9/11 ruins find homes in Canada

Nearly a dozen pieces of steel pulled from the ruins of the Twin Towers in New York City after the Sept. 11 attacks are destined for Canadian soil.
Steel beams from the dismantled World Trade Center sat in storage for a decade before being distributed around the world. (Paul Chiasson/ The Canadian Press)

A rusted metal beam from New York City's fallen World Trade Center will soon stand in the middle of a Kitchener, Ont., park. It's 3.43 metres long and the very specific size is no accident.

"There was 343 firefighters killed on that day so we asked for something that was 3.43 metres," says Kevin Schmalz, former chair of the Kitchener Fire Memorial Committee.

The city's 1,360-kilogram piece, which is having a protective coating applied before going on permanent display, is one of at least 11 remnants from the ruins of the Twin Towers that are destined for or have arrived in communities across Canada.

The communities stretch from coast to coast and include Nanaimo, B.C., Calgary, Belleville, Ont., Corner Brook, N.L., and Berwick, N.S.

For a decade, the charred, mangled remains of Ground Zero and the emergency vehicles that rushed to the scene sat in a cavernous hangar at New York's JFK International Airport.

Steve McMahon, deputy chief of the Berwick and District Volunteer Fire Department, helped secure a piece of World Trade Center steel for a memorial in the Nova Scotia town. (Michael Dick/CBC)

The Port Authority of New Jersey and New York has been in charge of the eerie artifact warehouse and is now sending about 1,200 pieces from Hangar 17 to places around the world to be used in memorials commemorating the 9/11 attacks. 

Pieces of the towers are travelling to all the American states and countries as far away as China.

"I am more surprised we were able to get a piece. Certainly, a lot of fire departments in the States were able to get pieces," said Deputy Chief Steve McMahon of the Berwick and District Volunteer Fire Department in Nova Scotia.

Berwick obtained a 40-kilogram I-beam that is planned to be part of a memorial garden built outside the fire station.

U.S. officials vetted hundreds of applications, granting pieces of steel remnants to sites based on their plans for how they would display it in a publicly accessible memorial.

When applications for the remnants opened several years ago, Schmalz of Kitchener says "we jumped at the chance."

"Everybody locally seems quite excited about having the piece," he adds. The piece was welcomed to the city in August and will be unveiled as part of a larger firefighters monument in October.

A 1,270-kilogram, 4.7-metre long piece from Ground Zero is destined for the Military Museums of Calgary, where it is hoped it will serve as a reminder of the significant turning point for armed forces in Canada and abroad. 

"Really when you look at what has created missions around the world, this was a catalyst for the activity that the free world is engaged in today," said museum executive director Tom Doucette.

Most organizations receiving Ground Zero artifacts in Canada are either fire stations or related to the trade. For many firefighters, the toll 9/11 took on their comrades was unforgettable.

Remnants of Ground Zero lie inside Hangar 17 at JFK International Airport in New York. (CBC)

One Waterloo Fire Department station, No. 4, is awash in symbolism of that day. The station was built at the address 911 University Ave., is adorned with a painting of two New York firefighters working in the rubble and opened its doors on Sept. 11 last year.

"It sort of has become one of those landmark occasions in history that is too obvious to ignore or too important to forget," said Larry Brassard, Waterloo deputy chief of emergency operations. "So we wanted to memorialize that and keep that alive because it could happen anywhere, any day.

"For people to forget about that event would be a tragedy."

Waterloo hoped to have the World Trade Center remnant in time for its new station's unveiling last year, but only received the piece this summer because of red tape. It's in the process of finding a way to incorporate it.

In Prince Edward Island, the provincial firefighters association also has big plans for its one-metre-long, 31-kilogram beam. It recently went on display at the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown, but will eventually be displayed at a new fire school being built in Milton.

Pieces of steel are also headed to Newfoundland and Labrador, where communities were directly affected by the Sept. 11 attacks. Thirty-nine airliners carrying 6,500 passengers diverted to Gander when U.S. airspace was shut down after hijacked planes attacked the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

One organization cancelled its request for a steel remnant recently. The group said it was backing away because the process had taken so long and it no longer felt its space would be publicly accessible enough to showcase the piece.

This is not the first time steel remnants from Ground Zero made it off site.

Less than a year after the 9/11 attacks, 10 large steel girders were shipped to the International Peace Garden, at the North Dakota-Manitoba border, where they stand as part of a 9/11 memorial.

But the smaller pieces will serve in communities large and small as concrete reminders of the shared horror of Sept. 11, 2001.

"No one can ever forget what happened that day," says Brassard.