Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Picture is from The Halifax Daily News, September 11, 2001.

Tomorrow is the 7th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US. While I expect my American friends, family, and bloggers to be reflecting on this, I don't expect you to be wondering about how we Canadians think about this date.

Quite simply, it will be forever in our memories as well. But perhaps more for what occurred in our cities in the immediate aftermath.

Halifax became the landing pad for the majority of air travelers on the Eastern seaboard. The skies above the States became closed to air traffic, with the rest of the world soon following. But for those planes still in the air, Halifax became destination number 1.

The second week of September is not prime time tourist season, but there is still a bit of that traffic here then. So what were we going to do with the thousands of people who were going to need accommodations? We'd have to find beds somewhere. And food. And showers. And phones. And places for cranky toddlers and kids to burn off excess energy.

We put people in arenas, service club halls and church halls; we set up gyms like army quarters; the Canadian Red Cross set up information areas for those stranded to give and receive messages from family; the Salvation Army stepped in to help feed the masses and both they and the Red Cross put together care packages of toiletries for those who needed them.

Many Haligonians went to the various aid areas to help, offer rides to shopping areas for the travellers, or to take families for an afternoon or evening of sight seeing. Many families in the Halifax area took in some of the stranded travellers, offering up their homes or cottages. I know one woman's family who hosted a couple who had been on their way to their own wedding. With a couple of days' notice this woman arranged an impromptu ceremony for the couple, complete with a wedding meal afterwards.

Those of us in the media were spending our time on air updating the scenes of carnage and passing along information as fast as we were getting it. Some of us were putting in extra time to man the phones and to direct people to the right contacts for assistance. And we were instructed to NOT play any song having to do with planes, flying, New York City, or anything fire-related.

Something like 9,000 people from 40 planes (the most aircraft to have landed anywhere in the wake of the attacks) were stranded in Halifax. The Halifax International Airport looked like a parking lot for used airplanes; they were lined up and parked like cars at a discount dealer's. I can only imagine the skill required to fit and park all those planes.

And a few days later, it was the whole thing in reverse, with planeloads of people leaving. The logistics of fueling and lining up all those planes staggers the mind. Getting thousands of people back to the airport at the right time and on the right planes...I am simply amazed at the organizational abilities of the airport staff for dealing with what they did. (The above link to the airport goes to a page detailing what was done at the airport)

That Halifax was able to do all this doesn't surprise me. I think partly because of the city's long military history, partly because of the city's long tourist history, and partly because on that day we were all Americans in a way, we were able to be of assistance. I'm glad we were here.



Joan said...

Oh Shauna, I can't thank you enough for such a moving and well written insight into what you experienced. I read this out loud to my husband across the room, but had to stop at the sentence "on that day we were all Americans" because I choked up. I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face.

I had no idea that Halifax showed so much generosity and support to complete strangers. Thank you, thank you, thank you all.

I am changing my plans for tomorrow's post to be a link to yours. It is so articulate and moving.


Shauna, thank you, thank you

This is a story which I NEVER heard right here living in the U.S. Capital. And certainly we are all Americans. The U.S. is just one country on this continent. :- )

I can't imagine how much you personally were part of the story in those days.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this little known fact filled story. We are so "me" conscious in the US that we either don't hear or are open to listen about what other countries were doing to help others on 9/11.


Diane J Standiford said...

Thank you.

Shauna said...

It wasn't just Halifax. There were many cities around the world that share similar stories.

It was an opportunity for people to help others and feel less powerless.


Sherril said...

I teared up at the third paragraph or so. Thank you.

Jen said...

Thank you.

Denver Refashionista said...

What an amazing and moving story. Sometimes in hard times we really find the humanity in others.

Weeble Girl said...

Actually I did know this but had forgotten as I was lost in my own feelings of that horrible day. Canada is such a wonderful neighbor and I'd like to thank you all again for what you did as a country for those people in need.

It makes me think less of the sad stuff on my blog for 9/11 and smile a little at the humanity and goodness that still exists in this world.

Thank you,

Shauna said...

Thank you all for your comments. I was a little surprised at the response to this post, though now that I've had time to think about it, I shouldn't have been.