The top US diplomat to Canada spoke in Gander, Newfoundland on Sunday to thank residents for their help after the September 11 attacks 21 years ago.
Ambassador David Cohen marked the occasion with a speech at the city’s annual remembrance ceremony. He said the community, which took hundreds of air passengers stranded in their schools and homes for several days as flights were grounded, could represent the best humanity has to offer.
“On behalf of the President of the United States, on behalf of the American people, and from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your kindness, for humanity, and for giving us hope and optimism that good will always triumph over wrong,” he said.
The community marked this grim anniversary with several events over the weekend, including a food drive, a storytelling event and a formal ceremony at a local Pentecostal church.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, flights were blocked across North America. Due to its geography, dozens of people were forced to land in Gander – and the town’s population almost doubled for a few days before travelers could leave.
“It was also a day in which tremendous humanity was demonstrated,” Cohen said. “Reaching out to care for, in Gander’s case, 7,000 stranded travellers, feeding them, housing them, and offering them a shoulder to cry on and encouragement that the world would turn out well.”
In the years since the events, the actions of residents of Gander and neighboring communities have received worldwide acclaim through documentaries and the Broadway musical. come from afar.
Cohen said it’s the “personification” of the “tectonic battle” of good and evil.
“It shows that, in fact, good can triumph over evil. It can lessen the destructive impact of evil, and that ultimately, if allowed to take its course, good will triumph over evil.”
WATCH | Connecting Through Gander, a CBC News special on the 20th anniversary of 9/11:
Jeanette Gutierrez, who worked across from the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001, attended Gander’s annual ceremony – and watched Cohen’s speech on Sunday. She said she only left her office at her sister’s request, before she knew the towers were in danger of collapsing.
She travels to Gander frequently to commemorate the day’s anniversary and says she feels a therapeutic feeling being in Newfoundland and Labrador for the ceremonies.
“When you’re in New York on 9/11, the feeling is very, very heavy… It’s so overwhelming. And here – it doesn’t take away the darkness and it doesn’t subtract it, what it does, it is to add light to that,” she says.
“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 September 11, but it’s less hard.”
The kind welcome from the Newfoundland center is still there, according to Laine Zizka, an American graduate student who researched Gander’s response to the 9/11 attacks as part of her course work.
She’s done 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 I made during my research asked me to come,” she said. “I already feel this deep and immediate sense of belonging.”
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