Back story: Today many thoughts are running through my head about tomorrow but I keep going back in time to when I had a Newfie neighbor. Newfie was how he described himself as if that really said it all – now I know what he meant. He had an admitted checkered past and with his very strong accent and his love of the “F” word his language was colorful to say the least, not to mention his many tats and piercings. His home was to the right of my home and on my left was a retired widow, an absolutely wonderful, caring neighbor lady. The day he moved in mom and dad were visiting and we were sitting on the deck in the backyard. He came over and introduced himself and he and dad talked for a bit, and then he went back to moving in next door. I could tell dad liked him and trusted him despite his unconventional appearance – dad was a good judge of character. Shortly after he moved in, my neighbor lady accidentally set off her alarm. By the time I was out my door let alone over to her home, our new Newfie neighbor had bounded over two fences and was pounding on her door asking if she was okay. When I got there, they were out back talking and chatting as if they had been friends forever. Well, needless to say any preconceived ideas my neighbor had of our new neighbor were gone, and for as long as he lived next door – he kept an eye out for both myself and my neighbor and his willingness to lend a hand was gladly accepted many times over the years.
Ten years ago I was overseas on a business trip and I was having trouble adjusting to the new time zone so every morning I would be wide awake long before dawn and would quietly make a coffee and do my best not to wake my room-mate and then go sit out on the balcony, sip my coffee and listen to the surf rolling in and the birds start singing, a beautiful peaceful way to start the day. Yet that morning, I started to get restless so I went inside and quietly made another coffee and turned on the TV with the volume so low you had to strain to hear it. I changed the channel to CNN and sat there watching in silent horror for as long as I could before waking my co-worker up as I needed someone to talk to. We both wanted to go home, right then, back to our families. We felt isolated and helpless. When we heard the borders were closed between the US and Canada I remember thinking what if I never got to see mom and dad again. With the air space in the US shut down we had no immediate way to get home as we had to land in the US and catch another flight to Canada. All we could do was wait it out. When I finally got home about a week later if I remember right, I was so very thankful and so incredibly sad and still in shock that something like that could have happened to so many innocent people. It still makes me sad and I hope one day we can all live in peace and harmony.
But I have been uplifted and get a warm feeling every time I read about the people in Gander, NL and surrounding villages and how they opened their hearts and homes to the many stranded families who were in the planes bound for the US when the airspace was closed. When the US closed their air-space 239 flights bound for the US had no-where to land, yet they all landed safely in airports across Canada, including my city. Yet, I think it was the people in Gander, NL and surrounding villages who really showed exactly what being a neighbor means and we all can learn from them, just like my Newfie neighbor showed my neighbor and I by his words and actions what being a neighbor meant. It’s funny looking back he always just said it was the Newfie way…
(There is a video at the above link and below is the text.)
It is a chapter in the history of Gander, N.L. that few will ever forget.
The remote, normally quiet, laid-back town of 10,000 became an almost instant hub of activity and old-fashioned hospitality in the hours after the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center, as dozens of planes were diverted to the community.
Local residents came together, opening their hearts and homes to the thousands of stranded, stressed out and emotionally wracked travellers unable to reach their U.S. destinations.
On Sunday, the 10th anniversary of 9-11, the community will be looking back on those days, joined by U.S. and Canadian dignitaries, media, and some of the stranded passengers who stayed in the town a decade ago. The weekend’s events will include a benefit concert, the staging of a musical, and a somber memorial to be held on Sunday.
David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, will be among those marking the sombre occasion in Gander.
“The people of Gander, the people of St. John’s, the people all over Canada took in so many people, cared for them every day until the planes could move on,” Jacobson recently told CTV’s Canada AM.
“This is something I heard a lot about when I was back in the States 10 years ago and I thought it was the right place for me to go to thank the Canadian people for their kindness and generosity.”
In total, 38 passenger planes carrying 6,700 passengers and crew members from 100 countries were diverted to Gander International Airport — a sprawling facility that was once a major refuelling stop for transatlantic flights and served as an allied staging point during the Second World War.
The airport could handle the influx of planes, but the 6,500 passengers was another story. It took the generosity of the entire community, as well as a handful of nearby villages, to meet their needs. And they did.
Many residents of Gander, as well as those in Gambo, Lewisporte, Appleton and Norris Arm, opened their homes to accommodate stranded travellers while schools and community halls were turned into temporary shelters.
Volunteers packed 7,000 lunches to hand to passengers as they deplaned, pharmacists filled prescriptions for free, striking bus drivers walked off the picket lines to help drive people around, and the local arena was turned into a giant walk-in fridge that quickly filled up with donated foods.
That generosity is being recognized in a very physical way as the 10-year milestone approaches. The town was recently sent two pieces of steel that were salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center towers.
One piece, weighing in at 315 kilograms, was donated by the fire department in Bethpage, N.Y. in recognition of Gander’s contribution. Another 54-kilogram piece was donated to Gander by the port authority of New York and New Jersey.
Both pieces will be on display Sunday during the ecumenical service marking the anniversary, before they are put on permanent display in the local aviation museum.
Shirley Brooks-Jones, of Atlanta, Georgia was one of the passengers whose plane was diverted to Gander on Sept. 11, 2001. She and a group of her fellow travellers were bussed to Lewisporte, a nearby village where they could be provided with accommodations and care.
To this day, she told CTV’s Canada AM, she has vivid memories of arriving in the village and somehow feeling like she was home.
“They were just so awesome, they really were. They were so gracious, they were so kind, gentle, very perceptive. They could tell the passengers that needed some extra tender loving care, or those that needed to see the doctor or have prescriptions filled and so forth. They were very, very perceptive people and very loving people,” she said.
Brooks-Jones was able to leave a few days later, and as she and her fellow passengers were boarding their plane they had the spontaneous idea of setting up an endowment scholarship as a way of showing their gratitude.
“It didn’t take long at all, it was just one of those absolutely beautiful things that happened,” she said.
The scholarship, ranging from $200 to $475 per student, has now been given out to 134 successful candidates, and Brooks-Jones has returned to Newfoundland each year to hand out cheques to the winners.
“They’re small, but the whole point is to let those students know that those of us who were there on 9-11 will never forget what they did,” she said.
Some residents of the area, though, find the accolades almost embarrassing. After all, said Mayor Claude Elliott, Gander residents simply did what anyone from Newfoundland and Labrador would have done in their situation.
“It’s our culture, it’s our way of life. We live on an island where most of the time the weather is harsh, and we survive by helping each other,” Elliott told CTV News.
“It goes back generations where if someone in the community was in need everyone came forward to help, and that’s passed down from generation to generation.”
Still, Elliott said he will always be proud of his community and the way they came forward to offer their assistance.
The experience proved the town could get through any hardship by pulling together, he said.
“I always say the greatest asset any community has is its people and if you can call on your people in a moment’s notice and mobilize them and they’re willing to help, you’re over halfway through whatever problem you might have.”
With files from The Canadian Press
Also worth reading from the US Embassy in Ottawa, On, Canada and has the link to the pdf of the letter President Obama sent to Prime Minister Harper this week as well as other links worth reading. (right click to open links if you want to stay on this page to read more links).
From The Star Phonix in Saskatoon, SK