U.S. ambassador gives thanks to Gander, N.L., on 9/11 anniversary

·3 min read
David Cohen, U.S. ambassador to Canada, holds a binder with letters from school-age children to Gander's town hall during a visit to the community. (Garrett Barry/CBC - image credit)
David Cohen, U.S. ambassador to Canada, holds a binder with letters from school-age children to Gander's town hall during a visit to the community. (Garrett Barry/CBC - image credit)

The top U.S. diplomat in Canada spoke in Gander, N.L., on Sunday to thank residents for their help after the Sept. 11 attacks 21 years ago.

Ambassador David Cohen marked the occasion with a speech during the town's annual remembrance ceremony. He said the community, which took hundreds of stranded airline passengers into its schools and homes for several days while flights were grounded, may represent the best that humanity has to offer.

"On behalf of the president of the United States, on behalf of the American people, and from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your kindness, for humanity, and for giving us hope and optimism that good will always triumph over evil," he said.

The community marked the sombre anniversary with several events over the weekend, including a food drive, a story-telling event and a formal ceremony at a local Pentecostal church.

After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, flights were grounded across North America. Because of its geography, dozens were forced to land in Gander — almost doubling the town's population for a few days before travellers could leave again.

"It also was a day in which there was tremendous humanity demonstrated," Cohen said. "Reaching out to take care of, in Gander's case, 7,000 stranded travellers and fed them and housed them and offered them a shoulder to cry on and encouragement for the fact that the world would turn out OK."

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

In the years since the events, the actions of residents of Gander and nearby communities have won global acclaim through documentaries and the Broadway musical Come From Away.

Cohen said it is the personification of the "tectonic battle" of good and evil.

"It does show that, in fact, good can triumph over evil. It can ameliorate the destructive impact of evil, and that in the end, if allowed to run its course, good will triumph over evil."

WATCH | Connecting Through Gander, a CBC News special on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11:

Taking in Gander's annual ceremony — and watching Cohen's speech on Sunday — was Jeanette Gutierrez, who was working across the street from the Twin Towers the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. She said she left her office only at the urging of her sister, before they knew the towers were at risk of collapsing.

She travels to Gander frequently to commemorate the anniversary of the day, and said she gets a therapeutic feeling being in Newfoundland and Labrador for ceremonies.

"When you're in New York on Sept. 11, the feeling is very, very heavy.… It's so overwhelming. And here — it doesn't remove the darkness and it doesn't subtract from it, what it does is add light to it," she said.

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

"So I still feel the same emotions. But on top of those emotions, I feel this big hug of hope and light and goodness. So it's not easier to be here. It's never easy on Sept. 11, but it's less hard."

Central Newfoundland's kind welcome is still being offered, according to Laine Zizka, a U.S. graduate student who researched Gander's response to the Sept. 11 attacks as part of her course work.

She did dozens of interviews with area residents for a master's thesis, and is meeting many of them in person for the first time this weekend in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"The lovely friends that I have made in my research have been asking for me to come," she said. "I feel this deep, immediate sense of belonging already."

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