On Saturday, as people gathered in New York City and across the U.S. at solemn ceremonies marking 20 years since the September 11 terrorist
attacks, Niagara-on-the-Lake held its own memorial at the Queen Street cenotaph.
There were messages of solidarity with those from across the border who are the mainstay of local tourism, and a welcoming note for their return.
One NOTL man attending the ceremony Saturday commented on the beautiful morning, the sun shining on the first responders gathered on Queen Street, and said he was in New York on business with his wife that day. He remarked that it was also a beautiful morning in New York 20 years ago.
It was a day that began like any other, but that is still remembered in annual services in NOTL, where many Americans first learned of what was taking place at home.
While it’s been 20 years since those horrific attacks, “many of us still remember where we were, and what we were doing in that moment,” Lord Mayor Betty Disero told a small crowd gathered to remember 9/11.
That was the day, she reminded those who attended the memorial service organized by the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce, that four American passenger jets were hijacked by terrorists, and redirected towards the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon, and White House in Washington D.C. The fourth jet, Flight 93, was diverted and tragically crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. “Through the heroic efforts of the passengers and crew, the plane never made it to the White House, but the action cost them their lives.”
Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives that day, including people from 90 countries around the world, and 24 Canadians, said Disero.
“Our world changed forever following the attacks of 9/11,” she continued, “but what hasn’t changed is our resolve against the oppression of terror, and our ability to comfort, and aid those affected by these crimes against humanity. Today, we continue to stand with our American neighbours, and open our community to them just as we did 20 years ago.”
Canada continues to play an integral role in many of these humanitarian campaigns throughout the world, said Disero, “and we salute the men and women in the Canadian Forces – not only for their outstanding bravery and courage – but for standing up for us.”
“We commit to honouring all the brave men, and women who lost their lives that day,” she said. “We offer our support to the family members, the survivors, and the rescue and recovery workers.”
“We stand here today,” she added, “to demonstrate unity, resilience, and hope for future generations.”
Tony Baldinelli, the federal Conservative incumbent for Niagara Falls, NOTL and Fort Erie, also spoke, saying that thousands of lives were“senselessly lost . . . by an act of hatred, by an act of terrorism.”
Throughout the day of the terrorist attacks, he said, “we kept updated on the tragic events unfolding, not knowing what was to happen and how all of this would impact us, not only individually, but as a bi-national community with such strong bonds which have united us, for over two centuries.”
“Let us never forget those who were lost, and let us remember those heroic first responders,” he asked, “who ran to danger, and sacrificed their own lives in the protection of and in service of their neighbours and communities, in need.”
And he reminded us that the “heinous” actions of that day also resulted in the deployment of Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan, “to protect our interest and to help root out hate.” Since then, 158 Canadian Armed Forces personnel paid “the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of peace and freedom in Afghanistan.”
We must remember them all, he said. “On this national day of service, let us pledge to keep these individuals and their families in our hearts, as we remember.”
The attendance of the first responders on Queen Street, the lowering of Canadian and American flags, the two minutes of silence before the flags are raised again and the playing of both national anthems, gave pause to reflect on the ways the world changed that day.
MPP Wayne Gates couldn’t hide his emotion when he spoke of the friendly rivalry between the U.S. and Canada. But there was no laughter that day, he said, only tears shed “for our sisters and brothers in America. This town represents everything that is great about our two countries, and the bond we share.”
To the first responders, he said, “we’re thinking about you, about the 412 who died on that day, and those who have died since of cancer. You remain in our thoughts and our hearts.”
Along with saying prayers for the 9/11 first responders and their families, “I also ask that you say a prayer for those Canadian allies still in Afghanistan.”
“Today,” said Lafforgue, as he ended the ceremony, “as we emerge from the pandemic and come together to commemorate 20 years since the World Trade Center tragedy in New York, we must remember that if we could recover from September 11, 2001, we can all recover from COVID-19 together, but we must consider the magnitude of the response and where it will take us.”