offered showers to several others when she wasn't helping at a makeshift shelter in the local Royal Canadian Legion hall.
Monica Burke, 44, a 911 dispatcher from Seattle, was one of the strangers Cooper welcomed.
The pair have been steadfast friends ever since, just one of the many lasting bonds forged here and in surrounding communities like Gambo and Lewisporte.
The ceremony they're attending on Sunday will be held at a local hockey rink that became a giant walk-in fridge for food donated for the stranded travellers.
As U.S. air space was shut down for the first time to all but military aircraft, about 200 flights in all were diverted to Canadian airports.
They were safely landed by air traffic controllers in Gander, a once bustling international airport that was a staging point for the Second World War.
Diverted aircraft also landed and were lined up on the runways of the airports in Moncton, N.B., and in Halifax.
In Halifax, 40 aircraft lined the runway carrying 8,000 passengers and employees worked around the clock to assist them.
U.S. consul-general Anton Smith presented a plaque to airport managers early Sunday to thank employees and local residents for their aid.
In Ottawa, there was an open-air concert "of hope and remembrance," which began at precisely at 8:46 a.m., the moment the first plane hit the World Trade Centre.
Several hundred attended, including Jean Chretien, who was prime minister when the attacks occurred.
After the concert, Chretien recalled how 100,000 Canadians turned out on Parliament Hill to express their solidarity with Americans in the days immediately following 9-11.
"I remember too, the Friday, rather than have a service in a church, we decided that it was to be open, that we were not to go in hiding and we had 100,000 people on the Hill," he said.
"And the greatest moment, when I asked for three minutes of silence, it was probably the three minutes the most moving of my life to not hear a noise for three minutes. People praying in their own faith for the American people."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in New York to attend anniversary events at Ground Zero. There are also events planned for Ottawa, Edmonton, Toronto and Calgary.
Harper formally designated today as a national day of service to pay tribute to both the victims and the Canadian communities who gave shelter to stranded travellers.
U.S. President Barack Obama sent a letter to Harper last week thanking Canadians for their help, saying Canada showed itself to be a true friend during one of the darkest moments in U.S. history.
Obama paid special tribute to the residents of Gander.
"We remember with gratitude and affection how the people of Canada offered us the comfort of friendship and extraordinary assistance that day and in the following days by opening their airports, homes and hearts to us," Obama wrote.