It’s been 13 years, and I still remember what I was doing that morning. I was in grade 10, a student of Regina High School in Corner Brook, NL, Canada. I was later than usual, though having heard nothing out of the ordinary that morning, meeting my friends outside the computer lab (Yes, I was one of THOSE kids). Out of no where, one of them tore around the corner and thundered down the hallway, meeting me about halfway down the hall screaming, “They’ve been attacked!” Cryptic enough, I thought. He went on to explain that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York, and that thousands of people were dead or missing. I had no idea what the WTC looked like, to be completely honest, and the fact that he couldn’t pronounce Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda didn’t help to clarify the confusion. I brushed it off as more of his madness. While it did turn out to be madness in the purest sense, it was all true; though the nightmare would be far from over.
I am a resident of a relatively large (405,212 km², or 156,453 sq.mi) island with a relatively small population (514,536) making our density something like 1.38 /km2 (~3.6 /sq mi). By contrast, New York has a density of 27,778.7/sq mi (10,725.4/km2). Stories of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians helping shipwreck survivors riddle our oral and written histories, like the Truxtun & Pollux Disaster near St. Lawrence, February 18th, 1942. Residents of that town left the safety of their beds to brave a winter blizzard on the snow and ice of the Atlantic ocean to rescue strangers that washed ashore. It’s who we are, it’s what members of just about any maritime culture do. September 11, 2001 would be no exception.
The stories were captured in several published work, such as The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland (published Paperback – Aug 7 2003), and many of the Americans who had their first sample of Newfoundland hospitality bought houses here, and became dual-citizens such that they may experience our culture in the future. It’s part of who we are, accepting (though sometimes to a fault) and patient, we often take things as they come and try our hardest to make the best of every bad position we’ve been put in since we settled here. It’s in our nature, it’s who we are, we make due and we survive.
Many flights that transition from Europe to the Eastern Seaboard pass very near the island of Newfoundland, during their Atlantic transit, and when the planes were grounded, many came here. Gander International Airport was particularly laden with travelers, and the sleepy town didn’t have sufficient accommodations to handle the deluge of panicked, worried, cold and hungry travelers that poured out of the airplanes. There was no choice, not that we needed one. Every available bed in Gander town would be made available to the downed travelers, and thousands of lives were irrevocably changed. The town of Gander, alone, played host to 38 airliners, totaling 6,122 passengers and 473 crew, as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon, a concerted effort of 255 aircraft being diverted to 17 different airports across the country.
For those people who get upset at the mention of the atrocity, at the disaster, I understand. It’s an unconscionable thing to consider the loss of life, but that event is nothing new. Terrorism is a pervasive, ubiquitous thing in our world, and though the loss 13 years ago today is an obvious tragedy, it is not unique. What upsets me is the people who marginalize the loss of life by screaming from the rooftops that it was an inside job, or that it could have been avoided, or that it was necessary to make things safer (or more dangerous, depending on your argument) for North Americans. I don’t care. It happened, it was awful, and pointing fingers or assigning blame is not my desire. Terrible things happened, but like the flavour of Newfoundland culture that I respect so much, I wish to take what good I can from it.
Two planes went down in New York, one at the Pentagon, and so on. The devastation in New York is still felt today, though Ground Zero has been transformed into the One World Trade Centre, the scars linger. I choose to take from this the lives that were saved and inexorably altered by the kindness of places like Gander in Newfoundland, and the other airport towns that rendered aid, like Goose Bay in Labrador, Deer Lake and our capital city, St. John’s, both on the island. That was just a taste, a declaration to the world, of the kind of character that we have, only adding to a long list of Canadian humanitarian efforts.
You can take what you like from that nightmarish day, but I want to reflect upon the good that was done for those who needed help and I, too, will never forget 9/11 and the lives that were changed both here at home and broad.