GTA residents gather to pay respects to victims of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in U.S.

Greater Toronto Area residents paid tribute to those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. by going to events on Saturday held to mark the 20th anniversary of that terrible day.

Ceremonies recognize role of first responders who rushed in to help after hijacked planes crashed

Toronto and Mississauga residents paid tribute on Saturday to those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Greater Toronto Area residents paid tribute to those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. by going to events on Saturday held to mark the 20th anniversary of that terrible day.

Police officers, firefighters and paramedics were there to acknowledge the bravery of first responders 20 years ago.

In Toronto, at Millennium Garden in Woodbine Park, residents listened to speakers recall where they were when four hijacked planes crashed in 2001, killing a total of 2,977 people. The planes hit the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and a field in Shanksville, Pa.

Nineteen members of al-Qaeda, a terrorist group led by the late Osama Bin Laden, hijacked the planes.

U.S. Consul General Susan Crystal told dozens gathered in Woodbine Park for a remembrance service that Sept. 11, 2001 is a "day that we will never forget." Those in attendance held small Canadian flags and red and white carnations, placed later on a monument covered by an American flag.

"Today, we remember and pay respects to the innocent lives lost on 9/11, all of them gone far too soon," Crystal said. 

"We remember and pay tribute to the first responders who heroically risked their lives to save others, many who did not come out alive of the rubble. Today, we remember and honour the heroes who have given their lives since that day to protect our safety and freedom at home and abroad," she continued.

Crystal said Canada "stood shoulder to shoulder" with the U.S. to share the grief that followed the loss of nearly 3,000 lives and to protect democratic values held by both countries. Canada also lost 24 citizens in the attacks, she noted.

"You welcomed stranded passengers in planes in Gander. You mourned with us at the consulate here in Toronto as well as throughout our mission in Canada. You brought flowers and tributes and memories of that day. We remember and are eternally grateful for your friendship and support," she said.

A Toronto resident holds a small Canadian flag in the air at a remembrance service for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. (Dalia Ashry/CBC)

On the day itself, Crystal said she remembers being in Washington, D.C,, working at the U.S. State Department, and watching television in the office. A colleague looked out across into Virginia and saw smoke and then Crystal and her colleagues realized it was coming from the Pentagon.

Her family later viewed the Pentagon from a ridge in Virginia.

"While there was still a lot of smoke and everything smouldering, the American flag still flew," she said.

Loss was 'catastrophic,' Peel paramedic chief says

Earlier in Mississauga, at Celebration Square, representatives from the city, Peel Regional Paramedic Services, Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services and Peel Regional Police held an observance ceremony and march that included the MFES's colour guard, honour guard, and pipe band, led by Parade Marshal Platoon Chief Luigi Davoli.

Chief Peter Dundas of Peel Regional Paramedic Services said first responders, including police, firefighters and paramedics, showed courage on Sept. 11, 2001 by going into action immediately.

A large Canadian flag was hoisted aloft at the ceremony in Mississauga organized by Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services. (Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services/Facebook)

Dundas said 14 per cent of those who died that day were first responders. The loss was "catastrophic" and the memories remain "fresh," he added.

"Let us never forget those who perished during 9/11, and let's always remember the bravery first responders have every single day protecting and caring for our communities," Dundas said.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said she came to the event to recognize the important work that first responders do every day. She added that Sept. 11, 2001 changed the course of history.

"It's so important that we recognize this day. It changed lives forever and we're here today recognizing that so many first responders gave up their lives on that day on 9/11 20 years ago to save so many, knowing the building that collapsed and their lives were in jeopardy," Crombie said.

Janice Stein, a political scientist at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said on Saturday that she believes Osama Bin Laden failed in his goal to advance the cause of extremism in the world through the attacks. Bin Laden is considered the mastermind behind the assault.

Sept. 11, 2001, however, had many unanticipated consequences, including that it "thickened" borders, she added.