Taking a Gander at a hidden 9/11 story: Upcoming U.S. debut of September 11 musical 

Rebecca Tucker, National Post

One of the 39 planes that were diverted to Gander International Airport because of terrorist attacks in the United States sits on the tarmac at the airport in this September 11, 2001. Photo - Gander Beacon

One of the 39 planes that were diverted to Gander International Airport because of terrorist attacks in the United States sits on the tarmac at the airport in this September 11, 2001. Photo – Gander Beacon

On September 11, 2001 — a Tuesday — Janice Goudie was beginning her second day as an intern at the Gander Beacon in Gander, Newfoundland. That morning, someone had mentioned to her on the phone that dozens of international flights were being redirected from U.S. airspace to various international airports elsewhere, but, “being the new person, I didn’t know what that meant.”

“And I said, well, we have an international airport, so what does that mean?” Goudie says. “And they said: it means get to the airport now.

Goudie, 21 years old at the time, would spend the next 24 hours stationed at the Gander International Airport, where 38 airliners, 6,122 passengers and 473 crew members would land during Operation Yellow Ribbon, which saw airports across Canada play host to diverted flights in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The population of Gander was fewer than 10,000.

“Every media outlet in the community was represented that day,” Goudie remembers. “There wasn’t a big understanding of what was happening, because they were trying to figure out what was going to happen to all these people.”

Fourteen years later, Goudie’s role at the Gander airport has gone from being a part of history to a part in a play, as her story is featured in Come from Away, the Toronto-born musical about Gander’s role in 9/11 about to make its U.S. debut. The play features, among others, a rookie TV reporter named Janice Moser, “thrown into the deep end” in one of her first days on the job — Goudie’s life, imitated in art.

“The last name comes from my friend Brian Moser, who was a reporter friend of mine,” Goudie says. “(Playwrights) Irene (Sankoff) and David (Hein) interviewed me and I told them a few lines, and those lines were actually used in the play.”

Come from Away played in Toronto in 2012 and will be making its U.S. debut on May 29, at the famed La Jolla Theatre in San Diego, Calif. It focuses on the interactions between strangers, stranded in Canada, and Canadians, doing their best to be good hosts. They’re interactions that Goudie remembers well — and as she tells it, we stepped right up to the plate.

“I remember meeting this lady who didn’t know where her husband was,” Goudie recalls. “She knew he worked around the (World Trade Centre) but she couldn’t get ahold of him. I started crying right along with her, because how could you not? There was some rare monkeys that had been on a flight, they were being transported to the States, they had to be handled property. One of the monkeys was either pregnant or had a baby after the fact, and they named the baby Gander.”

“A couple days later I met a couple who wanted a ride downtown. They came in on a French flight and they were like, ‘Where is Terre-Neuve?’ A lot of people would laugh and say things like, ‘A stranger brought me into their home! They left me to shower and they gave me the keys to their car!’”

Goudie had a chance to see Come from Away during a business trip to Toronto. She says the play itself is “fantastic,” but for her, it was more than mere entertainment: “My character was saying my words, and it just brought back so much emotion,” she says. “Just knowing that I was a part of comforting people during their time of need, even though they weren’t in my home or I wasn’t feeding them. I was part of a group of people who opened our hearts and showed that we ought to care.”

She’s proud, too, as a Maritimer, to have been part of proving — on the world’s stage — that hospitality isn’t just something the East Coast is known for. It’s what they’re all about, she says, and now, it’s part of history.

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