How a little piece of Gander ended up at 9/11 Memorial Museum

New Yorker Jackie Pinto has faint memories of a holiday in Italy 16 years ago, but what happened when her flight home was diverted to Gander is much clearer.

Stranded passenger Jackie Pinto remembers the food — lots of food

Jackie Pinto was on a flight to Newark, N.J. when she was diverted to Gander International Airport on Sept. 11, 2001. Her mementos from the Newfoundland town are on display at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

Hiking in the picturesque mountains of northern Italy 16 years ago is a trip that's faint in memory for New Yorker Jackie Pinto.

But her trip home that resulted in an unexpected detour to Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador couldn't be clearer.

She remembers seeing roast chicken-flavoured chips for the first time. She remembers going bowling. She remembers buying a card of six hoop earrings for $3 at a local store.

Little pieces are part of a very big story which I know well but other people need to be told the story.- Jackie Pinto

And she certainly remembers the kindness ... and of course, the food. 

"Every meal was like an extravaganza," said Pinto. "The food, I mean, they were making food at home ... we had bakery stuff, buffets of freshly baked goods. It was amazing."

"It's not a blur at all, it's very clear to me."

Gander tile at 9/11 Memorial

Pinto had been travelling with a friend, but the two took separate flights back to Newark, New Jersey.

Her friend got home that day. Pinto landed in unfamiliar territory and stayed for days in a church in Gander before making it home to the smell of smoke in New York City.

Years later, Pinto handed over her Gander mementos to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum that was erected at the base of the former World Trade Center towers.

Photos taken by her disposable camera show the progression of glum, confused faces to smiling ones, as strangers became friends in the days that followed the terrorist attacks in the United States.

Jackie Pinto donated several items to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, including this tile she purchased at a shop in Gander during her unexpected stay in the days following Sept. 11, 2001. (Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum, Gift of Jacqueline Pinto)

"I know that a lot of people, particularly outside of New York, observe this from a distance and I think the little artifacts to me — it's etched in my memory — but it could tell the story for the first time to somebody else."

"Little pieces are part of a very big story which I know well but other people need to be told the story."

Pinto's small tile, purchased at a shop in Gander, is the only piece of Newfoundland in the memorial.

Gander story still being learned in U.S. 

With so much concentration on the tragedy, death and destruction left by hijacked planes, the stories of diverted passengers and the people who helped them weren't learned until much later.

Jan Ramirez, chief curator with the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, said much of the memorial is constructed through the lens of Sept. 12, 2001.

It's really important to show visitors that we are defined really much more by what connects us as caring human beings than what divides us.- Jan Ramirez, curator, 9/11 Memorial and Museum

The story of kindness in the midst of tragedy is one that needed to be commemorated in the memorial, she said. 

"I think we caught up with the Canadian Maritime story a year or two later when we were ready to take it in," Ramirez said.

"I think by then — as we try to do in this museum —  as you try to experience the very challenging and troublesome events of the day, it's really important to show visitors that we are defined really much more by what connects us as caring human beings than what divides us."

Ramirez welcomes any other pieces which tell the story of air travellers being embraced in Canada.

9/11 Memorial and Museum Chief Curator Jan Ramirez. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

Meanwhile, Pinto is happy to have helped tell Gander's story. She hasn't seen the piece yet but plans on going some day.

She's also planning on taking in Come From Away on Broadway.

"I was just in this beautiful place," she said of Gander. "I had gained something."

About the Author

Ariana Kelland

Reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.

With files from Angela Antle