'I'll never forget': Gander remembers 9/11, 15 years later

Gander is holding an Ecumenical Service at the Steele Community Centre and a presentation of World Trade Center steel by Tunnel to Towers to commemorate the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Town of Gander holding commemorative events to honour Sept. 11

Motorcyclists from across Atlantic Canada and the United States accompany a piece of steel from World Trade Center's twin towers as it arrives in Gander Sunday. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a special connection to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, as approximately 17,000 people were displaced across the province that day, including 27 planes in St. John's and eight in Stephenville.

The town of Gander held two special events Sunday in commemoration of the anniversary. 

Gander welcomed nearly 7,000 stranded passengers, offering food, accommodations and assistance over the course of three days while all commercial flights were grounded. 

9/11 Gander gift

7 years ago
Duration 1:44
A piece of steel beam recovered from the World Trade Center's twin towers was given to the town as a token of gratitude.

Maria Jaffe, a 9/11 Memorial Museum docent, spoke at Sunday's ecumenical service at the Steele Community Centre. 

You the wonderful people of Gander and your neighbours stood out as the best of humanity.- Maria Jaffe

"On that day 9/11 2001, amidst the horror and the fear and the brutality of the attacks, you the wonderful people of Gander and your neighbours stood out as the best of humanity," she said.

The service raised funds and awareness for Wounded Warriors Canada, a group dedicated to honouring and supporting injured soldiers, veterans, first responders and their families. 

Gander resident Beulah Cooper was one of hundreds who offered a helping hand to those stranded following the attacks.

She said she stays in touch with the women who stayed in her home, and has even hosted them during trips back to the island.

A piece of a steel beam from the World Trade Centre now on display at the Gander airport. (Julia Cook/CBC)

Cooper said the people visiting Gander to honour Sunday's 15th anniversary are so appreciative and can't believe how well they were treated.

"I've never felt more proud to call Gander home ... than I do today."

Memories from the day

Kelly Sceviour, one of Sunday's organizers, was working in the town's community centre 15 years ago when a plane carrying a group from the Children's Wish Foundation was diverted to Gander while en route to Disney World.

The children, she said, were held at St. Paul's Intermediate School and local volunteers did their best to make it a memorable time.

"We got some clowns dressed up and … I'll never forget the faces of the kids when we walked in there with [our mascot] Commander Gander," she said. 

"There were girls there dressed as fairies and princesses and the smile on the kids' faces really stuck in my memory for always." 

A message from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also read during Gander's ecumenical service.

"And to all of you who showed generosity and kindness to the stranded passengers 15 years ago,  please accept my best wishes on this occasion and this commemoration," the statement read.

A token of gratitude

Sunday also saw the arrival of a piece of steel beam recovered from the World Trade Center's (WTC) twin towers. 

The steel, which is roughly one metre by one metre in size, was given to the town as a token of gratitude by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, named after a New York firefighter killed while helping rescue people from the towers. 

A convoy accompanied the steel, along with many motorcyclists from across Atlantic Canada and New York. 

Firefighters in Steady Brook and Pasadena greeted the convoy upon its arrival.

This is the second time a piece of the WTC has been brought to Gander from New York. The first was to mark the 10th anniversary in 2011.

With files from Chris Ensing and Julia Cook