INTERNATIONAL PEACE GARDEN -- From across Manitoba and North Dakota and neighbouring provinces and states, they came here Sunday to this scenic symbol of friendship between Canada and the United States to pay their respects to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Under a cloudless sky, more than 100 firefighters, police officers and dignitaries, led by a pipe band, paraded to the site of the garden's 9/11 memorial for the ceremony. Another 250 people, many of them seated in green folding chairs on the sprawling grounds, witnessed the solemn event.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks killed nearly 3,000 people, including 24 Canadians.
"It was not only an attack on people. It was an attack on a way of life -- an attack on a democratic set of institutions and an open society," Premier Greg Selinger told the bi-national crowd. "As we stand here today, let us take a moment to honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the way of life that we enjoy."
Behind the premier as he spoke Sunday was a stark reminder of the terrorist attacks -- a collection of steel girders from the destroyed World Trade Center towers that form the centrepiece of the peace garden 9/11 memorial.
Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg and Canadian trustee on the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the attack on the twin towers sparked "one of the greatest rescue operations" in U.S. history.
More than 25,000 people were rescued within minutes of the planes striking the buildings. Three hundred and forty-three firefighters and 60 police officers gave up their lives that day.
"I attended dozens of firefighter funerals right after that event," he told the crowd Sunday. "And it really does touch on every single firefighter's and police officer's heart. And always will forever."
Forrest said the tragedy for rescue workers continues. Many are dying of cancer and other health problems from breathing in smoke and chemicals and dust at Ground Zero. Many other rescuers have since committed suicide, he said.
Also speakers at the event were Al Jaeger, North Dakota's secretary of state, Maj.-Gen. Alain Parent, commander, 1 Canadian Air Division, and Mark Loken, Canadian consul for the upper U.S. Midwest.
A dozen Canadian Armed Forces soldiers and veterans rode to the event together on motorcycles, having gathered in Brandon, an hour's drive from the north, earlier in the day. One member of the group, Sheldon Firomski of Rocanville, Sask., said they came "out of respect for the firefighters and the military personnel" involved in 9/11.
Ian George, a Portage la Prairie firefighter attending Sunday's event, was out on a call with a West Coast fire department 10 years ago when he was told by a police officer at the scene that a plane had hit one of the twin towers. He thought the officer was joking, he said. But when he got back to the fire hall, he saw his colleagues huddled in front of a television set like millions of others around the world that day.
Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, an all-faith remembrance event was held to mark the sad occasion at Central Park.