The many stories of Gander International

Everyone born before 1990 has a 9/11 story.
– Kevin Tureff

I just read Kevin Tureff’s 9/11 story in his book Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11I bought Kevin’s book from the shop at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum while in New York City last year. Since returning from that trip the book has sat in my ‘to read’ pile. Something made me pick it up today. It’s 120 pages. I read it in one sitting.

One of my favourite podcasts, 99% Invisible, released it’s latest episode today. Serendipitously, the episode is also about Gander. So I’ve had a Gander day.

For emergency managers and volunteers, the first half of Kevin’s book is a wonderful insight into the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the people we support in our work. You’ll nod along to his accounts of people in need of medication that is inaccessible in their checked in luggage and the general unpleasantness of sleeping in a shelter. You’ll notice how important access to information was and recognise the urgent need for people to contact their loved ones. You also likely marvel at a town that seems born for humanitarian response.

I say humanitarian, not emergency (though that applies too!), response for a reason. The openness, the offer of unconditional support, free of judgement in the wake of the one of the worst acts of terror in history is almost an enbodiment of humanitarian principles. As I read Kevin’s account of September 11 and the days that followed I wondered about the town and the people he mentioned. Had they done this before? Albeit on a smaller scale? Did they practice? Are they all retired emergency services and humanitarian workers and their families that have formed a secret humanitarian village? Unlikely, though Gander does reinforce my longstanding belief that Canadians basically win at humanity. Have you met an awful Canadian? Ok, I digress…a lot.

The second half of Kevin’s book meanders through the years that follow. For those of us interested in recovery and the varying ways disasters stay with us and shape our lives, the effects are evident in Kevin’s story. Unlike many post disaster stories however the Gander experience seems to have brought those involved an immense sense of hope for humanity. Roman Mars, in the Gander International episode of 99% Invisible, talks about how some of the ‘plane people’ continue to have a relationship with the people of Gander. Kevin being one. Gander’s 9/11 story has even become a Broadway musical (I shall report back later in the year)!

In addition to my disaster nerd status, I’m also an architecture and design nerd and was delighted to learn of the mid century nirvana that is the lounge at the Gander International Aiport. I learnt much about the international lounge and it’s many famous guests from my aforementioned friend, Roman Mars and his podcast (the photo below will make sense when you listen).

Photo: Gander Airport Historical Society

If you want to have a Gander day too, I’d recommend listening to 99% Invisible’s Gander International Airport episode before reading Channel of Peace. 99pi’s episode gives you a lovely overview of the history of Gander, Gander International Aiport and Gander’s relationship with developments in aviation technology. And if you can’t get your hands on Kevin’s book it also includes a brief exploration of Gander’s 9/11 story.

Keep learning recovery friends,

*Feature photo curtesy of Tink of Ink and their article on Gander International’s glory days.

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