GANDER, N.L. -- It was an open-hearted bear hug from famously giving people -- an act of faith that restored hope in humankind for passengers stranded 10 years ago on 9/11 in Gander, N.L.
Several grateful travellers whose planes were diverted to this central Newfoundland town on Sept. 11, 2001, returned Sunday for an emotional memorial service as similar events took place across the country.
They wanted to thank Newfoundlanders and other Canadians who answered the terrorist attacks on the United States, not with fear or suspicion but with kindness for strangers.
"It's something that I haven't found any place else, and I've travelled the world," Elaine Caiazzo of Bethpage, N.Y., said of the welcome she found in Gander.
"The people were so kind to us. There was nothing that we had to do for ourselves. Everybody kept asking us: 'What can we do for you?"'
Beside her at the Gander memorial service was Jennie Asmussen, also of Bethpage and another returning passenger. Asmussen was an employee of a Manhatten investment firm two blocks from the World Trade Center towers when the planes struck.
"I knew a lot of the people who died there," she said. "It just hurts me when I think about it."
Gander was one of several Canadian communities that sheltered thousands of people on about 200 international flights that were diverted when the U.S. closed its airspace after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
At the Gander memorial service, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson said there was no way of knowing whether those planes had terrorists onboard.
"You did not flinch. You took the planes. You took the risk. You welcomed all. The same was true across the rest of Canada. You affirmed our faith in the goodness of people. You were the best of us."
In Ottawa, an open-air concert "of hope and remembrance" began at precisely 8:46 a.m., the moment the first plane hit the first World Trade Center tower. Several hundred attended, including Jean Chretien, who was prime minister when the attacks occurred.
After the concert, Chretien recalled how 100,000 Canadians turned out on Parliament Hill to express their solidarity with Americans in the days immediately following 9-11.
"I remember, too, the Friday, rather than have a service in a church, we decided that it was to be open, that we were not to go in hiding and we had 100,000 people on the Hill," he said.
Chretien said one of the most moving times of his life was the total silence that followed his request for three minutes of silence.
-- The Canadian Press